Chief rabbis combat drought with special prayer

In hope that God would hear the prayers of the faithful, the Chief Rabbis of Israel called on synagogues across the nation to add a special prayer for rain on Monday. The rainy season has been delayed for more than three weeks. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said the delay has fueled fears among farmers of an impending drought that would force them to plough and seed again. However, the chief rabbis' call has not been heeded by most of the haredi community. Rabbi Haim Weiss, Eda Haredit rabbinical court secretary, said that he has not received complaints from farmers yet. "So far we have not made any directives," said Weiss. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, said it was not prohibited to say the prayer before it was needed, but added, "It is not nice to bother God every time we have a little trouble." At the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak and many other haredi yeshivot and synagogues, there has been no mention of special prayers for rain, while religious Zionist synagogues began to add the liturgy Monday. One Ponevezh yeshiva student said that in the modern era rain is less important than in the past. "Nowadays, if there isn't enough rain we buy water from Turkey or find some other solution. So it makes less sense to have a special prayer for rain. Other issues are more pressing," he said. Chaya Berger, weather forecaster at the Meteorological Service, said the situation is borderline. "We had nice rain at the beginning of the season so the plight of most farmers is not too critical yet. Besides, we are expecting rain on Thursday and Friday. But prayer never hurts," she said. Berger said that the long term forecast is for average to slightly below-average rainfall. On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri predicted that this year would be rainy and snowy. Batzri based his prediction on a book of Kabbala called Signs of Thunder and Earthquakes, said to be authored by a student of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, the Ari, in the 1600's. According to the book, when a solar eclipse combined with an earthquake kick off Rosh Hashana, as was the case this year, it is an auspicious sign of rain. Batzri's son Yitzhak maintained that the year would be rainy as his father promised. "The question is whether the rain will be beneficial or not. We all have to repent and improve our ways," he said. Yitzhak Batzri said the rain was needed for new mikvaot (ritual baths) across the country. A mikve is composed of between 750 and 920 liters of rainwater, depending on different rabbinical opinions. One solution used in drought years is to freeze rainwater and transport it to the mikve. However, Batzri said direct rainwater is preferred. Metzger directed Ashkenazi communities to add the prayer in the blessing "hear our voice," while Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar told his communities to add a prayer during the opening of the Holy Ark. The different Sephardi and Ashkenazi customs are a result of liturgical differences. Sephardim include a long prayer for rain throughout the winter months while Ashkenazim do not. Ashkenazim will therefore begin to say the prayer the Sephardim have already been saying, while Sephardim will add a special prayer on Shabbat.