Should we pray for rain?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism - BY RABBI ARIEL ABEL

“For you make the wind blow and rain fall — for a bless­ing, not a curse, Amen” (from the Suc­cot mach­zor)

AC­CORD­ING TO A re­cent re­port from Nasa sci­en­tists, if cur­rent rainy weather pat­terns con­tinue, we could face world­wide food short­ages as a re­sult of wide­spread ruin of crops. Where does this leave our pray­ers this year for wind and rain?

The lat­ter half of Suc­cot fo­cuses on wa­ter, par­ties thrown in hon­our of the fes­ti­val are called “Wa­ter-draw­ing Sim­chah” (Sim­chat Beit Hashoe­vah) to com­mem­o­rate wa­ter li­ba­tions in Tem­ple times and the last day of Suc­cot, Hoshana Rabba, is dubbed “Day of Judg­ment for Wa­ter”.

The very next day, Shem­ini Atzeret, we add into the sec­ond bless­ing of the Ami­dah, a men­tion of winds car­ry­ing rain clouds to our shores.

Bri­tish sum­mer­time weather hardly war­rants a prayer like this: so why do we per­sist? Is there not a dan­ger of too much rain?

Back in the Sec­ond Tem­ple era, the High Priest would pray on Yom Kip­pur that God would pay no at­ten­tion to the prayer of pil­grims re­turn­ing to Baby­lon that the rainy sea­son be de­layed un­til they ar­rive home, so they would not get bogged down on muddy roads. At the same time, he prayed that mud-hut dwellers would not be del­uged and buried in their own homes!

There is a prece­dent for chang­ing the first weather clause of the eigh­teen-bless­ing Ami­dah. North­ern Euro­pean coun­tries omit ref­er­ence to sum­mer­time dew — morid hatal — hence its ab­sence from the United Syn­a­gogue prayer book.

At the other ex­treme, the Chief Rabbi of the Syr­ian com­mu­ni­ties of Ar­gentina, the Hacham, Rabbi Shaul Suthon, ruled in a ground­break­ing de­ci­sion more than 40 years ago that Ar­gen­tine Jewry re­cite the re­quest for dew — and not rain — all year round, on the ba­sis that sea­sons there were not con­sis­tent with those the Tal­mud leg­is­lated for. This de­ci­sion was later en­dorsed by the ex-Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Is­rael, Ova­dia Yossef.

In re­cent years, an op­pos­ing school of thought has re­voked the rul­ing and re­stored the prayer for rain. Its ar­gu­ment was that ow­ing to the re­cently drier cli­mate, blamed on in­creased de­for­esta­tion of the Ama­zon, we ought to pray for rain at least half the year, thus bring­ing South Amer­i­can min­hag in line with the rest of the world; even In­dian Jewish com­mu­ni­ties, with mon­soon rains arriving in Au­gust, pray for rain like the rest of us af­ter Suc­cot — al­though their lo­ca­tion north of the equa­tor is a de­cid­ing fac­tor in favour of this custom.

An­other rul­ing, as­cribed to Bri­tish Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler for Aus­tralian Jewry, is that no men­tion of rain should be made dur­ing Aus­tralian sum­mer if crops were dam­aged by rain­fall as a re­sult.

So where does this leave us? Each rab­binic au­thor­ity clearly has the right — even re­spon­si­bil­ity to re-ex­am­ine new cli­matic re­al­i­ties and de­cide how to pray for rain. If our pray­ers stand a chance of be­ing an­swered, and a re­quest to ask for — or with­hold — rain could dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment, there may be a need to treat this as a se­ri­ous mat­ter for a sum­mit be­tween Nasa and the Beth Din! Ariel Abel is rabbi of Radlett United Syn­a­gogue

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