With the state of California deep into the fourth year of a record-smashing drought, Jewish people in the Golden State had an especially personal experience when they gathered on Monday morning for the inaugural annual Jewish “prayer for rain.”
Held on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret (which coincided this year on Monday, Oct. 5), the prayer came at the conclusion of Sukkot, the joyous harvest festival celebrated by dwelling in thatched huts.
“For the next six months, we will mention rain in our thrice-daily prayers because winter is the rainy season in the Middle East,” explains Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky of Chabad of Westlake Village, northeast of Los Angeles, In fact, even as most Jews moved west and south from Babylon in the Middle Ages, we continued to start to pray for rain in the fall since this prayer is not just about our individual needs, but about the needs of society as a whole, for our brothers and sisters all over the globe. Right now, the people in need are us.”
Jewish people have been reciting the rain prayers for at least 2,000 years, as recorded in the Mishnah, the ancient precursor to the Talmud. The special inaugural prayers sung on Oct. 5 were composed by the seventh-century Israeli poet Eleazer Hakalir, and the traditional Ashkenazi tunes date back to the late Middle Ages.
A second prayer for rain, Vetein Tal Umatar Livrachah, will be added to the Amidah prayer on the night before Dec.5 (Dec. 4 after nightfall) in most of the world, and on the night before Oct. 20 (Oct. 19 after nightfall) in Israel. [An article on the reasons for the various dates can be found here].