What is the 17th of Tammuz?
The summer months mark the biggest gap between holidays in the Jewish calendar. They also contain the period of time known as the Three Weeks. Beginning with the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and ending with the Fast of the Ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av, the Three Weeks are a time of mourning and commemoration of historical loss for the Jewish people. We remember the loss of Jewish sovereignty in our homeland with the destruction of the Second Temple and we remember millennia of exile and persecution. And then, at the very end of Tisha B’Av, we turn to hope; we speak about joy and national redemption, and we turn our attention to the coming of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
The 17th of Tammuz, the fast day which marks the beginning of the Three Weeks, commemorates the day that the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem during the siege of 70 CE. It would take them three further weeks of battling through the streets of Jerusalem to destroy the Temple on the 9th of Av, effectively ending Jewish sovereignty in Israel for the next two thousand years.
Along with the specific commemoration and mourning associated with the 17th of Tammuz, this time of year is used to commemorate the thousands of years of antisemitism that the Jewish people faced and continue to confront today.
What is antisemitism?
The Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism defines antisemitism as “discrimination, prejudice, or hatred toward Jews.”During her remarks at Hillel International’s Global Assembly in December 2022, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt emphasized that, at its core, antisemitism is a conspiracy theory that places Jewish people at the center of a network of power that nefariously influences the world.
Another widely used definition of antisemitism is from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and it states, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Some examples of antisemitism under this definition might include the dehumanization of Jewish people, blaming Jewish people for circumstances outside of their control, and using symbols or images associated with classic antisemitism to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Understanding antisemitism is an important part of commemorating the Three Weeks and these definitions can help inform personal and communal observances of this time.
To learn more about the history and impact of antisemitism, click to watch Hillel International’s three-part video series on understanding antisemitism.
Ways You Can Commemorate and Honor the Three Weeks:
The Talmud teaches, “When the month of Av begins, joy dwindles.” Below are some traditional customs and observances to mark the decreased joy of the Three Weeks:
- Because this is a period of mourning, people generally don’t plan weddings, parties, or public celebrations.
- Some people abstain from haircuts and shaving in order to physically embody their grief.
- It’s common to refrain from going to concerts or listening to music because music inspires joy.
- The last nine days of the period, beginning with the first of the month of Av, occupy a special status. During this time (again, aptly named “The Nine Days”) some people avoid eating wine, sweets, and meat because these are considered pleasurable foods. Others avoid bathing, doing laundry, or buying new clothes (beyond what is absolutely necessary).
The Talmud also teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sinat chinam, or “baseless hatred,” people had for each other. While the term “baseless” can be interpreted in different ways, the core of this idea is that hatred is a destructive force that erodes families, communities, safety, and everything holy. In addition to the traditional customs listed above, here are some rituals and practices to lessen sinat chinam in your life:
- Double down on Ahavat Hinam (unconditional love): Take a moment every day during the Three Weeks to call or text someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Go out of your way to be kind to strangers. Compliment a friend on something they did or said. Leave a glowing online review for a small business.
- Gather your people: Host your crew of friends or family to show love for people who often get overlooked, drop off donations of new toys to children’s hospitals, or make cards for people living in your local assisted living facility.
- Exercise calm and restraint: If you find yourself getting frustrated at the grocery store checkout line, the DMV, the post office, or sitting in traffic, try practicing mindfulness and deep breathing to move from irritation and frustration to patience and acceptance.
- Invest in people and organizations: Whether with time, money, or other resources, the Three Weeks is an invitation to support the causes you care most about.
- Repair repair repair: If you are holding any grudges or experiencing tension with any friends, family, or coworkers, this is a great moment to initiate healing. Whether you find complete resolution, or you begin to chip away at the tension, repairing relationships is a powerful antidote to sinat chinam. (Note: This is only recommended if it’s safe for you. Not all relationships merit repair, and we urge you to exercise your best judgment and to seek support if needed.)
Observances and practices created by the Center for Jewish and Israel Education/Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience