It’s Rosh Chodesh Tevet!

Image: Candles on the menorah are nearly out. (Ri Butov / Pixabay)

Welcome to Tevet!

Tevet is the month that begins in the middle of a holiday. We are celebrating Chanukah, and when we light the sixth candle, the month of Tevet arrives to join us.

Despite its fancy beginning, Tevet is a quiet little month for Jews. The biggest thing to happen in it is not a Jewish day at all: the Gregorian New Year (January 1) usually falls in the month of Tevet.

The only other official Jewish day of observance in this month is Asara b’Tevet [10th of Tevet] on which some Jews fast to remember the day in 588 BCE when the army of Nebuchadnezzar, emperor of Babylon, laid seige to Jerusalem. In the month of Av, a year and a half later, they would enter the city and destroy Solomon’s Temple, which we refer to as the First Temple.

Rosh Chodesh is the first of every Jewish month. It means “head of the month” and it lines up (more or less) with the New Moon.

One of the quirks of the Jewish calendar as we know it today is that it is in some ways a hand-me-down from ancient Babylon. Before the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile, we know that Jews followed a lunar calendar that began its months on the new moon and that had adjustments to keep the agricultural holidays in their proper seasons. We have a few month names from that calendar in the Torah, but most of the months seem to have been like modern Hebrew days. They went by number, “In the First Month” etc.

But the names of the months we use today came back from Babylon with our ancestors. Tevet in Babylon was Tebetu or something similar. If you are curious about the Babylonian calendar there are a few Internet sites that explore it, including this one.

Enjoy the last remaining nights of Chanukah and don’t forget to add the greeting, Chodesh Tov!  Happy New Month!

Feeling the need for a good Jewish calendar? You’ve got one in your smartphone or computer!

Rosh Chodesh Av, 2019

Image: The Western Wall, or Kotel.

Av (ahv) is the eleventh month of the Hebrew year. It began at sundown last night, August 1, 2019. We call the first day of a new month Rosh Chodesh, meaning “the head of the month.”

Av is often mentioned as the “unluckiest” or “saddest” month of the year, based on a mention in the Talmud in Taanit 19a: “When we enter Av, our joy is diminished.”

Av has a number of sad anniversaries in it. Foremost of those is the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, on which we remember the destruction of both the first and second Temples, as well as the expulsion from Spain in 1492. These were the greatest disasters in Jewish history before the 20th century.

Av is also a hot, dry time in the Land of Israel, when water is even more scarce than usual and when the sun beats down even in relatively cooler places like Jerusalem and Sefat.

What are your associations for this season? How might they fit into the Jewish understanding of this time of year?

Happy Kislev 5778!

Image: Tea light candle menorah with 4-petal flower decorations; in antique gold finish; wire and galvanised iron material; handcrafted. (Jcgumpal via Wikimedia)

It’s Rosh Chodesh Kislev! Rosh Chodesh means “first of the month.” Look at the sky and you will see almost no moon at all – the New Moon is the signal for the new month.

The most famous thing about Kislev is that on the 25th of the month, we will begin the celebration of Chanukah.

The name “Kislev” (KEES-lev) comes from the Akkadian word kislimu, which means “thickened.” Since it’s a month in which rains come to the Middle East, perhaps it’s a reference to the mud that come with heavy rain. The Akkadians were an early civilization in Mesopotamia, and much of the modern-day Jewish Calendar comes from Mesopotamia.

Why Mesopotamia? Because that’s where our ancestors were exiled after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE. There was an earlier calendar, with its New Year in the month of Nisan in the springtime; remnants of that calendar may still be found in the Torah, which speaks of Nisan as “the first month.”

This month we remember a struggle between the Maccabees and the Hellenizers that took place in the 2nd century BCE (Before the Common Era.)  For that story, check out the summary in MyJewishLearning.com.

 

Sixth Night: Shabbat Convergence!

Tonight we celebrate a Jewish convergence:

That means the longest Birkat Hamazon of the year tonight and tomorrow, as Rabbi David Wolpe pointed out on Twitter today.

Rabbi Wolpe didn’t mention that this will also add bits and pieces to the service tomorrow morning, all of it special:

We add Al HaNissim to the Amidah during Chanukah. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving for the miracles of Chanukah. This version is a lot more entertaining that merely reciting the prayer, but I can’t resist posting it:

For a translation and an explanation of the prayer, here’s an explanation from the Orthodox Union website.

Because it is also Rosh Chodesh Tevet, we recite a short Hallel (Praise) prayer tomorrow morning. This is a recording of Hallel sung by the Women of the Wall on Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5771, but it’s pretty close to what you will hear in a liberal synagogue tomorrow morning:

The video starts sideways, I don’t know why, but bear with it – the Hebrew is clear and beautiful. Hallel is a set of hymns of praise that likely go back to Temple times. Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism has a lovely piece on the Meaning and History of Hallel.

Finally, there are also special Torah readings for Chanukah, from the Book of Numbers.

This is the liturgical equivalent of a Chanukah party: we’re celebrating, praising, telling stories, and most of it comes with rousing tunes. I hope you enjoy your Chanukah convergence: I plan to do so!

Chodesh Tov! It’s Elul tonight!

At sundown tonight, not only will it be Shabbat, it will be Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first of the month of Elul.

Elul is the 12th month of the Jewish year – so yes, a month from now we will be celebrating Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year.

Elul is a month of quiet preparation for the renewal of the High Holy Days. Traditionally, we take this time to “wake up our souls” with the sound of the shofar and with penitential prayers (selichot.)

It’s a time for cheshbon nefesh – taking an accounting of one’s life. In what ways have I fallen short in the last year? What regrets would I have, if I died tomorrow? What do I have to show for my one, precious, singular life?

Many Jews also take some time this month to visit the graves of loved ones. Going to a cemetery reminds us of our own mortality.

I’ll write more about these customs over the coming month. In the meantime, do you have plans for Elul? How do you go about your personal accounting?

Rosh Chodesh Av 5775

Av (ahv) is the eleventh month of the Hebrew year. It began at sundown last night, July 16, 2015.

Av is often mentioned as the “unluckiest” or “saddest” month of the year, based on a mention in the Talmud in Taanit 19a: “When we enter Av, our joy is diminished.”

Av has a number of sad anniversaries in it. Foremost of those is the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, on which we remember the destruction of both the first and second Temples, as well as the Expulsion from Spain in 1492. These were the greatest disasters in Jewish history before the 20th century.

Av is also a hot, dry time in the Land of Israel, when water is even more precious than usual and when the sun beats down even in the relatively cooler places like Jerusalem and Sefat.

What are your associations for this season? How might they fit into the Jewish understanding of this time of year?

Happy Rosh Chodesh Tammuz!

Tammuz 5775 began at sundown on June 17, 2015.

Welcome to Tammuz! We observe it in the summertime, just as did the ancient Babylonians, who named it after their god Tammuz.

One of the quirks of the Jewish calendar as we know it today is that it is in some ways a hand-me-down from ancient Babylon. Before the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians and the subsequent exile, we know that Jews followed a lunar calendar that began its months on the new moon and that had adjustments to keep the agricultural holidays in their proper seasons. We have a few month names from that calendar in the Torah, but most of the months seem to have been like modern Hebrew days. They went by number, “In the First Month” etc.

But the names of the months we use today came back from Babylon with our ancestors. So the month of Tammuz still carries the name of a long-forgotten idol. In ancient Babylon, the month was dedicated to the god, and it began on the first new moon after the summer solstice. The shortening days and the blistering heat made a setting for a period of ritual mourning for the god, who was understood to die and be resurrected annually, similar to the Greek Persephone and Ra/Osiris of Egypt. He’s even mentioned in the Tanakh as one of the foreign gods sometimes worshipped in Jerusalem, much to the distress of the prophets:

Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, ‘Have you  seen this, O son of man? turn yet again, and you shall see greater abominations than these!” – Ezekiel 8:14-15

There are no holidays in Tammuz, only one fast: on the 17th of Tammuz there is a fast from sunrise to sundown in memory of breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, the beginning of the end for Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE. That day begins the “Three Weeks” leading up to Tisha B’Av, when we recall the destruction of the temple and other disasters.

Tammuz isn’t a happy month. Traditionally, the sin of the Golden Calf is supposed to have taken place in Tammuz. There are also some notable yahrtzeits (anniversaries of deaths) in the calendar this month:

This is usually a quiet month in synagogues. Behind the scenes, preparations for the High Holy Days are underway. Many people take vacations now, and it is also the season for congregational trips to Israel. It is quiet, but a time of gathering energy, of things just over the horizon. Stay as cool as you can.