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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


The Summertime Blues

Over the course of our 3,300 year history, the Jewish people have experienced an inordinate amount of tragedies during the summer months, especially from the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av (this year July 11 – August 1). There has rarely been a century that this period of time has not been marred by some terrible Jewish suffering.

How should we react to this strange phenomena? Should we just ignore it, treat it as irrelevant and hope that in time our 3,300 year “bad streak” will disappear? Or perhaps there are important lessons to be learned from this unusual historical curiosity?

Long ago, our Prophets and Sages taught us that nothing in this world happens by chance. Everything has a cause and a good reason, even what seems to be coincidental. Whether what occurs is good or bad, G-d is somehow involved, directing things from above.

Therefore, a three week period of introspection was ordained during the summer to focus on the meaning of this unfortunate time of the year. Being that we all have a tendency to avoid things that make us uncomfortable, Judaism developed a variety of laws and customs to help us focus. Additionally, these practices help cultivate a connection between us and past generations. The nature of the observances are mainly based on various expressions of mourning and loss which increase in their intensity as the weeks go on.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, from the 17th of Tamuz through the end of the month, we customarily refrain from: weddings, parties, dancing, listening to lively music, haircuts/shaving and reciting the shehechiyanu blessing.

As of the 1st of Av (Mon. 7/24) we no longer: eat meat/poultry or drink wine (except for Shabbat), swim, shower/bath for pleasure, vacation, garden, launder, iron, sew (including any form of needlework), buy furniture, make home improvements, wear freshly laundered or dry-cleaned “overclothes” (as opposed to “underclothes”), give gifts, have surgery or go to court.

If any of these practices pose a problem for you and you don’t want to compromise the spirit of this period please contact me for advice on how to resolve the issue.

So far, my focus has been on creating an atmosphere by not doing certain things. However, what proactive steps can we take to make this a meaningful experience? Please refer to the list of recommended films and books that I have compiled to help people utilize this time period.