The "Tefilat Geshem" ("Prayer for Rain") recited on Shemini 'Atzeret contains six verses. Each verse refers to a different person (except the last, which refers to a nation) and makes various allusions to that person's interactions with water found in the Torah and Midrash, with the prominent repetition of the word "mayim" ("water") throughout and ending each verse.

The subjects of the six verses are:

  • Avraham
  • Yitzchak
  • Ya'akov
  • Moshe
  • Aharon
  • The 12 Tribes of Israel

If there's anyone in the Torah+Midrash who's associated with water, Miriam is, as the well on which the Israelites depended for their water in the desert was called "the Water of Miriam" in the Midrash. One of her other claims to fame was "Song of Miriam," the version of the Song of the Sea that she led the women to sing on the banks of the Red Sea. She's also known for the vigil she stood over her baby brother Moshe, when he was hidden in the Nile.

Why isn't there a verse of Tefilat Geshem devoted to Miriam?

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    There's a wonderful site, piyut.org.il , which gathers liturgical poetry, music and essays from many different Jewish communities. One essay by Ruth Gan Kagan (Israeli leader in Jewish Renewal movement) asks this same question. While she doesn't have any good historical explanation, a number of years ago she decided to write her own poem featuring 5 significant water-inspired Jewish women (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Miriam, Devora). She reports of a number of shuls which have integrated her poem into their Tefilat HaGeshem. piyut.org.il/articles/578.html
    – ChaimKut
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 14:26
  • @ChaimKut Your link is dead
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 18:18
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    Site moved. New site: web.nli.org.il/sites/nlis/he/Song/pages/Articles/…
    – ChaimKut
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 10:09
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    To strengthen the question -- "in the merit of Miriam" does appear one day earlier, in the Hoshanos!
    – Shalom
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 23:52

7 Answers 7


It's important to notice that there IS a verse for Miriam in the Hoshanos that we all said (or mumbled) just a day before Tefillas Geshem, and we must remember that Tefillas Geshem and Hoshanos were written by the same author, R' Elazar Hakalir. So clearly R' Elazar Hakalir valued Miriam's role as it relates to water and mentioned it in our prayers for water, which is the main purpose of the piyutim of Hoshanah Rabbah.

This is the verse:

לְמַעַן נְבִיאָה מְחוֹלַת מַחֲנַיִם. לִכְמֵהֵי לֵב הוּשְׂמָה עֵינַיִם. לְרַגְלָהּ רָצָה עֲלוֹת וָרֶדֶת בְּאֵר מַיִם. לְטוֹבוּ אוֹהָלָיו. הוֹשַׁע נָא וְהוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָבִינוּ אָתָּה

In the merit of the prophetess [Miriam] of the dance of the camps, to those of thirsting heart she was an inspiration, at her feet ran, rising and descending, the well of water -- for the sake of the one of goodly tents, may You save now and being salvation now, for You are our Father.

Translation from The Artscroll Siddur

So why not include her in the main pizmom of Tefillas Geshem? Perhaps some of the answers above are correct. I think there is another issue here. Tefillas Geshem (unlike Hoshanos) was written specifically for the "Avos" section of Shemoneh Esrei. It is beyond the scope of this question why the traditional tefillah mentions only the Avos and not the Imahos, but I think R' Elazar Hakalir was simply fitting into that framework, which is what he does in many of his piyutim that are written for the first brachos. Extending it to Moshe and Aharon is not as revolutionary since they are often seen as part of our group of leaders (think Ushpizin for example).

There is one notable exception that I noticed (and keep in mind that he wrote piyutim for the "Avos" section for all Shalosh Regalim and Arbah Parshios) and it is not Shemini Atzeres but rather Rosh Hashanah!

R' Elazar Hakalir felt that Rosh Hashanah was THE day of the Imahos, and chose to focus on them on this day (and given that it is the birthday of man, I think the focus on the Imahos on this day brings them up to a special place in his mind). On Rosh Hashanah, of course, the leyning and haftarah focus on the Imahos and so do the piyutim in first brachos (the ones that unfortunately many Shuls decide to skip these days but that are printed as not optional in the main text of all machzorim).

Specifically, R' Elazar Hakalir's piyutim in Shachris of the first day (he didn't write the ones for second day), focus on Sarah in first brachah (generally dedicated to Avraham), Rivkah in second and Rachel in third.1

While this last part is slightly off topic, we see 2 things in my response:

  1. R' Elazar Hakalir valued Miriam's role in our prayers for rain (as seen in Hoshanos).

  2. R' Elazar Hakalir greatly valued the role of women, specifically the Imahos, and chose to make them, rather than the Avos the focus of his piyutim (within the bracha of Avos!) on the day on which man was created and on which we crown our King.

I would guess that unlike on Rosh Hoshanah, he didn't have a strong reason to bring in a woman to the "Avos" section on Shemini Atzeres where people generally expect to connect their tefillos specifically to to the Avos (defined loosely to include Moshe/Aharon here).

1. The Hebrew text can be found on Sefaria starting here. Select passages from the translation in The Complete Artscroll Machzor are:

On this day the strength of [Sarah] his allotted portion became rejuvenated, to blossom with an heir at ninety years. She symbolized that the nation called 'a rose' would pass before Him on this Rosh Hashannah. ... They rely on [Sarah's] merit to be remembered, crying out as a congregation knocking on the doors.
They approach to express the nine blessings [of Mussaf], ... equal to the nine sacred names in [Hannah's] prayer, the barren one who supplicated and gave birth to seven. ... At this season, [Isaac] supplicated with prayer for the sake of the barren [Rebeccah] until she was released.
The lofty mainstay [Rachel] was disdained by the [nation's] builders. She was one of the four as childless as stones, [who were remembered] this day. She wept tears for her children, and heard [God say] 'Cease, O mother of the children.' ... At first the mainstay of the house was estranged, but like the first fruits she finally had her firstborn. Her merit endures for her offspring on this day of remembrance, that they be remembered as she was remembered.

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    Tefillas Geshem (unlike Hoshanos) was written specifically for the "Avos" section of Shemoneh Esrei. In fact, the piyyut was written for the entire tefilla, many kehillot just omit most of the piyyut. The z'chor section in question comes not in the middle of the first bracha ("avot") but in the middle of the second bracha.
    – magicker72
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 5:29
  • Correct. I meant "Avos" more broadly, as in the first 3 brachos that are generally associated with Abraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov, respectively (but yes, technically, the second bracha is called "gevuros" not "avos". Elazar Hakalir in particular often associates each bracha with the respective Av, so the second is Yitzchak... As such it makes sense for the longer piyut that appears anywhere within the first 3 brachos to focus on the Avos rather than Imahos, and it was too long to focus just on Yitzchak.
    – aaron
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 12:02
  • @aaron Apart from having a common author, why would you make an association between Hoshanot which is recited on Sukkot and the prayer for rain which is recited on Shemini Atzeret, a separate and distinct holiday? Even the content is completely different. One deals with the subject of redemption and the other deals with rain. Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 13:34
  • One last comment that needs to be said concerning your answer is that although it is significant that the Avot section is where the prayer for rain is inserted (it has something to do with the Avot), it doesn't answer why Moshe and Aharon and all twelve tribes are included. If it was only the Avot, the balance of those whose merits are mentioned wouldn't have been included. There is a general principle, particularly with prayer that there are no superfluous words or letters. Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 14:27

I think the paytan was working the other way. He had a list of holy 'shepherds' in who's zchus we beseach water, he filled in the stanzas with something about water concerning them all. This is very apparent from some of the forced associations. The one about Avraham is all poetic and nothing literal. Mentioning Moshe being thrown in the water seems strange. Mentioning his hitting of the rock is almost counterproductive! But looking at it the way I am mentioning, it all seems a little easier to swallow. As such Miriam who is never on our list of heros doesn't get mentioned, even if she is our greatest water heroine. I'm also guessing the shvatim are mentioned in place of Yosef Hatzadik.

  • I was bothered about the mei meriva reference. Interesting suggestion. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 2:26
  • Why the shevatim in place of Yosef? "Remember the one who was cast into an empty pit, without water ..."
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 2:54
  • @Isaac Moses I was thinking that same thing! And the fact that he saved the world through a drought but at the end of the day he isn't there and the shvatim are. So I just through that in as conjecture along with the rest of the theory.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 2:58
  • @Isaac Moses It occurred to me that any mention of Yosef in the pit while being a wonderful sneigor for us in his memory, would also be a horrible kiteigor against us as far as the other brothers go. This might also preclude mentioning his presence in Mitzrayim at all.
    – user6591
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 12:21

Perhaps Miriam is alluded to in the verse יִחַד לֵב וְגָל אֶבֶן מִפִּי בְאֵר מַיִם

and also in the verse קוֹרֵא וּמַזֶּה טָהֳרַת *מַיִם ר*וּחַק מֵעַם פַּחַז כַּמָּיִם

Another thought: When Miriam was Nifteres it says that the water continued in the Zechus of Moshe who was still living. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112396/jewish/Miriam.htm

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    Nice bio link. I'm re-using it in the question instead of Wikipedia.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 20:44
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    These are nice ideas, but: 1) The hints would carry more weight if we had a source for them, and they still don't explain why the Biblical character perhaps most explicitly associated with water (and the merit that gets it for us) gets a hint rather than a verse. 2) Even if the water in the desert wasn't exclusively due to Miriam's merit, she still has a very strong association with it, and also with the other two episodes I mentioned - still at least as strong an association with water as the subjects of the other verses.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 12, 2012 at 16:43
  • +1 I would say Miriam was over shadowed by Moshe. (Though no argument on her own greatness)
    – JNF
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 20:24

This is not a particularly satisfying answer, but I always assumed it was because she's female. While there exist some rare references to women elsewhere in Jewish liturgy, it's far more common practice to leave them out. (For example, I was quite struck that the imahot are included during yizkor -- it seemed unfamiliar after so many daily mentions of "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v'Elokei Yaakov" alone.)

Ironic given that Hannah's prayer is such an acknowledged archetype for tefillah...

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    This is possibly an answer to the OP's question, but note that the Imahot are not necessarily on the same level of historical/spiritual/religious significance as the Avot (in female form) just because they lived at the same time. So I don't know why you'd expect them to be listed together always. Perhaps women aren't included as often in the liturgy because historically there happen to be far fewer important ones to include. That's a historical fact, not a necessary truth.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 0:19
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    Kayla, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this suggestion! You're right that the answer is not particularly satisfying as-is, but if we could find some source indicating that in fact, as a rule, women aren't mentioned in piyutim, and why, that would get us a long way toward answering this. Besides Yizkor, another exception to that apparent rule would be Esther, who shows up in the Krovetz for Purim, Shoshanat Ya'akov, and Selichot.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 1:27
  • @DoubleAA We have a clear source that Sarah was at a higher spiritual level than Avraham (as pointed out by Rabbi Abba Wagensburg) as we find in Bereshis 21:12 Hashem instructs Avraham to listen to his wife.
    – chaimp
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 3:04
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    @Chaim I hope you're not just bringing that pasuk as the source, as there are all sorts of reasons God would tell a man to listen to someone else. Did R Wagensburg say anything more specific than that?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 3:48
  • @DoubleAA Our Sages of Blessed Memory say it explicity in Shmot Rabbah 1: "ויאמר אלהים אל אברהם: אל ירע בעיניך" וגו' (בראשית כא, יב ) מכאן אתה למד שהיה אברהם טפל לשרה בנביאות. "And G-d said unto Abraham: 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight [because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice]" (Genesis 21:12) from here we learn that Avraham was subordinate to Sarah in prophesy."
    – ChaimKut
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 17:39

Like with many petitions to G-d, this particular prayer enumerates merits as a justification for granting the request. In this case it enumerates the merits of five individuals and then the entire twelve tribes. It seems inconsistent to look at five individuals and then the whole of the Jewish people unless you consider who these particular individuals are.

Each of the three Avot, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov are the precursors to the entire Jewish people.

One of the primary reasons for all of creation, Yisroel (as in בראשית, for the sake of Reishit which is Yisroel), was originally placed upon Adam HaRishon, and passed to us via Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov, the inheritors of that blessing.

Similarly, Moshe Rabbeinu, the Shephard of Faith is equated with the entire Jewish people from the posuk in BeMidbar 11:21 which says:

ויאמר משה שש־מאות אלף רגלי העם אשר אנכי בקרבו

That Moshe is part of each and every individual of the Jewish people (See also Rashi to Shemot 18:1).

And similarly, like Moshe, Aharon HaKohen Gadol is equated with the entire Jewish people. This is indicated both in the garments he wears in that capacity, which carry the names of all the tribes and the Avot. And also in the fact the Moshe is equated with Aharon and Aharon is equated with Moshe like is found in the Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 12:1:3 which says:

דבר אחר, אל משה ואל אהרן, שומע אני כל הקודם במקרא הוא קודם במעשה, כשהוא אומר הוא אהרן ומשה [שם ו'] מגיד ששניהם שקולים זה כזה.

The focus of the justification for granting the petition is in the merit of the whole of the Jewish people and not the merit of individuals. That is why these five are selected together with all twelve tribes. And this follows the teaching of Rabbi Berachiah mentioned in connection with the prayer request of the whole Jewish people (כנסת ישראל) found in Taanit 4a.

Miriam, even though she led the Jewish women like at the Song of the Sea, was not representative of the whole, the entire Jewish people, both men and women. She is seen as one of the greatest individuals of the Jewish people. In fact, there are opinions that her individual level of prophecy, as contrasted with the additional level Moshe acquired through becoming the leader of the whole, may have rivaled or even surpassed that of Moshe.

But this prayer is in the merit of the whole of the Jewish people, not the individual. And this distinction also explains why, for example Choni HaMe'agel was granted the keys to rain like is mentioned in Talmud (Taanit 23a).

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    Any source for your central claim, that this prayer specifically cites the merits of those who represent the nation?
    – msh210
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 20:41
  • @msh210 "It seems inconsistent to ..." advances a logical basis for this claim.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 20:43
  • @Isaac, yes; I'm merely wondering whether there's also a source for this
    – msh210
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 22:08
  • @msh210 It follows the teaching of Rabbi Berachiah in connection with the prayer for dew and for rain discussed in Taanit 4a. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 17:17

Perhaps one reason Miriam is absent is because her primary association with water is just TOO important.

Tefilat Geshem is a prayer for rain for the fields to prevent drought and famine in the land. For those without fields it is a Tefila for prosperity. And the author of this poem is using the merits of the usual pillars of Bnei Yisroel to beseech for Providence for Hashem's nation.

However the Be'er of Miriam provided a mobile drinking station for Bnei Yisroel and its flocks; which Hashem would have, and did provide with or without Miriam.


I agree that it is due to the sex of miriam; unrolling the stone from off the well obviously refers to yaakov at the well, and the sprinkling of the water refers to the service in the mishkan by the kohen. by avoiding references to women, focus and kavana are kept 'on target'.

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    Les, welcome to Mi Yodeya. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. Also, could you clarify your answer? "I agree" with whom? What does Miryam's sex have to do with rolling stones or with sprinkling water? Do you have a source for saying that avoiding references to women improves kavana, or for saying that that's the reason Miryam's not in this piyut?
    – msh210
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 7:56

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