Word of the day / Yoreh יוֹרֶה
Rain is so special in Israel that we have names to distinguish its chronology throughout the year. This word refers to the annual debut of water from the sky, something as note-worthy and startling as firing a gun.
You know how they say Eskimos have tons of words for snow? Well, Israelis have lots of words for rain, though unlike those Eskimos, it’s more because of the scarcity of precipitation than abundance.
In places where rain is a common occurrence year-round, it’s hard to distinguish the first rain from the last. But in Israel, where it doesn’t rain in the summer and rarely seems to rain enough even in the so-called winter rainy season, the first rain of the year, which usually occurs in the autumn around the Sukkot holiday – in other words, now – the first rain is called the “yoreh”(yo-REH).
“Last night the yoreh came down, a harbinger of the welcome upcoming rainy season,” the Tel Aviv municipality said in a statement this week, declaring that it was the dust and soot of the city, not its sewage system, that was to blame for the black sludge making its way from the city streets into the sea after Monday’s first rain.
The Jewish liturgy takes into account this change in the rain pattern in the Land of Israel: A prayer for wind and rain is introduced into the daily service in the fall, replaced by a request for dew starting in the spring. The word “yoreh” itself is biblical in origin, one of three types of rain listed in Deuteronomy 11:14, in a verse that features in one of Judaism’s foundational prayers, the Shema: “I will give the rain (“matar”) of your land in its season, the former rain (“yoreh”) and the latter rain (“malkosh”), that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” Note that this list of terms doesn’t include “geshem,” the standard word for generic rain.
Oddly enough, when used as a verb, “yoreh” means “he fires,” as in a gun. But if you see Israelis getting excited about the first rains of the year, it’s not because the rain clouds are holding a gun to their heads. It’s just that they know the reservoirs need to be filled. Besides, they probably haven’t seen water coming from the sky in several months and are just relishing the (not so) cold October rain.