Jerusalem – Several thousand people, including Israel’s chief rabbis, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and members of kibbutzim gathered under cloudy skies at the Western Wall and several Orthodox communities around the country Thursday to pray for rain amidst a punishing drought that threatens the country’s farming sector and freshwater resources.
The chief rabbinate distributed special prayers for the event including chapters from the book of Psalms and selections from the Yom Kippur and Succot holiday services. The session was held on the 10th day of the Hebrew month Tevet, a traditional fast day marking the day that Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem.
In Efrat, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin told a crowd of several hundred residents gathered outside at a local park that the Torah’s account of creation includes a command for mankind to “partner” with God in running the world, and said that rainfall is a sign that God purifies the Jewish people and accepts their repentance.
The service was held despite a storm earlier in the week that brought between 30 and 50 millimeters of rain. But an Israel Water Authority scientist told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) Monday that the storm did little to reverse the effects of five years of drought, including the fact Israel received just 40 percent of its average rainfall for October – December.
As a result of the drought, water officials say the country’s water resources are in danger of irreversible damage.
This is not the first time that a prayer rally has been held to bring rain to Israel. In fact, in four of the last eight years, the Chief Rabbinate has held prayer rallies for rain.
Rain is so important to Israel that there are special Hebrew words for the first and last rainfall of the year: “Yoreh u malkosh.” Yoreh is the first rain of the season, and malkosh is the last. These words are part of the Shema prayer.
And there are many regular prayers for rain throughout the year. The end of Sukkot features a special prayer service for rain, which asks God for enough rain, or a rain of blessing, but not too much rain that would cause damaging floods and mudslides. There also is a prayer for dew at the end of the rainy season, because even those small amounts of moisture are helpful to plant and animal life in Israel. Short summaries of the invocations for rain and dew are part of the daily silent Amidah prayer as well.
Earlier this month, Israel’s Chief Rabbi called on the public to add an additional prayer for rain to their daily prayers, one that traditionally is put into usage when there is a drought.
As for the weather, forecasts are showing a chance of showers on Sunday and Monday.
Also Monday, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Yuval Steinitz toured the Sea of Galilee, known in Hebrew as Lake Kinneret, to survey to the lake left by the drought. Steinitz said that his office would draft a national emergency water plan in the coming weeks in order to bolster Israel’s water sector and to “save” the Kinneret. Steinitz called on the government to invest in a large-scale desalination plant north of Haifa in order to channel desalinated water to the lake, Israel’s largest source of freshwater.
The current crisis is the most severe in more than a decade. Givati said the Kinneret has hit the upper red line, which indicates that the lake is at full capacity with a water level of 208.40 meters below sea level, since April, 2004; the water level in the lake currently stands at 214.38 meters below sea level.
The current water level is just 20 millimetres above the so-called black line, and just 49 millimetres above the lowest point ever measured in the Kinneret.