What Connects the Summer Solstice and the Month of Tammuz? Originally Published June 24-25, 2022.

This past week we experienced the aestival solstice, the beginning of summer, the longest daylight day of the year.  Although this year the month of Tammuz doesn’t begin until over a week later, that month is often associated in Jewish life with the solstice. 

Tammuz is named for the Sumerian god Tammuz.  He was supposedly a handsome dude, who married Inanna and together they would guarantee fertility to the world.  However, it is said that either he died and descended to an underworld and his bride went to rescue him, or that he cavorted with young lovelies and Inanna went to the underworld on her own and got trapped there, and killed him upon her return.  Either way, Tammuz was saved from complete death by his sister, who gave him half her life force.  Thus he would live for half of each year, his existence representing the cycle of life.  The amount of sun begins to diminish with the aestival solstice, and Tammuz’ life force begins to diminish as well. 

We note that the prophet Ezekiel fretted about the Israelite women weeping for Tammuz at the Temple gate (this among the other atrocities the All-Seeing pointed out to him as what people do when they think they are not seen).  (Ezekiel 8:14.)  Scholars have opined that perhaps the neighboring women wept for the diminishing light, so the Israelite women joined them.  Of course, that explanation may merely be giving the weepers an “out” for having committed a sin.

Also we remember that Jacob’s son Joseph was supposedly born on the first of Tammuz, as he was supposed to have been conceived on the first of Tishrei.  We also note that Joseph’s life seems to go up and down, much like the story of Tammuz - into the pit and out, rising in Egypt and then falling. 

The very month itself, covering the solstice and then on the 17th presenting us with the anniversary of the breach of the walls of Jerusalem (we fast on that date), presents us with our own ups and downs.  In Hebrew this solstice is Tekufat Tammuz, “tekufat” from the word for “turn” or “cycle,” and it is known in Jewish tradition as the day without shadows.

This time of year both seems ripe for birth and redemption (and vacation and relaxation) and hints at change, different prospects, and less going forward.  We leave to the leadership of the prophets, sages, and rabbis whether we end on a high or a low.