The detailed description of the joyous festival which was celebrated on Sukkot in the days of the Second Temple is given in Mishnah Sukkah. After the introductory sentence which states that "He that has never has seen the joy of the House of Water Drawing has never in his life seen joy"[1] comes a statement, that "At the close of the first festival day of the Feast they went down to the Court of the Women, where they had made a great amendment."[2] What this "great amendment" consisted of is explained elsewhere: The joyous folk were blamed for levity (kalut rosh) by the rabbis who, at last, had to order the women to sit in special galleries, to prevent their mixing with the men....[3]

It seems difficult to understand why the danger of "levity" was greater on Sukkot than on other festivals, such as Purim or Hanukkah, which too were festivals of rejoicing and merriment. In order to understand that we have to know that in those days it was generally held that the "upper waters" are male, whereas the earth as well as the "lower waters" which are in it, are female.[4] The falling of the rain was compared by the rabbis to the cohabitation of man and woman: The rain, the male waters, come down from heaven to the earth and the latter opens unto them "as the female opens unto the male."[5]

R. Abbahu explains the term (spring rain) as follows: "the thing which cohabits () with the earth."[6] R. Jehudah said: the rain is the husband of the earth, blessed is the year, when in Tevet the earth is a widow.[7] R. Abbahu even calls the upper water "bridegroom" and lower water "bride."[8] So the rain itself is explained mythologically: the waters weep on account of the separation of the upper male waters from the lower male waters, which was accomplished by God in the days of Creation.[9] In this connection they even speak of the "pregnancy of the earth." When the earth is fructified by rain, it is considered a legitimate fecundation, whereas when it is artificially watered, it is an illegitimate fecundation.[10]

The conception of male and female waters has numerous parallels among other peoples, although mostly the idea is not expressed in such an obvious way. Generally, we can say, it remained unconscious, and only out of the ceremonies performed by these people in order to secure the fertility of the fields, can we conclude that it existed. Some of these people try to secure the falling of the rain by means of sympathetic magic, by sending young girls to the fields, naked or dressed only in leaves, and by pouring water upon them or by letting the girls pour water upon the earth.

In a similar way the best method of securing the fertility of the fields and trees is, according to popular belief, the copulation of the husband and his wife on the field. This custom prevails up to date among the primitive tribes and in a symbolical form even among the peasants of several European nations. In the light of these customs it becomes probable that a similar belief or custom underlay the "levity" referred to in the Mishnah, which, naturally, was condemned by the rabbis.

[1] Mishnah Sukkah 5:1 [back]
[2] Sukkah 5:2 [back]
[3] Mid. 2.5; Tosef. Suk. 4:1; Suk. 51b [back]
[4] TJ Taanit 64b; TJ Ber. 14b; Gen. Rab. 13:13; See also The Water: A Study in Palestinology and Palestinian Folklore by Raphael Patai, Heb.) [back]
[5] Isaiah 55:10; Tosef. Oh. 16.5; Tosef. Sheb. 3:15; Nid. 8b. [back]
[6] Taanit 6b [back]
[7] Taanit 6b [back]
[8] Taanit 6b [back]
[9] Gen. Rab. 5:4 [back]
[10] Pirkei de R. Eliezer 5 [back] 
From: "Control of Rain in Ancient Palestine" by Raphael Patai, HUC Annual, p. 265, Cincinnati 1939. Reprinted by permission of the Hebrew Union College Annual.

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