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May 27, 2009

Shavuos the Holiday of Water Balloons

A lesser known name for the holiday of Shavuos is "Chag HaMayim".

The first time I heard of this was when I was in yeshiva in Israel, probably my first year in yeshiva in 1990, and walking to the Kotel for sunrise davening.

From the yeshiva, the quickest route to walk was right down Jaffa street all the way to the Old City. I remember the throngs of people - all the different types of people - walking through downtown jerusalem. The crisp early morning air had a festive feel to it.

Suddenly, bam. People all around are being hit by water balloons. They are smashing into the ground and exploding, spraying water everywhere.

Not knowing what this was all about, I asked someone. They told me that Shavuos is also known as "Chag HaMayim", and the secular always throw water at the religious passerby on their way to the Kotel. They keep that holiday religiously.

I still don't know how this developed, but according to this site, it is because the Torah is compared to water. I am not sure how that takes a leap to throwing water at people, but it seems it was a common custom in some sefardic countries. The examples he brings are:
  • In Algeria they would ride on their mules and pour water on each other while singing. This was thought to be a segula for a successful crop of fruit.
  • In Tripoli they would go out in the fields on the second day of the holiday and pour water on each other. it was thought to be a segula for having lots of kids.
  • In Morroco they did this because water is the symbol of blessing, as well as the symbol of Torah.
This year this poses a problem, considering the serious water shortage we are encountering. In Beer Sheva the Municipality has announced that the residents should be careful and not waste water and not throw it at each other this holiday.

7 comments:

  1. I had never heard of this minhag growing up or even after I made aliya until one year I was a Madrich of an English Speaking group staying in a large Bnei Akiva Yeshiva.

    In spite of the Rosh Yeshiva ruling that it was a Chilul Chag and a Chilul HaShem, many of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva boys (and some of the Haredi boys rom a different Yeshiva), spent much of the day engaging in water fights with water pistols, balloons, buckets - you name it.

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  2. In Algeria they would ride on their mules and pour water on each other while singing. This was thought to be a segula for a successful crop of fruit.In Tripoli they would go out in the fields on the second day of the holiday and pour water on each other.This sounds very strange considering that riding animals is ossur in YT, and pouring water in a field is also ossur on YT.

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  3. hamasig - I am just quoting what was written there. I have no idea of it is correct or not. I also thought it was strange. But also, in general the whole shpritzing water is strange. And also in general because of schita problems. maybe laundering also?

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  4. In the Old City of Jerusalem you are liable to doused in water by young boys armed with buckets, water bottles and cups.

    I cannot imagine this is a "good" minhag, but it has stood the test of time.

    Perhaps it is just a result of the adult men sleeping in the morning after learning all night and the mommy's tending to the younger children. We all know how unsupervised young boys are apt to behave...

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  5. I heard the following explanation:

    When the Yidden heard the first two Dibros from Hashem, their neshomos left them, right? So, Hashem revived them with the "Tal Techiye"-the dew that will be used for Techias Hameisim. Dew=water=throwing water.

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  6. interesting thought. thanks

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