We don’t talk much about the solstices and equinoxes in maintstream Judaism. If you do, you are likely to be accused of being “Pagan.” It’s sad, really. Judaism is such an inherently earth-based religion, if you choose to incorporate those elements. The Jewish calendar and the holidays make so much more sense if you allow this layer to permeate your understanding of what it’s all about. At least I think so!
The word Tekufah means “periods” or “circuits,” and according to most sources I can find. It is used the Tanach, but not to refer to the equinoxes or solstices. It is interesting to note that it does appear four times in the Tanach, so make of that what you will. The idea of the Tekufot to mean seasons, or refer more specifically to the solstices and equinoxes comes from the Talmud and later traditions. One thing to note is that the Tekufot (ha, that rhymed) are really the changing of seasons, not necessarily the equinox or solstice. But that’s because anything that involves the Talmud means there’s a whole bunch of differing opinions.
So with that — let’s talk about Tekufah Tammuz – the beginning of summer in Jewish tradition. It’s sort of aligned with the solstice, but of course that would be too easy for us. Some sources will tell you that Tekufah Tammuz falls on the summer solstice. Some will tell you that it’s anywhere from 14 to 18 days later, and then others will say that the whole summer is called “Tekufah Tammuz.” In doing some additional research, I discovered the reason a Tekufah may or may not fall directly on a solstice or equinox is because it’s based on a counting of days. Here’s a source citation for those who want deep dive into the labyrinth that is halacha.
My favorite bit of lore around the Tekufot is that that these are the moments in the year when the angels who guard the year have a “shift change.” I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to grab a cab in NYC when the shift change happens, but I really hope the angelic version is nothing like that. At Tekufah Tammuz, in particular, the ramifcations of this angelic shift change is that water stored in our homes is at risk. A variety of sources say this is because Moses whacked the rock to get water on that day, instead of asking it nicely like G!d/dess told him to.
I know the solstice has passed, but since Tekufah Tammuz is the changing of the season, you could still do something to honor it. RK’Jill Hammer has a great ritual intended for the Summer Solstice, but I think you could do it any time in Tammuz. This is also a great time to explore an idea I call “Sustainable Spirituality,” and adjust your spiritual practice to fit the season.
Now the question to you! What do you think is a Jewish way to acknowledge the changing of the seasons? What do you think of the Tekufot and the Jewish solstice? The sages had their say — have yours!