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We are in the middle of summer, and I was wondering what I should write about. No major Jewish holidays happen in July, so there was no obvious topic. Then I looked at the Jewish calendar, noticed that the month of Tammuz started on July 4.

What is so special about the month of Tammuz? I realized that I didn’t know much about it, so I did some research and learned a few interesting things.

Tammuz is the fourth month of the Hebrew year. Now this is confusing. We start the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) in the month of Tishrei, which comes in the fall. Yet, the Jewish months officially start with Nisan, the month in which Passover comes, in the spring.

Yes, I find this very confusing, too! Apparently the Hebrew calendar is based on the ancient Assyrian-Babylonian calendar, which started the “ecclesiastical” (religious) year in the month of Nisan. The “civil” calendar, on the other hand started in the fall. But the Torah is the basis for the Jewish calendar, and the Torah specifies that the Jewish New Year starts on the first of Tishrei (this year on Sept. 30). Yet the Torah retains the idea that Nisan is the “first” month.

Tammuz is a month that has 29 days; this year it is July 4 through Aug. 1. Immediately after Tammuz is the month of Av. After Av is Elul, after Elul is Tishrei and Rosh Hashanah.

Tammuz is an interesting name for a month. The name is actually adapted from the original Assyrian and Babylonian month, Arah Dumuzu, named for the god “Tammuz.” According to Wikipedia, the month of July is called “Tammuz” in Arabic.

There are several Biblical and historical events associated with the month of Tammuz. In the Biblical story of Joshua (Joshua 10: 1-15), Joshua stopped the sun on the third of Tammuz. In the book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel had his vision of the chariot on the fifth of Tammuz. In 586 BCE, the walls of Jerusalem were breached by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, on the ninth of Tammuz.

The 17th of Tammuz is a minor fast day, called “Tzom Tammuz.” This fast is usually observed only by the most religious Jews. The 17th of Tammuz is the date of several tragic events in Jewish history. First, the Israelites started worshipping the Golden Calf, and then on this same day, Moses broke the first set of tablets when he saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf. Next, in the year 586 BCE, the sacrifices in the Temple were stopped, during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. In the year 69 CE, the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans.

The fast of the 17th of Tammuz is not a 26-hour fast, like Yom Kippur. Rather, it is a fast that is observed between dawn and nightfall. One is permitted to eat early before dawn, and then again after nightfall. In this way, it is observed similarly to the Muslim fast of Ramadan, in that no food or water is taken between sunrise and sundown.

The 17th of Tammuz fast this year will actually be observed on the 18th day of Tammuz, which is Sunday, July 21. When a fast day (except Yom Kippur) falls on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday), as it does this year, it is postponed until the next day.

The 17th of Tammuz actually starts a period known as “The Three Weeks”, which is a mourning period for the Destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This three week period is one in which Jews do not perform marriages or get haircuts, just like during the Omer period after Passover. The Three Weeks ends with the fast day of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av.

This year Tisha B’Av also occurs on Shabbat, so its observance will be postponed until Sunday the 10th of Av, Sunday, Aug. 11. Again, it is a fast day, but additional mourning is observed. On Tisha B’Av, one is not to wear leather, to bathe or to do any pleasurable activities. And the fast starts at sundown of the day, unlike the fast of the 17th of Tammuz.

But after Tisha B’Av is another Jewish holiday that comes on the 15th of Av, Tu B’Av. This year it will be on Friday, Aug. 16. This is considered a “festival of love,” sort of a Valentine’s Day. According to the Talmud: ”daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” on the 15th of Av, and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride. It is considered a good day for weddings.

I hope you all have a good, healthy summer.

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Emily Burt-Hedrick is the President of the Congregation Beth Tikvah.

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