Failure of the rains to come in their proper season was the most serious calamity that could befall the Jewish community in ancient Palestine, an agricultural society which depended for its very life on a good harvest. Prayers for rain were therefore a prominent feature of congregational worship, a whole tractate of the Mishnah, tractate Taanit, being devoted in large measure to prayers for rain. In the Gemara to this tractate there are tales of miracle-workers whose prayers for rain were heeded because of their saintly lives. Some of these tales, though legendary, express not only the attitude of trust in God but also the idea that the saints have the power to coerce God to bring the rains.
On the basis of the statement in the Mishnah (Rosh Ha-Shanah 1: 2) that on the festival of Sukkot (‘Tabernacles’) the world is judged for rain, it is the universal custom, during the Additional Service on Shemini Atzeret, at the end of this Tabernacles festival, for the Cantor to wear white robes as a symbol of purity and mercy and the Geshem (‘Rain’) prayer is chanted, in which God is entreated to send rain in the merits of biblical heroes about whom there are accounts concerning ‘water’. On the seventh day of Tabernacles, Hoshanah Rabbah, there is now a more elaborate service of petition for rain. A similar service to Geshem takes place on the first day of Passover. This is called Tal (‘Dew’) and consists of a petition for God to grant the more gentle dew now that the rainy season is over.
Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.