The Month of Tammuz

The month of Tammuz is the fourth month of the Jewish calendar. In its earliest occurrence, Tammuz begins on June 10th and ends on July 8th; its latest occurrence is from July 9th to August 6th. The zodiacal sign of Tammuz is Cancer, the crab.

In the Bible, the word ‘Tammuz’ is mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14. The term denotes a Babylonian God and the sin of idolatry, which caused the destruction of the first Temple. The month of Tammuz is referred to as ‘the fourth month’ in Jeremiah 39:2.

There are always two days of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, the celebration of the new moon. The first day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz falls on the 30th of Sivan. The first day of Tammuz never falls on a Monday, Wednesday or Saturday. Tammuz always has 29 days.

It is said that on the third day of Tammuz, God, at the behest of Joshua, caused the sun and the moon to stop. This brought about 36 uninterrupted hours of sunlight, in order to give the conquering army of Israel time to exact vengeance from their enemy, the Emorites (Joshua 10: 12-13). The battle in which the sun stood still took place in Givon, in the Ayalon valley in central Israel.

The 17th day of Tammuz is a fast day. This fast is referred to in the Bible (Zecharia 8:19).

The Mishna Taanit 4:3 (Oral Law) lists five tragic events of Jewish history that happened on the 17th of Tammuz:

  1. Moses smashed the first tablets on seeing the golden calf.
  2. During the period of the first Temple, the besieged population of Jerusalem could not obtain an animal for the daily sacrifice.
  3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans during the second Temple period.
  4. Apustamus, a Roman officer, burnt a Torah scroll.
  5. An idol was placed in the holy Temple.

The 17th of Tammuz signifies the commencement of the three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the first and second holy Temples. This period is traditionally called ‘between the straits’, ending during the following month, on the 9th of Av. During these weeks marriages are not performed, and it is customary to refrain from attending public performances of music and dancing. Ashkenazi Jews traditionally do not cut their hair or shave during this time. According to the Talmud, in messianic times the 17th of Tammuz will be transformed into a day of joy.

The permutation of the four-letter name of God (the Tetragrammaton) through which divine energy flows to the world is HVHY (hey vav hey yud) in Tammuz, emerging from the final letters of the passage in Esther ( 5:13) zeH enenV shaveH leY, spoken by Haman. The order is the direct reverse of the Name’s regular form, YHVH. This is a sign of the stricture and judgement hanging over this tragic month until the Messianic era.

Sight is the bodily function that must be rectified during Tammuz. The majority of the time that Moses’ spies spent in the holy land was during the month of Tammuz. They saw the land with eyes that lacked faith, eventually bringing back an evil report that cost the people 40 years of wandering in the desert. The tribe associated with Tammuz is Reuven, whose name means ‘see a son’, and is derived from the sense of sight.

According to the great medieval commentator, Rashi, the last words of the Torah, “and all the great awe that Moses did before the eyes of all of Israel”, refer to the breaking of the tablets, which took place on the 17th of Tammuz. The fixing of our eyes is to realize that the broken fragments we see belong to a greater whole, which has shattered, but which can be repaired.

The Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died on the third of Tammuz, 1993, after a three-year build-up of messianic expectation. Some of his followers still believe that his death is only an optical illusion, a matter of insufficient sight.

Tammuz is the saddest month in the Jewish calendar. In order to fix Tammuz, Jews need to repair their eyes, in order to gain messianic sight of the rectified future.