Parshas Vayishlach 5759 - '98

Outline Vol. 3, # 7

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 3 # 4 Tal Umatar -- The Prayer for Dew and Rain _________________________________________________________________

Sheilas "Tal Umatar" would normally have been said this year on the night of Dec. 4, for the first time. Because it happens to be Shabbos, however, it will not actually be said until Motzoei Shabbos -- Sat. night, Dec. 5. _________________________________________________________________

Abudraham introduced the idea that one can keep track of the dates to begin saying "Sein Tal Umatar" -- "send dew and rain" -- by using the civil calendar. Since the dates are dependent on the sun, using the civil calendar seemed to be a con nient and simple method. The date was always the same, except at the time of the civil leap year.

Tashbetz, writing one generation later, explained that Abudraham's intention was that the year PRECEDING the leap year would have an adjustment of one day. However, following the leap year, the date would return to the initial one. The rea n is that the extra day of the leap year -- Feb. 29th -- puts the civil calendar back in sync with the Hebrew calculation. Therefore, following the leap year, the original date for "tal umatar" returns.

Unfortunately, these dates have become a matter of great confusion. Many different accounts are given in different texts.

The reasons for the confusion are:

-The Abudraham wrote "at the time of the leap year." Many thought this to mean following the month of Feb., during the same civil calendar year. In fact, we find this explicitly in the important commentary "Machtzis Hashekel" to the Shulchan Aruch, si n 117. However, this is either a scribal or printer's error, as it contradicts the Tashbetz (who wrote generations earlier), as well as the arithmetic. AFTER the correction of the extra day of Feb. 29th, why would another day be added? Why would the te for "tal umatar" return to the original date in the next year, when no further correction occurred in the civil year?

[Taamei Haminhagim pp. 359-360 explains in accordance with the words of Tashbetz, that the advanced date occurs in the year preceding the civil leap year. Even though Taamei Haminhagim refers to Machtzis Hashekel as a source, it does not mention the po ibility of the following year's "tal umatar" being advanced.]

-It is confusing to place the date for "tal umatar" on a civil date, such as Dec. 5th. The Hebrew days begin at nightfall, while the civil date begins at midnight. The normal date of Dec. 5th, actually means that "tal umatar" should be said the preced g night, Dec. 4th.

-Finally, as several of our readers deduced, the introduction of the Gregorian calendar over the Julian calendar produced a further problem. The Hebrew calculation is no longer in sync with the civil calendar. Three times in 400 years, leap years are leted from the Gregorian calendar, and the Hebrew calendar advances by a day.

Actually, there shouldn't be an effect during our lifetimes. Since the year 2000 is a leap year, there is no change from 1900 until 2100. Nonetheless, many of our texts preceded the year 1900. The extremely popular Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, r example, was written between 1800 and 1900. The dates that it gives are one day too early for us. Examining many commentaries to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, we only found a few that refer to the change. ("Kitzur Shulchan Aruch im Divre Mishnah B'rur " parenthetically incorporates the change into the text itself -- a great idea!)

The Gregorian Calendar

Pope Gregory wanted a calendar that preserved an astronomically accurate representation of the equinoxes and solstices. By the time of the initiation of the new calendar in 1582, the civil year was ten days off. The first correction was to elete ten days; Oct. 4, 1582, was followed by Oct. 15th.

Most people don't realize the great difficulties this makes for historical dates. Americans should be surprised to learn that George Washington was not born on Feb. 22, but on Feb. 11, 1731. (Britain and the colonies did not accept the cha e until Sep. 2, 1752, by which time eleven days had to be added.)

The author of Taamei Haminhagim lived during the last turn of the century. He had to give both the new and old dates for "tal umatar," because Russia had not yet accepted the Gregorian Calendar!

The Equinox

As we have discussed, the "tal umatar" request is said sixty days after the fall equinox, beyond the environs of Eretz Yisrael.

Recently, both Robert A. Miller of TAFA Material Technologies, Inc., and Michel Klein, questioned the statement that "tal umatar" is said 60 days following the fall equinox. In fact, facing a similar dilemma to that of the Julian calendar, al umatar" arrives thirteen days late!

The issue of the apparent discrepancy has been addressed by many, including -- in recent memory -- the Chazon Ish and Rav Moshe Feinstein.

It must be pointed out, that the "equinox" here, is not the astronomical one, but the estimate according to Mar Shmuel, one of the leading talmudic authorities. In a similar manner to the Julian Calendar, Mar Shmuel uses the figure of 365 1 days to estimate the solar year.

Rambam, in Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh, chapter 9, related that the Sages had differing figures. The calculations of Mar Adda (essential to the Hebrew calendar in general) were more accurate, but the estimate of Mar Shmuel was agreed upon for tal umatar," because it was much simpler to remember and use. The only effect of the calculations of Mar Shmuel today is in matters of davening, the "tal umatar" and "Birkas Hachamah" -- the brocha recited over the sun.

It occurred to us that, in our subject of the "tal umatar" request, we should look at our sources.

Where does 60 days after the tekufa -- "equinox" come from? The Talmud only mentions this date in regard to Bavel -- Babylon. Bavel was the first exile after the settling of the Eretz Yisrael. 60 days after the "equinox" is the time when vel needs water. But, as for the rest of the Diaspora today, what does 60 days after the "equinox" have to do with anything? The Rabbis debated for long periods of time, which date or date should be followed in various vicinities. The "Rosh" -- one o the great legal authorities -- disagreed with the concept of having one date for "tal umatar" for all areas in the Diaspora. Rather, each area should request dew and rain at the appropriate season.

Eventually, however, it became the universal custom to say "tal umatar" 60 days after tekufas Tishrei (the fall equinox) everywhere beyond the environs of Eretz Yisrael. Now, since the Rabbis agreed to say "tal umatar" at this time -- irres ctive of a necessity for rain in a particular place, it is almost an arbitrary point in the calendar, as far as we are concerned. Therefore, there is little difference as to whether the 60 days starts with the astronomical equinox or not.

After writing this, I realized that the responsa from Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4 #17) which we partially quoted last year (Outline, Vol. 2 #12), said this idea exactly.

"We say the 'tal umatar' 60 days following tekufas Tishrei, although there is no apparent need (for rain specifically at this time of year) in our countries -- however, we are following the practice of Bavel."

The Rambam deliberately stated that the astronomy was known to the Sages, and they were not concerned that the tekufa be astronomically accurate.

The Sun and the Moon

Recall that the Hebrew calendar is very precise as to the appearance of the moon. When it came to the sun, however, the calculation was devised to be a simple estimation, even if imprecise. There is a message here. The nations are compare to the brilliant sun, and the Jewish people to the moon. Because the solar basis was so essential, the civil calendar -- from the days of Ceasar -- gave up any semblance of calculating months by the moon. Sophistication increased, until the calendar p alleled the sun's cycle sufficiently. The Jewish calendar, though, maintained an accurate correspondence with the moon.

According to tradition, one of the three mitzvos for whose sake the Cheshmonaim rebelled against Syrian-Greeks in the Chanukah story -- was the observance of Rosh Chodesh -- celebration of the New Moon.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Beis Medrash Yeshivas Chafetz Chayim Kiryas Radin

11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: yaakovb@torah.org

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.