I recently posted Ma’ayan’s Summer Learning programs on JewishBoston—four weeks of study with two local rabbi-educators on central texts of Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av). But when I went to tag them with the relevant holiday, the best I could do was “Other Holidays.” No “Ninth of Av,” “Tisha b’Av,” or other specific indicator of the difficult events that serve as the focus of our summer courses. Why not?
Admittedly, the summer period of mourning known as Bein haMetzarim (literally, between the narrows) or the Three Weeks, from the 17th of Tammuz (July 19 this year) until the 9th of Av (August 9), can feel like a challenging if not incongruous time. The Northern Hemisphere is focused on summer fun, but the Jewish calendar is plunged into deepest sorrow, grieving over the destruction of our holy Temple and commemorating a number of historic national and religious losses. Book-ended by fast days, the Three Weeks is traditionally marked with increasingly rigorous restrictions on our joys and comforts—from the suspension of music, weddings, and purchases to restrictions in diet and personal grooming. The period culminates in Tisha b’Av, a 25-hour fast that is also a day of intense self-denial. All this during perfect beach weather.
It would certainly be more convenient if the Three Weeks took place sometime in January. If snow were already hemming us in, the restrictions on, say, swimming and eating new seasonal fruit would feel less . . . restrictive. But maybe that’s the point. In the winter, instead of following the bleak and bleary mood of the season, we celebrate Hanukah. We light up the darkness. In the summer, when it’s easy to forget ourselves in the long sun-colored days, we remember. And what we remember is sometimes very hard.
By inscribing our people’s experience in our annual calendar, Judaism enacts this truth: life, both personal and national, writ big and small, is made of good times and bad times, and sometimes joy and grief, pleasure and distress, overlap.
Whatever your relationship to the Three Weeks, you are invited to join Ma’ayan for our Summer Learning. In The Many Genres of Lamentations, Rabbi Yaakov Jaffe, Judaic Studies principal of Maimonides School and rabbi of the Maimonides Minyan, will draw upon his study of literature in a thought-provoking exploration of the many styles, structures, and forms adopted by Megilat Eikhah (the Book of Lamentations); the course will investigate the range of rhetorical devices and voices that the text adopts in order to comprehend its nuanced treatment of the painful problems of loss and exile. In Seeing through the Darkness: The Kinot of Tisha b’Av, Master Teacher Rabbi Reuven Cohn will analyze the ancient liturgical poetry associated with Tisha b’av; tracing its themes and imagery from the Tanakh through the Talmud and Midrash will shine a light through these nearly opaque medieval texts, recovering their power and beauty.
This year, instead of ignoring the Three Weeks, embrace the whole picture, and plumb the depths and meanings of this period with Ma’ayan.