Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Tammuz. It is also the day the United States celebrates its independence. And although the Jewish year starts in Tishrei (September/October), Jews only count months from Nisan (March/April). Therefore, Tammuz is the fourth month and this year, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz (The beginning of Tammuz) falls on the Fourth of July.
The month is best known for the 17th day when the siege on Jerusalem began which eventually led to the Temple’s ultimate destruction.
In fact, in the Oral Torah (Mishna) in tractate Taanit 5, bad things happened on the 17 Tammuz including:
- The Golden Calf was worshipped
- Jerusalem’s walls were breached
- Offering in the Temple was discontinued
- A Torah was burned that day
- An idolatrous statue was placed in the sanctuary
According to Rabbi Richmond, the name of Tammuz is a God of Samarian and Mesopotamian identity and was later translated in the Greek pantheon as Adonis. Which begs the question: How can it be that the sages allowed the name of a Hebrew month to share it with a foreign deity?
All the Jewish months were formulated in Babylonia and approved by the Rabbinical counsel known as Chazal. The month of Tammuz is also the only one of the Babylonian months that are mentioned in the Tanakh.
Next He brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the House of Hashem; and there sat the women bewailing Tammuz. (Ezekiel 8:14)
All of the commentators agree that this referred to an idolatrous practice that took place at the entrance to the Temple. However, the sage Rashi takes it a step further noting that the Tammuz was an idol made from iron. Rashi also adds that the eye sockets in the idol Tammuz were empty and were filled with lead. That lead was ignited giving off an optical illusion of tears falling. This was the Cult of Tammuz that worshipped fabricated tears. Richman explains that fabricated tears are created via the theater.
This point is compounded by one of the most respected Torah commentators in Judaism, Moses ben Maimon (the Rambam) who said however that there was a popular cult who would engage in the performing arts, which was the precursor to the Greek tragedies. That cult celebrated the death of Tammuz. His death was later displayed in a play. And this cult became so popular that they even performed their acts at the gates of the Holy Temple.
Rabbi Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel, another highly respected Torah commentator confirms that the Rambam understood this topic very well.
And the women were so moved by the performance which portrayed the tragic story of the Tammuz character, that that they were moved to tears.
So as Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, and Israeli Jews celebrate the beginning of the month of Tammuz, it may be wise to avoid crocodile tears, especially when watching ‘performances’…Whichever they may be.