I heard an NPR commentator talking about August the other day, and I was fascinated. She pointed out that it’s a tough month, what with the heat and being the shank of the summer, and she mentioned that historically, tempers tend to flare in August.
This of course made me sit up and take notice, because just recently we observed Tisha B’Av, which commemorates many tragedies that befell the Jewish people on the 9th day of the month of Av, which falls somewhere in late July or early August. None of the historical events that the NPR reporter mentioned were among the Tisha B’Av tragedies, but her point was essentially the same… Heat changes people. And not in a good way.
Her prescription for dealing with the heat was quintessentially Jewish – read a good book. We Jews are all about reading good books, especially the Good Book.
This led me to wonder about Ramadan and what it must be like to observe it during the summer. Before I go on, I should explain that the Muslim calendar differs from the Jewish calendar significantly. Theirs is purely lunar. Ours is a combination of lunar and solar, which allows us to keep holidays in their proper season.
The result of a pure lunar calendar is that holidays literally move around the year. Sometimes Ramadan is in the summer, other years it’s in the dead of winter. This matters when your holiday observance involves not eating during the daylight hours. A lot.
This year, it spans the month of August. I checked, and today sunrise was at 6:15am, and sunset was 7:41 pm.
So I began to wonder – what must it be like to not eat for 12 to 14 hours every day for a month? When it’s roasting hot outside? Fasting for 25 hours on Tisha B’Av is one thing. Fasting during all daylight hours for a month is quite another.
I heard another NPR story (I spend a lot of time in the car ) about an Imam in Texas, where they’re having a terrible heat wave. He told his congregants who work outdoors and in hot places – construction, landscaping, restaurant kitchens and the like – that they must drink water at the very least. Health before religion.
That too is very Jewish; everyone know that pregnant women, the elderly, sick people and children shouldn’t fast on Yom Kippur. And there’s a famous Talmudic saying, where there’s no bread there’s no Torah. In other words, being hungry precludes being able to think about one’s spirituality (this doesn’t apply to fasting for spiritual purposes, of course… although in fact it does make it harder).
So where did all this wondering bring me in the end? It reminded me how very alike all of us humans are. We spend a great deal of time dwelling on our differences, be they political, geographical, religious, gender, or genealogical. But when you come right down to it, we’re all remarkably similar.
And my wonderings led me to an ingenious solution. I humbly suggest that we pass a new law for the dog days of August. Every day during the month, everyone stops working and sits down with a stranger at about 4 pm, and they have a glass of lemonade together.
I’m not so naive as to think that it’s at all feasible. But I do think it has possibilities.