Question: Why do we begin saying Tal U’matar on the evening of December 4 or 5? Why is the secular date relevant? Also, what should an American Jew do if he is in Eretz Yisrael (where people start saying Tal U’matar earlier) and then returns home before December 4 or 5?
Answer: The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 117) states that we start saying “V’tein Tal U’matar” in Eretz Yisrael on the 7th of Cheshvan and in the diaspora on the 60th day after the autumnal equinox. Those who need rain earlier should ask for it in Shome’a Tefillah, not Birkat Hashanim (Orach Chayim 117:2) – even if they constitute the entire population of a country. If they accidentally ask for rain in Birkat Hashanim, they must repeat Shemoneh Esreh as a tefillat nedavah.
The Rema (ad loc.) writes in the name of the Mahari Assad that they need not repeat Shemoneh Esreh. He notes, though, that the Ramban and Ran, as well as the Tur and Mechaber, follow the view of Rosh.
The Mishnah Berurah (117:sk8) writes that we do not ask for rain in the summer because rain during this time generally causes damage.
What should an Israeli who finds himself in the diaspora on the 7th of Cheshvan do? Should he start saying “Tal U’matar”? Conversely, what should a diaspora Jew who find himself in Israel on the 7th of Cheshvan do? Should he wait until December 4 or 5 to start saying it?
The Debrecener Rav, Rabbi Moshe Stern, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe vol 7:117, p. 193), cites Mahari’kas (Rabbi Jacob b. Abraham Castro-Sarmento, 1525-1610) who rules that a resident of Eretz Yisrael who departs the land intending to return should follow the minhag of Eretz Yisrael even if he won’t be returning for quite some time.
The Radbaz (Responsa 58), also cited by the Debrecener Rav, rules differently. He writes that if the person intends to return while the Jews in Eretz Yisrael are still asking for rain, he should follow their minhag even in the diaspora. If he has a wife and children in Eretz Yisrael, he should follow their minhag even if he won’t return during the rainy season. If he chooses, however, to stay in the diaspora for more than a year or perhaps two, he should the minhag of diaspora Jewry even if he has a wife and children in Eretz Yisrael since his needs now mirror those of diaspora Jewry.
D’var Shmuel Abuhav (siman 323) rules that a person should follow the local minhag no matter where his family is as the minhag of his location represents his present need. Birkei Yosef (323:5) rules similarly. He argues that a diaspora Jew in Eretz Yisrael needs rain while he’s there (“chaye sha’ah”) while an Israeli in the diaspora is an individual who should not ask for something that the community is specifically not asking for (unless he left Eretz Yisrael after the 7th of Cheshvan, intending to return, and already started asking for rain).
Rabbi Stern rules that a diaspora Jew in Eretz Yisrael should not start saying Tal U’matar if he will return to the diaspora before December 4 or 5. He suggests that the person add a request for rain in Shome’a Tefillah. If he mistakenly started saying Tal U’matar, he should cease doing so when he returns home until December 4 or 5.
Yayin Hatov cites a novel approach. He suggests that an Israeli in the diaspora on the 7th of Cheshvan should say (until December 4 or 5), “V’tein tal u’matar l’vracha al admat kodesh arei eretz Yisrael – May [You] give dew and rain for a blessing upon the holy land, the cities of the land of Israel.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, shlit”a, chief rabbi of Israel, writes that a visitor to Eretz Yisrael should say Tal U’matar as per the local custom starting on the 7th of Cheshvan and continue doing so when he returns home. He writes, though, that once he returns home, he should ask for rain in Shome’a Tefillah (Yalkut Yosef, p. 265, citing his father, Maran Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, Yechaveh Da’at).
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, Ga’avad, Jerusalem (Tshuvot V’hanhagot 55:2) rules that a visitor to Eretz Yisrael should start saying Tal U’matar on the 7th of Cheshvan but only in Shome’a Tefillah if he is returning home before December 4 or 5. Once home, he should stop asking for rain until December 4 or 5.
Perhaps a novel compromise would be for the visitor to continue asking for rain with the amended text quoted above, “V’tein tal u’matar l’vracha al admat kodesh arei eretz Yisrael – May [You] give dew and rain for a blessing upon the holy land, the cities of the land of Israel.” That way, the request is clearly for Eretz Yisrael, which often suffers from drought and surely needs our prayers.