There are three holidays that occur in August in the Jewish calendar.
The first is Tisha B’Av, a very sad holy day that I have written about in previous years. The second holiday is “Tu B’Av,” which is quite the opposite—a happy day. And then comes Rosh HaShanah Le Behemot, a day of introspection.
Tisha B’Av is a fast day that occurs on the Ninth (Tisha) day of the month of Av. This year, Tisha B’Av starts Monday evening and runs through Tuesday evening.
The fast day of Tisha B’Av is one on that observant Jews commemorate multiple historical disasters. First this is the day when, based on the fearful report of 10 of the 12 “spies” sent by Moses to scout the land of Canaan, God decided that the generation that departed Egypt would never see the Promised Land.
The second disaster that happened on the 9th of Av was the Destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 Before the Common Era (BCE). Then the Second Temple, rebuilt after the return of the Jews to Israel under Cyrus the Persian, was destroyed by the Romans, on the 9th of Av, in the year 70 of the Common Era (CE).
Bar Kochba led a Jewish revolt, in the year 135 CE, against the Romans who occupied the land of Israel. On the 9th day of Av that year the revolt was crushed and Bar Kochba was killed. And a year later, in 136 CE, on the 9th of Av the City of Jerusalem was razed by the Romans.
Then, over a thousand years later, the Jews were expelled from England on the 9th of Av in 1290 CE. The decree of Ferdinand and Isabella expelling the Jews from Spain in 1492, required all Jews be gone by Tisha B’Av. In modern times, during the Holocaust, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1942, began on the 9th of Av.
So, you can see why Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the Jewish people.
But after mourning comes hope and joy. This is reflected, in the Jewish calendar, in the hopeful and joyous minor holiday Tu B’Av.
“Tu” is an abbreviation for the Hebrew word for “fifteenth,” so Tu B’Av is the fifteenth day of the month of Av, six days after Tisha (9th) of Av. That means it will occur on Monday, Aug. 7 (starts Sunday evening, Aug. 6).
Tu B’Av has its origins in ancient times, when there was a Temple in Jerusalem; this day was the start of the grape harvest. Incidentally, Yom Kippur marked the end of the grape harvest (Sept. 30 this year). On both Tu B’Av and on Yom Kippur, young unmarried girls would go out to the vineyards, dressed in white garments, to dance.
The holiday also celebrates the Wood Offering, cited in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 13:31. This refers to the donation of wood to the Temple, enough to last the entire year, to be used for Temple sacrifices.
The third holiday that will occur in August this year is Rosh Hashanah le-Behemot, The New Year of the Animals.
This minor holiday is cited in the Talmud as the day in which domesticated animals (i.e. sheep, goats, cattle) were marked for sacrifice in the Temple—every 10th animal was marked. This holiday occurs on the first day of the month of Elul, which will be Tuesday, Aug. 22 (starts Monday evening, Aug. 21).
This holiday has been revived and re-purposed in modern times to focus on animal welfare—a cause dear to my heart. It is significant that this occurs on the first of Elul, since the month of Elul is the start of the month-long process of introspection and “heshbon ha-nefesh,” an examination of the soul, that precedes and culminates in the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
For many Jews today, a deep introspection about our relationship to God’s non-human creatures and creation is essential. We are responsible for our treatment of all animals, domestic and wild, just as we are responsible for how we treat our planet. Let us all remember that.
Mourning turns to joy, and then turns to deep reflection. Is that not the normal cycle of life?