Sad Days of Summer

Originally published on

Not having grown up going to a Jewish summer camp, I’ll admit to total ignorance of the summer season of the Jewish calendar until much later in life. However, it turns out you don’t have to wait for Rosh Hashanah to participate in Jewish holidays — the summer is loaded with them!

However, you’ll note I didn’t say “celebrate” holidays. Prior to the camping movement, it seems that summer was not so good for the Jews. In fact, Jewish tradition recounts that nearly all the tragedies that ever befell our people, up to and including the destruction of both Jerusalem Temples, happened over the summer. Jews memorialize these great losses on Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which this year falls on July 20th (beginning, as Jewish days tend to do, on the previous evening).  More on that in a couple of weeks. Watch this space.

However, our sages understood that one day might not be enough to memorialize so many sad events, so the summer mourning season gets underway three weeks earlier on the Jewish date of 17 Tammuz, which this year falls on June 29. This marks the day when the Roman army breached the walls of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., three weeks before the Second Temple fell, and the Mishna says this was also the date on which Moses broke the first set of 10 Commandments due to all the unpleasantness with the Golden Calf. This day is observed as a minor fast, which means it only runs from sunrise to sundown (bucking the Jewish-days-start-the-night-before trend) and only prohibits eating and drinking, unlike Yom Kippur’s more stingent restrictions.

The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins a period of sadness and reflection known as The Three Weeks, or in Hebrew, bein hametzarim which literally means “between the borders.”  Three weeks later, this mourning period culminates in Tisha B’Av. Don’t worry, the Jewish calendar doesn’t leave us hanging. The weeks following Tisha B’Av bring special Haftorahs of Consolation read on Shabbat mornings to reassure the Jewish people that God doesn’t abandon us even in our worst times. Plus, Rosh HaShanah with its promise of renewal is right around the corner!

I’m sure many synagogues in the Greater Boston area will be holding special services for the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. Temple Beth Shalom of Cambridge (the Tremont Street Shul) is hosting a study session and break fast meal at the end of the day that looks interesting. If other organizations post events on related to the day, I’ll update this blog post to include them as well.

created at: 2010-06-23

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