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Question: Recently the chazzan in my shul created a stir when he didn’t include the proper mention of rain during chazaras hashatz. Our rabbi didn’t require him to repeat the Amidah, but many congregants felt the rabbi erred and murmured their discontent. Who was right and how can we, in a tactful way, prevent such a lapse from occurring again?

A Concerned Congregant

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Answer: The Mechaber, in his discussion regarding Mevarech HaShanim, the ninth blessing of the Amidah, states as follows (Orach Chayim 117):

“The recitation of Birkat HaShanim in the rainy season must include ‘Veten tal u’matar li’veracha’ (lit. ‘May You give us dew and rain for blessing’). In the Diaspora, we begin offering our petition for rain in Maariv of the 60th day of tekufat Tishrei [which in most years corresponds to the night of December 4]. In Israel [where there is a greater need for rain], we start reciting the petition on the 7th of Marcheshvan and continue reciting it up till [and including] the Minchah before Pesach.”

The Mechaber writes further: “Individuals [residing in places] that need rain in the summer don’t ask for it in Birkat HaShanim but rather in Shome’a Tefillah. This rule applies even to [residents of] a large city, such as Nineveh, or a whole country, such as Spain or Germany. We consider it like the petition of an individual and it is included only in Shome’a Tefillah.

“If an entire country needs rain in the summer and an individual there erred and included the petition for rain in Birkat HaShanim, he may [the Rema adds: if he so chooses] repeat the Amidah as a tefillat nedavah, a voluntary prayer, without asking [for rain] in Birkat HaShanim.”

The Rema is reconciling the view of Rabbi Yosef Caro in the Shulchan Aruch with the one he expressed in Beit Yosef, his commentary on the Tur, where he quotes the views of the Mahari Abuhav, Ramban, Rambam, and the Ran in relation to a statement of the Rosh quoted by the Tur. The Rosh allows individuals to say “Veten tal u’matar” in Mevarech HaShanim if an entire country needs rain. The above authorities probably agree with the Rosh in principle but not in practice, for the Rosh’s ruling was never widely accepted in spite of its cogent reasoning.

The rule of not requesting rain out of the proper season is considered steadfast. The case we just mentioned – where the Mechaber allows a request out of season in Shome’a Tefillah – is the subject of a discussion by the Taz (ad. loc.), who explains that it’s permitted for a congregation [to include this request in Shome’a Tefillah] only in the silent Amidah. The chazzan, however, doesn’t say it aloud in his repetition.

The Taz also quotes his father-in-law, the Bach, who writes: “We [even an entire congregation] should never ask for rain in an untimely manner even in Shome’a Tefillah; rather, we should seek divine intervention by fasting and saying Selichot.”

The Bach states further: “I have heard that in the midst of a drought, two great rabbis instituted the recitation of ‘Veten tal u’matar’ as part of Shome’a Tefillah, and both died that very year. This was seen as a result of having ‘forced the Hand of Heaven.’”

Based on the Mishnah and Gemara (Berachot 29a), Rabbi Yosef Caro rules: “If he asked for rain (matar) in the summer season, we obligate him to repeat the Amidah. If he didn’t request rain in the winter season, we obligate him to repeat the Amidah, even if he asked for dew (tal). However, if he asked for rain but did not include the petition for dew, he does not have to repeat the Amidah.”

As we noted earlier, the petition for rain is different than the mention of rain as a praise of G-d in the blessing of Mechayeh HaMeitim. If one said “tal” instead of “geshem” as part of that blessing, one doesn’t have to repeat the Amidah. However, one must repeat the Amidah if one said the wrong petition in Mevarech HaShanim.

This view is shared by most halachic authorities with the exception of the Mordecai, who suggests that if one asked for dew only in Mevarech HaShanim during the rainy winter season, one need not repeat the Amidah. He bases this statement on the Jerusalem Talmud, which states (Ta’anit 1:1): “R. Ze’irah said in the name of R. Chanina: If an individual specifically mentioned dew during the rainy season, we do not make him repeat [the Amidah].”

The Gemara (ibid.) adds: If he said “geshem” in the summer season, we make him repeat the Amidah [because he didn’t utter the word “tal” – see Korban Ha’Edah ad. loc. s.v. Umishani hahu delo idcar…”). The Gemara asks: “Didn’t we learn [in the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 3a] that our Sages didn’t require us to mention ‘dew’ or ‘winds’ (Mashiv haruach)?”

It answers: “We cannot equate one who curses [requesting rain in the summer] with one who has not prayed [i.e., he has not asked for the appropriate precipitation for the season] and does not curse; that is, he mentioned tal (dew) and [thus] we do not obligate him to repeat the Amidah.”

The Gemara (the Jerusalem Talmud, ad loc.) then asks: “But did we not learn [in the Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 29a] that if one didn’t ask for [rain] in Birkat HaShanim or make mention of the Divine attribute of providing rain in the blessing of Techiyat HaMeitim, we do obligate him to repeat the Amidah?”

The Gemara answers: “That’s only if he didn’t mention [or petition for] either dew or rain.” The implication is that if he mentioned or asked for dew, that’s sufficient.

The Mordecai writes that some say “Veten tal li’veracha” even in the summer, and this practice establishes a chazakah, a presumption of regularity, for them. Subsequently, should they not include a request for rain in the winter, they won’t have to repeat the Amidah.

However, we see from the preponderance of other views, all based on the Babylonian Talmud, that if one did not specifically ask for “rain” in the winter season, a petition for “dew” is insufficient, and one has to repeat the Amidah.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com and Rabbi@igud.us.