Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Praying For Rain

The general custom outside of Israel is to follow the practice of talmudic Babylonia to mention rain ("mashiv ha-ru'ach u-morid ha-geshem") in the "mechayeh meisim" blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer from Shemini Atzeres until the first day of Pesach, and to ask for rain ("ve-sein tal u-matar") in the "barekh aleinu" blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh from December 4th or 5th until the first day of Pesach. If you make a mistake then you may have to repeat either the blessing or the entire prayer, depending on the details of what you missed and when you realized it.

The Rosh, R. Asher ben Yechiel, questioned this practice in a responsum (4:10). He argued that since in Germany they needed rain more in the month or two after Pesach than before, they should continue praying for rain until Shavuos. He advocated doing similarly in every place in which the entire country requires rain -- adding those insertions at that time.

Click here to read moreInterestingly, there seems to be a general agreement in later literature that the Rosh's view makes sense but that it has nevertheless not been accepted into practice. Even in his day, the Rosh tried to convince rabbis in Germany, Provence and Spain to change their practice, but to no avail. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chaim 114, 117) writes that his view was not accepted and the entire world does not follow it. He adds (in 117) that the Mahari Abuhab rules that bedieved, if someone mistakenly prayed for rain at a time when according to the Rosh he should but according to common practice he should not, he need not repeat his prayer. However, the Beis Yosef is not entirely comfortable with this. Therefore, he rules that someone who lives in a country that needs rain in the summer and mistakenly adds the insertion "ve-sein tal u-matar" should repeat the shemoneh esreh as a voluntary additional prayer (tefillas nedavah; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 117:2).

However, the Rema was less dismissive of the Rosh than the Beis Yosef and rules that bedieved we rely on the Rosh and you do not have to repeat shemoneh esreh (ibid., 117:2; Darkhei Moshe 117:2). However, there remain a few open questions:

1. What constitutes a country requiring rain at any particular time? The Magen Avraham (117:4) writes that the country must have a drought, and that it seems a little like that in the Rosh's responsum. I found the Rosh's responsum to be ambiguous on this. He writes that when he presented his arguments to the rabbis of Germany they were convinced but did not change their practice because 1) they did not have droughts often and 2) rain sometimes destroys crops. Which one is decisive, the former reason or the latter? The Bi'ur Halakhah (117 sv. ha-tzerikhim matar) quotes authorities on both sides of this issue and leaves it as a matter of doubt.

[There also seems to be a difference regarding countries in the souther hemisphere, where the seasons are the opposite of those in Israel and Babylonia. See Shevet Ha-Levi (vol. 1 Orach Chaim no. 21), Minchas Yitzchak (vol. 6 no. 171), Yalkut Yosef (vol. 1 pp. 266-269).]

2. Is this only with ve-sein tal u-matar or also with morid ha-geshem? From the Rosh's discussion and the Beis Yosef's citations, it seems like it applies to both. However, the Shulkhan Arukh (114:4) says that it does not apply to morid ha-geshem. The Bi'ur Halakhah (114 sv. ve-afilu be-makom) seems to think it applies to both but quotes the Peri Megadim (114:6) and Chayei Adam (24:6) who say that it only applies to ve-sein tal u-matar. The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 18:7; gloss to Mishnah Berurah 114), the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 114:3) and R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Edus Le-Yisrael no. 10) also say it only applies to ve-sein tal u-matar. R. Yitchak (ben R. Ovadiah) Yosef says that it applies to both, although he assumes the Sephardic custom to say "morid ha-tal" when not saying "morid ha-geshen" (Yalkut Yosef vol. 1 p. 266).

3. When do we need rain in the US? All of the literature seems to tie prayer for rain with crops. While nowadays we need rain all year round for drinking and other usage, does that matter? R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. 2 no. 102) assumes that we need water all year round in regards to these laws. I'm not sure when the harvest times in the US are and when rain is desirable.

Interestingly, R. Chaim Lindenblatt directed me to a passage in R. Baruch Epstein's Mekor Barukh, adapted into English by R. Moshe Dombey in Recollections: The Torah Temimah Recalls the Golden Age of European Jewry (pp. 98-99), in which R. Epstein tells that his father (the author of Arukh Ha-Shulchan) heard from his mentor that R. Chaim Volozhiner thought that the practical ruling was in accord with the Rosh and not the Shulchan Arukh but refused to issue a ruling directly contradicting the Shulchan Arukh; instead he simply refrained from responding to questions on this issue. However, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan himself writes (117:4) that "it is as if a heavenly voice issued that we must follow the Babylonian practice... and whoever questions this is worthy of punishment."

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