How Jewish is the Hebrew Calendar? When we use a Hebrew word to identify a period of time, we may believe that we are making a more authentically Jewish choice. However, like so many words and concepts in ancient Judaism, the name “Tammuz” typifies the syncretic past of our people, fused together from various traditions.
We learn in the Book of Ezekiel:
“And God brought me to the entrance at the Gate of the House of the Lord which was at the north; and there were there women sitting, bewailing the Tammuz.” (8:14)
Why were the women bewailing “the Tammuz”? They were weeping, at least in part, because “the Tammuz” is not only a Hebrew month, but also the name of a pagan deity revered by some Jews in Babylon. The Jewish people had once again gone astray, and would pay dearly for their spiritual infidelities. In Nissan, we celebrated our liberation with Passover, and now in Tammuz we come to understand the risks inherent in the freedom to choose.
When we live immersed in foreign territory, we are granted the ability to incorporate the jewels of the outside world into our national treasure chest. However, if we do not vet carefully what we choose to adopt, and simply succumb completely to the pull of the outside world, we lose our spiritual center. We forget who we are and betray our mission. We forfeit the fortitude and integrity that come from resisting the mundane evils that surround us.
As LGBT Jews, I believe that we possess a special need for the spiritual center provided by our covenant. It is too easy to become awash in the oppression, callousness, apathy, anonymity, and carelessness of our world, just by default. However, the strictures and values of our tradition provide us with the tools to be mindful, empathetic, compassionate, thoughtful, and resolute. Our textual inheritance reminds us that God loves us, breathes life into us daily, and cries with us when we are in pain.
In Tammuz, we weep for sins committed and defenses that have been broken. However, the psalmist teaches, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” (126:5) Even though we cry in Tammuz, we nonetheless remain vigilant until the harvest. Then, as on Shavuot, we rejoice for the bounty and guidance that God has given us in Torah. As we approach Tammuz, let us remember the pain and price of forgetting our spiritual center, and also take comfort in the knowledge that we always possess the path to return.