This week's portion: not by bread
An interview at Read Write Poem

Approaching Elul...and Ramadan.

The full moon of the month of Av is waning. A few days ago Tu b'Av passed almost unnoticed, though it's the reason why we're studying some gorgeous texts about joy and dance in my class on Hasidic Texts & The Sacred Year tonight. (Tu b'Av is the 15th of the month of Av, e.g. the full moon of this lunar month, and was once a joyful festival. As MyJewishLearning notes, in post-Biblical times it was a day of joy, and before the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE it was a holiday of matchmaking -- women wore white, and there was dancing and perhaps romancing in the fields.)

So now the moon is shrinking. When it vanishes and then reappears, a new lunar month will be upon us -- an important one for both Jews and Muslims. Like last year, this year the Muslim holy month of Ramadan overlaps with the Jewish month of Elul. The Muslim calendar moves around the solar calendar each year; the Jewish calendar operates on a Metonic system which ensures that our fall festivals remain in the fall and our spring festivals in the spring (in the northern hemisphere, anyway -- sorry, southern hemisphere folks) so it's relatively rare for the Jewish calendar and Muslim calendar to coincide in this way.

The name "Elul" can be read as an acronym for a phrase from Song of Songs, ani l'dodi v'dodi li, which means "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." That phrase can be read as an assertion about human beloveds, and also about our relationship with God -- I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine. Elul is a month to reconnect with God. It's considered the appropriate time to begin doing the inner work of discerning where our relationships (with ourselves, with others, with the divine) need a bit of repair before the Days of Awe roll around at the start of Tishri. For Jews, Elul is a month with intense spiritual focus.

For our Muslim cousins and friends, of course, so is Ramadan. (If you're not familiar with Ramadan, or if you're looking for access to what the experience of observing the month might be like, I highly recommend Hungry for Ramadan, a blog at Beliefnet where my friend Shahed Amanullah of AltMuslim blogged about each day of Ramadan in 2007. He writes beautifully about what the month is like for him.)

The practice of fasting during Ramadan has no direct parallel in Judaism (we have fast days too -- both "full fasts" like Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av, and "minor fasts" which extend only from sunrise to sunset -- but they come one at a time, not for a solid month.) Still, I love knowing that both of our religious communities will be engaged in prayer, study of sacred texts, and the practice of trying to keep God at the forefront of our consciousness during the next cycle of the moon.

During the three days immediately leading up to Elul and Ramadan, I'll be on a retreat for Emerging Jewish and Muslim Religious Leaders run by the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College. The Jews in the group are all rabbinic students; the Muslims are scholars and community leaders. We'll be doing a lot of learning together (studying texts from both the Tanakh and the Qur'an) and, I hope, creating community connections both within each delegation and between the two groups who are gathered. What a great way to spend the final days of the month of Av: engaging in a ramp-up to Elul and Ramadan, this year a doubly holy month.

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