The full moon of Tammuz

Over one of the Washingtonia palms just in front of the house, at about 10:00 p.m. on Shabbat eve of 14 Tammuz, the full moon that marks the brightest 24-hour period due to its close proximity to the summer solstice.1


The contrast between the bright moon and the otherwise dark sky is a bit of a challenge for my digital camera, but the effect nonetheless conveys just how bright the moon was. It is pretty much the only source of light in the photo, though there is some illumination from a light in the house and other lights visible along the canyon below.

As I discussed in the previous summer-solstice planting, it is striking that of the four major seasonal sun-earth events, the summer solstice is the one at which there is no Jewish festival tied to the corresponding moon cycle.2 In that entry, I suggested a reason for there not being one: unlike the other seasons, this time of year threatens few pagan-temptation problems for an ancient agricultural society’s monotheism. There is, in a Mediterranean climate, almost no risk of major storms or other natural phenomena that might tempt the people to pay homage to pagan gods. And, while I am confident that the lack of such temptation is correct, I must say that I am puzzled by the references in the Book of Joshua, right near the striking passage about the sun standing still (10:12-13), to hail stones and to a flooded Jordan, the flow of which must be stopped in order for the people to cross. Both of these references imply a sudden storm, very much out of season for events that tradition claims happened around this time of year.3 (Biblical scholars, help me out here!)

As I noted, there are some modern efforts to establish a Jewish summer-solstice ritual (and some similar interest among some Christians as well; see links in previous entry). However, those efforts that I know of all place the proposed rituals on the solstice itself. Given the lunar timing of all the other holidays, such a proposal seems, well, pagan. Any such rituals (and I will leave to others what they might be) should occur or climax on the evening depicted here: the full moon of Tammuz, the period of maximum day and night light.

1. There are years in which the full moon closest to the summer solstice would be that of Sivan. Next year will be one such year, as was 2005.

2. That is, there is Chanukah, timed for the waning moon closest to the winter solstice; Pesach, timed for the full moon of spring; and the High Holy Days, which begin with the new moon closest to the autumnal equinox and continue through to the week-long festival of Sukkot, which begins with the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. By occurring on Shabbat, the full moon of Tammuz joined Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Chanukah, which all occurred on or began on Shabbat in 5767.

3. The battles depicted therein probably never happened at all. That’s not the point. The book was written after the settlement in the Land of Israel to interpret the past in a way consistent with the now-settled national narrative. If it was intended to be understood that these events happened in summer, a hail storm and flooded river are rather out of context. The commentaries I have looked at do not address this, to my satisfaction, although there is perhaps a literature I have yet to locate.

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