Yesterday (Sunday) was the Fast of Tammuz. This is a minor fast which marks the start of the three weeks (known, with a modest lack of ingenuity, as “The Three Weeks”) before the more major fast of Tisha B’Av.
The Fast of Tammuz is normally on the 17th of the (Hebrew) month of Tammuz, but as that fell on Shabbat this year, it was postponed to Sunday. Why do orthodox Jews fast? Broadly speaking, the purpose is to make people stop and think about their behavior, to repent, and improve. The date – although I believe the Tammuz fast used to be on another date – is supposed to be the date on which terrible things happened to the Jewish people in olden times. (Given the history of the Jews, a cynic might rightfully point out that any day chosen would be suitable since something bad was bound to have happened. But we’ll ignore that and move rapidly on.)
This year I had a monster of a headache, so had to bail out of work earlier than I planned and retire to my bed. This, despite the preparation of avoiding coffee and chocolate before the fast started, and loading up on water, water, and more water. I must have been naughty. One of my work colleagues who was fasting was put to the test by his young baby choosing the night before as the night to disturb his sleep. Twice. Now that must have been a hard fast.
In the general population, this fast is largely ignored. (Yes, this does mean that food is all around you at work. Lunchtime is especially challenging.) However, that’s not the case with the forthcoming Tisha B’Av fast, which is well marked even by more traditional Jews and is a right royal depressive experience; solemn, sad and potentially soul destroying. I really don’t like it, which is probably at least part of the point. It’s a day of no leather shoes, sitting on the floor or low chairs, learning only melancholy Torah, and fasting. (And that’s just scratching the surface of the restrictions some follow.) And it’s always a hot day in Israel according to local sources.
Well, let’s hope that this year the three weeks – sorry, THE THREE WEEKS – lead to an effective Tisha B’Av, an easy fast, and no more catastrophes for anybody to mark.