When Ramadan and Av Unite

07/23/2012 12:12 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2012

Asalaam aleikum, Ramadan Mubarak; Shalom Aleichem, Chodesh Av tov! May the month be a blessing for you, May peace be with you!

As the New Moon glimmered, the Jewish and Muslim communities both entered a solemn month, known to one as Ramadan and to the other as Av.

In both, fasting takes on great importance as a way of focusing spiritual energy.

During the whole month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. As they do, they turn their attention from material gain and physical pleasures to the call of God to serve the poor, to work for justice, to meditate on what is deep joy rather than immediate pleasure.

Since Ramadan is a lunar month and the Muslim calendar is a purely lunar calendar, Ramadan moves in a majestic march through the solar year, as the years unfold -- sometimes in Spring or Summer or Autumn or Winter. This year, in the Northern Hemisphere it comes in a scorching mid-summer when the time between sunrise and sunset is longest. So refraining from food and especially from water through the long hot daylight is especially difficult this year. The month can remind us all to connect with compassion not only with the Muslims in our lives but also with the poor who live in hunger through all the year.

Jews enter the month of Av with an eye toward its ninth day, Tisha B'Av, a day of lament for the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. On that day, Jews fast for 24 hours, from sunset to sunset of the next day. This year the ninth day of Av falls on Shabbat; so the fast and lamentation are postponed to begin after Shabbat on Saturday night, July 28, leading into Sunday, July 29.

In our generation, the lament can broaden from ancient Temples: We can all lament the growing dangers to the Earth, which is the Holy Temple of all peoples and all life-forms. Said the ancient rabbis, even broader, more universal, than the Exile from Jerusalem and its Book of Lamentation (called in Hebrew Eicha), was God's lament "Ayekka" (using the same consonants) as the Exile from the Garden of Eden began.

That Exile was the result of the original spoiled relationship between Humankind and the Earth: In an Earth of great abundance, God called on the humans to eat of it but show some self-restraint, not to gobble it up. They failed to restrain themselves and as a result the abundance vanished. This is a recurring disaster of human history -- until our generation, at locale after locale, region after region. (Recall how BP's refusal to act with self-restraint led to the oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.) So we can address these dangers to the Earth as the central wisdom of Av this year.

Jewish wisdom also saw of Tisha B'Av (in the afternoon, when we have taken responsibility for what we did to bring on the Destructions) as the day on which Messiah was born/is to be born. The day of disaster clears away old habits, old structures and opens up a new possibility -- the days of peace and justice, what Dr. Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. The day when a New Temple, truly a new Home for God, can be built where the old one was destroyed.

So both Ramadan and Av can call us to turn away from material excess -- to turn toward rebuilding God's Home throughout our planet, the Home we ourselves have damaged by material excess.

In a small synagogue in the mystics' sacred city of Safed, there is an unexpected painting on the ceiling -- a painting of the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem.


Because the Dome stands where the Temple stood before Imperial Rome destroyed it. Because that tiny synagogue of passionate Jewish mystics could see a new Home for God arising there -- not to destroy their hopes, not to fulfill their hopes, but to expand their hopes.

May we all join in that greater seeing in this year when Av and Ramadan unite.

Shalom, salaam!

Visit the Shalom Center for rich materials on Tisha B'Av.