ברכת השנים | On December 4th (or 5th) and the Birkat Hashanim

Rain is important in every society, but particularly so in places like Eretz Yisrael, where rain only falls during a defined portion of the year. It is critical, then, that the “rainy season” in fact be rainy, since no rain can be expected for the remainder of the year. Accordingly, prayers, liturgies, and fast days relating to rain (or the lack thereof) played, and continue to play, a prominent role in Jewish tradition. Our tefillot today contain two major references to rain: “hazkarat geshamim” (better known as “mashiv haruaḥ umorid hagashem“) and “she’eilat geshamim“, found in the weekday Amidah in the 9th berakhah, “birkat hashanim“. There, an alternating liturgy was established: during the dry months, we say “v’tein berakhah“, whereas during the rainy season, we say “v’tein tal umatar livrakhah“, an explicit request for the rain to fall. Consensus emerged around the opinion of Rabban Gamliel in Mishnah Ta’anit 1:3 that “she’eilat geshamim” should begin on the 7th of Marḥeshvan (15 days after Shmini Atzeret, the 22nd of Tishrei). This would give pilgrims from as far away as the Euphrates (a 15-day journey) sufficient time to return home in dry weather. This is current practice in Eretz Yisrael to this day. . . .


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