From the Mountaintop of Sinai to the Descent of Babylon
All of the months are interrelated each connecting to the next in the cycle of the seasons, the ‘round’ of the year…set up by the Creator from the beginning for our benefit to make up what we call time…each is significant to the whole…and each carries within it a special spark that lies hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered…to connect us deeper to Him. This month with its abominable name and its dark history, although challenging, is no exception! We just have to dig deeper to find the sparks!
It is easy to see HaShem in the dramatic fire of Sinai, but it requires another whole level of maturity to see Him in the midst of difficult circumstances when we begin to feel the darkness encompassing round about us.
The prevailing mood in the hearts and minds of many a Jew when it comes to this dark month in Jewish history has been one of dread and trepidation. But the darkness is not limited to the Jew alone. Given the current world situation many of us, both Jew and non-Jew, are finding ourselves feeling challenged, even threatened, by all the chaos that is going on.
Are we prepared? My proposal is that we all educate ourselves and with the strength of HaShem, rise to meet this present day global challenge in addition to whatever else we may face in our personal lives during this upcoming fourth month, the month known as Tammuz on the Jewish calendar…a month that has had a characteristically ominous history for the Jewish people throughout the centuries.
The Origin of the Name
Speaking of this 4th month and its dark history Rebbetzin Zipporah Heller in an article on aish.com entitled Tammuz: Forces of Nature says this: “This month is named after the ancient Babylonian sun god (Ezekiel 8:14). I can’t say that if I were selecting names for Jewish months that this is the first one that would have come to mind. In fact, it seems the opposite of what the entire concept of the Hebrew calendar is about. Each month offers us the opportunity for growth and renewal. Idol worship is pagan and limiting. Invoking the name of a central figure in a cult that worshipped the sun as the source of all energy seems somehow retrogressive.” (Tammuz: Forces of Nature; aish.com)
“Somehow retrogressive? “ My choice of words would be quite a bit stronger here. The Prophet Ezekiel calls the worship of this idolatrous god abominable when HaShem shows him the chilling vision of the wicked abominations being committed in His Holy Sanctuary…first of the elders of the House of Israel burning incense in the dark and insidiously saying, “HaShem sees us not; HaShem has forsaken the land… “followed by the account of the women weeping over Tammuz their god as they sat by the door of the north gate of the Holy Temple, and culminating with the even greater abomination of the sight of the men between the porch and the altar in the inner court of the temple…their backs toward the Holy Sanctuary and their faces turned eastward as they shamelessly prostrated themselves towards the sun! (Ezekiel 8:12-16).
This pagan god they were worshipping can be traced to a Phoenician deity known as Adonis to the Greeks. Originally a Sumerian sun-god called Dumuzu; he was the husband of the fertility goddess Ishtar who corresponds to Aphrodite of the Greeks, known as the Queen of Heaven. This god had made its way into Babylon and sadly was adopted by many of the Jews after they were carried away and taken into Babylonian captivity in approximately 586 BCE.
Considering the reprehensible, ungodly and licentious rites connected with the worship of this god, it is no wonder that HaShem, referring to the sight of the men committing their detestable acts in the Holy Temple and the women weeping for this god, as one of the greatest abominations that could defile the Holy House of HaShem…acts that He refers to as an image of jealousy, abominations great enough, He says, “to drive Me far from my sanctuary.“(Ezekiel 8:5-6)
Why a Babylonian god’s name on the Jewish Calendar?
The Jerusalem Talmud tells us it (the name Tammuz) “came up (to Israel) with (the returnees) from Babylon, “in approximately 350 BCE. “(Rosh Hashanah 1:2)
The question arises, but why? Why did Judah continue using the name of this pagan god after they returned back to the land instead of following the original Biblical system of the 1st month, the 2nd month, the 3rd month, the 4th month, etc.?
Rabbi Menachem Posner in an article on Chabad.org entitled, “Why Babylonian Names for Jewish Months,” states that Nachmanides suggests that the reason was to help them remember that HaShem brought them out of Babylon. He references verses from the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:14) which read, “Therefore, behold days are coming says HaShem when it shall no more be said, As HaShem lives that brought the children of Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, but, as HaShem lives, that brought up the children of Yisrael from the land of the north…” which he refers to as Babylon.
It appears that this event is also a reference to a larger more widespread future redemption; for the remainder of the verse includes deliverance not only from the land of the north (Babylon), but also deliverance “from all the lands into which He had driven them…and concludes with a promise that He “would bring them back into their land that He gave to their fathers.” This same passage is repeated almost word for word a few chapters later in Jeremiah 23:7.
Rabbi Posner in the above referenced article suggests that by using the original numeric ordering system for the months with Nissan being the 1st month (Exodus 12:1) and all of the succeeding months to follow, we are recalling how many months since the Exodus from Egypt, but says that we need also to remember our deliverance from Babylon. After we were delivered from captivity, he says, “we started using the names that we became used to using while in Babylon. And now, these names served to remind us that G-d has redeemed us from this second exile.”
Certainly we would need to remember the deliverance from the Babylonian exile, as we look forward to a future redemption as spoken of in these passages in Jeremiah and throughout the prophetic writings. But do we really need to name a month after a pagan god in order to remember our deliverance? I personally think not.
HaShem warns through His prophet Moshe that we should not even allow the name of a pagan god to pass our lips, “Regarding everything that I have said to you, be careful. The name of the gods of others you shall not mention nor shall it be heard through your mouth.” (Exodus 23:13) HaShem is a jealous G-d. He makes it very clear in the opening words of the Ten Commandments (literally The Ten words, sayings or matters) “Anochi HaShem Elohecha!” “I am HaShem your G-d”…”you shall have no other gods beside Me!”(Deut. 5:6-7, Exodus20:1-2)
Why Babylonian Captivity?
To gain a true perspective, we first need to ask why Judah was taken into Babylonian captivity in the first place. Reading through the prophets, the answer is clear. The people of the land were steeped in idolatry and refused to listen to the warnings to return to G-d. Sadly all these repeated warnings fell on deaf ears…first the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into Assyrian captivity and dispersed. Subsequently less than 200 years later the Southern kingdom of Judah not having learned from her sister Israel’s demise, was also taken away…taken to Babylon, a place where idolatry was rampant. In the heartbreaking words of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, we read, “and yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not returned unto Me with her whole heart, but in pretense, saith HaShem, backsliding Israel hath proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.”(Jeremiah 3:10-11).
Events Associated with This Month – Five Destructive Elements
There are many events recorded in Jewish tradition and history that occurred during this month, but there are five major ones that stand out.
(1) 1st Tablets were broken as a result of the Golden Calf Incident
(2) Jerusalem Walls were breached on 17th Tammuz
(3) Romans placed an idol in the Holy Temple
(4) Daily offerings could no longer continue
(5) The Romans burned a Torah scroll
I ask you, is it possible that many of the tragic events associated with this 4th month down through history could have been averted had Judah not held onto the name of this Babylon god and taken it back with them to the land upon their return? Have the repercussions of these choices been far reaching…even up to the present?
We may never know but it is certainly a question to consider and confront whatever challenges we may face. Is this month truly a “bad” month as it has been labeled, or is it a month of extra challenges…one that can be turned around? Is there indeed light at the end of the proverbial tunnel?
Here’s a clue and the clue is in you! Stay tuned for Part Two
by Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin
Betty Tabor Givin (who is known by her Hebrew pen name as Elisheva Tavor) is a lifelong teacher. After having retired from her teaching career of several decades in the public and private school sector, she turned her full attention to religious education. She is an ordained teacher and long-time board member for United Israel World Union. Her popular teachings demonstrate the depth and beauty of her Jewish faith. Her articles have been featured in various publications and on the web. She is a regular contributor to Netiv Center for Torah Study and the United Israel Bulletin and is presently writing a book entitled, Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface.