The summer has reached its zenith and the days are slowly getting shorter. The Jewish year 5774 is approaching its end. We have reached the month of Av, the eleventh month in the Jewish calendar. What do we know about this month?
First, the name Av is not recorded in the Bible. As a matter of fact, if we would have continued the biblical system of counting the months of the year, Nissan, the month of spring, would have been the first month (Es 3:7), and Av would have been the fifth month. However, with the rabbinic new configuration of the calendar, the year begins in the fall (Rosh Ha-sha-nah 1:1) thereby Av is the eleventh month.
Secondly, like other names of months in the calendar, the word Av is rooted in the Akkadian language, and was integrated into the Hebrew by the returnees from the Babylonian exile. The meaning of the word is unclear. Yet, in Jewish tradition Av is also known as Me-nah-chem Av meaning 'Av which comforts,' eluding to the tradition that the Messiah known as Me-nah-chem, 'comforter,' was born on the ninth of Av (Eikha Rabati 1).
Two historical events which shaped our history took place during the month of Av. In the year 587 BCE, the First Temple was destroyed (Jer 52:12-13). And, six hundred years later (70 CE) the Second Temple fell on the same day (Ta-a-nit 4:6). Therefore, Tish-ah b'Av has become a day of fasting, similar to Yom Kippur (Rosh Ha-Sha-nah 18). Traditionally it commemorates not only the destruction of the Temples, but many other tragedies which befell our people.
However, Av is also a month in which tradition records great joy. The rabbis cite that during the days of the Second Temple the young maidens of Ye-ru-sha-la-yim used to dress in borrowed white dresses, not to shame those who did not have dresses, and dance in the vineyards while young men joined them in merrymaking. It was said that "there were no days of greater joy than these in Israel" (Ta-a-nit 1:10). The origin of this custom is obscure, but it is obviously rooted in the universal celebration of nature and is connected with the vintage festivities.
Av then, is a month mixed with sadness and joy. I wish all our readers an easy fast on Tish-ah b'Av and a joyful rest
of the summer.
Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.