יום חמישי, יוני 21, 2007
The summer solstice for many centuries has been marked by various pagan festivals. However, there is no holiday on the Jewish calendar to mark the summer solstice, despite the obvious fact that other holidays like Chanukah and Passover are built on the backs of pre-Jewish pagan celebrations (as are Christmas and Easter, too). Nonetheless, as the OC Register (not my favorite paper, but whatever) article just linked notes:
some modern Judeo-Christian groups are reviving solstice worship. [Let's assume the writer intended that to be taken as not worship of the solstice but worship on it.--ed]
"Many of those who grew up in Jewish and Christian religion want to see the modern holidays in their agrarian origin," Lucas said. [Amein--ed] "These green Jews and green Christians are incorporating the solstice into their current practices." [Hey, Green Jew, that's me!--ed]
Some religious groups point to biblical passages that may have occurred on the summer solstice, including the verse in Joshua 10:12 in which Joshua stops the sun in the sky. (The term solstice is actually from two Latin words meaning "sun stands still.")
"There is also a legend that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden on the summer solstice," said Rabbi Jill Hammer, director and cofounder of Tel Shemesh, a Jewish organization focused on the celebration of nature. "In the Jewish tradition, the summer is always about this trade-off: abundance but also danger. The summer is about exile and sorrow and loss."
Tel Shemesh offers a description of its summer-solstice ritual. As for the Joshua 10 reference above--and which my previous post was about--it refers to the narrative of the battles for the conquest of Canaan (as re-told well after the events). Often ancient battles stopped at nightfall (night-vision technology being rather primitive back then); might the battle have taken place at the summer solstice?
"Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still" by Gustave Dore, (d. 1883) (courtesy Wikipedia.)
Some tradition says the battle was on 3 Tammuz. While we can't possibly know (even if the battle itself ever occurred, for that matter), if it did occur on 3 Tammuz, the impending night after the standing still of the sun indeed would have been very dark (being just days past the new moon).
Of course, each of the solar seasonal transitions (equinoxes and solstices) marks an important transitional point for the grower of deciduous fruit trees in a Mediterranean climate (such as the Land of Israel or southern California). At the winter solstice, the trees are in their deepest dormancy, while at the vernal equinox most of them are blooming or have just set their fruit. Now, at the summer solstice, we are approaching peak season for the fruit of the deciduous trees.
The "production cycle" for the deciduous fruits and other crops may have much to do with why there is no Jewish holiday tradition at this time of year. Unlike in the winter and spring, there are few natural forces that seem to contend with one another in "battles," the outcome of which will determine the farmer's bounty for the coming harvest (completed shortly after the autumnal equinox, at which we have Sukkot!). In the winter, we worry about warm days preventing good flower-bud set and about not having enough rain. In spring we worry about too much rain, or early heat and drying winds. For an ancient people being slowly weaned off polythesim, each of these battles was a temptation to stray and "bow before other gods" (paying homage to the god of rain or the god of sun, or whoever.)
Here at the summer solstice--the tension between "abundance but also danger" notwithstanding--we have the bounty of sunlight, the warm days and calm nights, almost no threat of major storms (in Mediterranean climates), and thus little to threaten the fruit.
Summer thus offers few temptations by those other gods, but plenty for which to give thanks to the One.
The connection between agriculture, mono- vs. poly-theism, and the Jewish festivals is developed in a terrific book by Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage (Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim, 1980). There is nothing in that book about the summer solstice, however, because of there being no significant Jewish tradition about this solar event. There is an interesting discussion about Tu B'Av, however, but one thing at at time! That's not till next month.
Much of this post is cross-posted at my other blog, which means I am getting less and less serious about this semi-anonymity thing.