Brookwrite

Columns - 2007

    Day of Morning

    Judaism has a great many, inappropriately named, fast days. These days are designated for mourning one event or another, or several at a time.

    Judaism has many rituals around mourning. There's a prayer for it in every service, which interestingly says nothing about death or sadness.

    It's little wonder, then, that the long-lost Mishnah tractate Bava Gump describes a Jewish holiday heretofore lost in time: the Day of Morning.

    Celebrated on the Third of Tammuz, this day was all about bright happiness. It was summer, it was hot. The rabbis saw that the seventeenth of Tammuz was nigh, then Tisha B'Av, which means Yom Kippur can't be that far. Call them radicals, they needed some balance.

    The Third of Tammuz is the day attributed to the battle of Givon. Most of you don't recognize it yet, but it's a Sunday School story in which Joshua leads a battle against the Emorites.

    Because their war planning was outsourced to the Bush Administration, the fighting went longer than expected. The sun was about to set and there was no clear exit strategy beyond a decisive victory.

    As we all learned between naps, the sun stayed up an extra twelve hours until the battle was won, decisively. (It's not the same battle where Moses' arms in the air led to victory and lowering them caused defeat. Reread your notes. Or Bible.)

    So what happened on this Day of Morning? It's unclear how it actually transpired but, as with all things Jewish, the intent was dwelled upon at great length.

    Despite being recorded in Bava Gump, kosher shrimp was not served. All three meals were intended to be breakfast, in commemoration of the everlasting morning. To counter-balance the raft of fast days throughout the calendar, the Day of Morning was to have an excessive amount of eating throughout the day. Bagels spread throughout the day, with spread.

    The sun was to stay up for all twenty-four hours. Of course, this required a bit of help beyond rabbinic edict. There's no recorded instance where this actually came to pass, possibly because of the difficulty raised in twenty-four hours of morning sun. First, how could one tell when the day ends without sunrise or sunset? Second, that pesky gravity thing would stop working.

    Questions arose about ritual. For example, would all three daily services be morning minyan only? If it fell on a Monday or Thursday, would the Torah be read all three times? If it was on a Saturday, would there be three sermons, one for each service?

    Or would there be only one service for the entire day, to eliminate redundancy and monotony from getting any worse than it already is?

    Good questions, all. Bava Gump clearly records that every possible answer was suggested. Straying from Talmudic tradition, Bava Gump does not restate every possible answer, but for brevity's sake it simply says, "every possible answer was suggested." In Hebrew, though.

    Because the Day of Morning is in its way strategized to counter-balance the many fast days, it was believed there should be a certain distinction from it and other days of the year.

    Fast days are sadder commemorations, we don't eat, we engage in intellectual exercises such as reflection and thought. The Day of Morning is distinguished by eating a lot, and thinking as little as possible.

    The rabbis knew that these are the characteristics of everyday life for most people. Therefore the rabbis added the first of two requirements for celebrating the Day of Morning, namely that only people who are generally miserable in the days surrounding the holiday can truly celebrate it.

    The other requirement is that you have to actually participate in fast days throughout the year, or else it's just not fair.

    One of the main practical problems with the Day of Morning was that people would go to work but would never know when to leave until the end of the next day. Similarly, if the Day of Morning fell on a Saturday, people would not know when to go to work on Sunday, would show up Monday and get fired for skipping a day of work unannounced.

    In the end, it seems the Day of Morning was lost in time because it never quite got off the ground. In its way, it could be an early example of death by committee.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who is not a morning person, partly because he's finishing the script for More Than Petticoats, which premieres this September in California. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at http://brookwrite.com/.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.