The month of Av
Leshon Ima – Mother Tongue with Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin
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 11th month on 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 (Ex. 3:7), and Av would have been the fifth month of the year.
However, with the rabbinic new configuration of the calendar, the year begins in the fall (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), thereby Av is the 11th month.
Second, like other names of months on the calendar, the word Av is rooted in the Akkadian language, and was integrated into Hebrew by the returnees from the Babylonian exile.
The meaning of the word is unclear. Yet, in Jewish tradition Av is also known as Menachem Av meaning Av which comforts, eluding to the tradition that the Messiah known as menachem, comforter, will be born on the ninth of Av (Eicha 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, 600 years later (70 CE), the Second Temple fell on the same day (Taanit 4:6). Therefore, Tisha b’Av has become a day of fasting, similar to Yom Kippur (Rosh HaShanah 18). Traditionally it commemorates not only the destruction of the Temples, but many other tragedies, which fell upon our people.
However Av is also a month in which Jewish tradition records great joy. The rabbis of the Talmud cite that during the days of the Second Temple the young maidens of Yerushalayim used to don borrowed white dresses, not to shame those who did not have dresses, and dance in the vineyards while young men would join 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 rooted in the universal celebration of nature and is connected with wine festivities.
Av then is a month mixed with sadness and joy. I wish all our readers an easy fast on Tisha b’Av and a joyful rest of the summer.
Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin is a professor of biblical literature at Spertus College in Chicago and an adjunct professor of Bible and Hebrew at New College of Florida.