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Crying Out for Rain: The Human, The Holy, and the Earth in the Ritual Fasts of Rabbinic Literature

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

This article examines the religious significance of rain in Tractate Ta'anit, a 6th century volume of the Babylonian Talmud that addresses fasts in response to drought among rabbinic Jewish communities in late antiquity. Through a close reading of several key narratives within the tractate, this article examines how Tractate Ta'anit incorporates rain symbolism into key rabbinic conceptions of Torah, revelation, and divine compassion. As the tractate crafts rain into a symbol that expresses God's presence and relationship with Israel, it also articulates drought as the essential expression of divine absence. Within the tractate, fasting serves as the quintessential collective response to the physical and spiritual crisis of drought. Fasting practice in Tractate Ta'anit fashions the vulnerable collective body into an instrument particularly suited to cry out for divine answer. By invoking and intensifying the experience of suffering caused by drought, the community uses its communal body to align itself with both a suffering God and a suffering earth, each of which yearn for reconciliation.

Affiliations: 1: Missouri State University;, Email:


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