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December 4: Praying for Rain

December 4, 2013
Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple by Frank W.W. TophamToday is the date, sixty days after the autumnal equinox (as calculated by the talmudic sage Samuel, c. 177–257), on which Jews in the diaspora traditionally begin to pray for rain by including the words “dew” and “rain” in the ninth blessing of the weekday Amidah (“Standing”). This plea for rain is then dropped from the prayer at Passover. The Amidah, which is some two thousand years old, is traditionally recited at each of three daily prayer services and at numerous other junctures in the liturgical calendar. It consists of nineteen blessings, six of them constant, thirteen variable by season and event. Jews are also encouraged to add individual, personal prayers as part of the recitation of the Amidah, which is mostly recited in silence. (Its recitation thus becomes a respite from embarrassment or alienation for Jews who are ignorant of the Hebrew liturgy or skeptical of the entire enterprise of prayer.) The silence of the Amidah recalls the biblical Hannah’s plea before God for fertility — “Hannah was praying in her heart, silently. Her lips moved, but no sound was heard” (Samuel 1:12-14) — an event that ultimately leads to the birth and service of Samuel, the last of the judges and first of the prophets in Israel. “Before the year was out, Hannah had conceived and given birth to a son. She named him Samuel, explaining, ‘I asked God for him.’ ”—Samuel 1:20