Rain is referred to on many occasions in the Talmud and midrashic literature, particularly in tractate Ta'anit. Tractate Ta'anit (meaning "Fast") contains four chapters, which discuss various fast days, among them those decreed because of drought; this discussion includes the determination of time when the rain should descend, a quantitative definition of drought, the prayers to be recited on those fasts, those exempt from the fasts, and the days when fasts may not be decreed.[1]

Several references indicate that the rabbis were keen observers of weather phenomena: R. Elazar b. Perata paid attention to the variations from year to year in both amounts and times of rain occurrence[2] R. Johanan and R. Papa determined that thin clouds under thick clouds are a sign of a rainfall[3]; on the same page in the Babylonian Talmud R. Ulla gives a weather forecast, using the above-mentioned sign of thin clouds under thick clouds.

According to the modern meteorological definition, the ragged fragments of low cloud, often moving rapidly below rain clouds, is indeed an indication of rainy weather. The dates of the beginning and end of the rainfall season indicated in the Jerusalem Talmud also fit modern conditions.[4]

The four winds, described in the Talmud as one of the world's necessities and hence first creations, are ascribed also as bringing the rain.

The east wind is described in some places as bringing the rain: "The east wind stirs up the whole world like a demon"[5] and "makes the firmament black like a goat."[6] The north wind, on the other hand, brings about a shortage of rain: "The north wind makes the firmament pure like gold,"[7] i.e., it clears the heavens of clouds so that a drought ensures; the harvest is meager and money decreases in value.

The south wind was also viewed as bringing the rain. "It brought showers and made the herbage grow."[8] There is a statement that "R. Zira never walked among palms trees on a day when the south wind blew"[9] because it was so violent that there was danger of the trees being uprooted.

If the winds brought the rain, the origin of rain was still debated. "R. Elazar declared: The whole Universe drinks from the ocean, as it is said, 'There went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground' (Gen. 2:6). R. Joshua said to R. Eliezer: But is not the water of the ocean salty? R. Eliezer answered: It becomes sweetened in the clouds.

"R. Joshua declared: The whole universe drinks from the water above the firmament.... The clouds swell and ascend to the firmament, where they open their mouths like a bottle and receive the rain water.... The clouds are perforated like a sieve and distill water to the earth. Between each drop of rain there is no more space than the breadth of a hair, which is to teach us that a day of rain is as great before the Holy One, blessed be He, as the day on which heaven and earth were created."[10]

The cloud was thus conceived as only a hollow vessel, the water being poured into it from heaven. On this theory, thunder was explained as "the clouds in a whirl," or "the clouds pouring water one into the other." Alternative explanations are: "A mighty lightning-flash strikes against a cloud and the latter is shattered into hailstones"; "The clouds are not full of water, and a blast of wind comes and blows across their mouths, it being like the blast across the mouth of a jar"; "The most probable view is that the lightning strikes, the clouds are made to rumble and rain descends."[11]

[1] Ta'anit 1-2; 3:1 [back]
[2] Ta'anit 19b [back]
[3] Ta'anit 9b On the same page in the Babylonian Talmud R. Ulla gives a weather forecast, using the above-mentioned sign of thin clouds under thick clouds. [back]
[4] Ta'anit 1:1, 2:1, 65b; Ned. 8:5 [back]
[5] Baba Batra 25a [back]
[6] Sifre Deut. 306; 132a [back]
[7] Sifre Deut. 306; 132a [back]
[8] Baba Batra 25a [back]
[9] Shabbat 32a [back]
[10] Taanit 9b [back]
[11] Berakhot 59a [back]
Portions from Everyman's Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages by Abraham Cohen. Shocken Books, 1949, 1995. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

RAIN Table of Contents



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