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The Name of "Tamuz"

In Judaism there are known red lines, which can never be crossed. Idol worship is one example--it is unequivocally forbidden in any form, even on the pain of death. Even a superficial action that mimics what idol-worshippers do is forbidden.

In light of this strong prohibition, the Hebrew name of this month, Tamuz, is puzzling. Tamuz was the name of a Babylonian idol in the First Temple era. How has it become the Jewish tradition to name a month after this idol, to make it a household name?

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What does the name "Tamuz" mean? In Babylonian, it means great heat. And thus it is an apropos name for a month in the thick of summer.

This idol is likewise associated with great heat, as described in the book of Ezekiel (14:8). The name Tamuz was adopted by idol-worshippers to reflect the character of their idol, but the name actually predated the idol. Which is why it is suitable for Jews to call the month Tamuz by this name.

However, we can still ask why it is necessary for the name of the month to reflect the current weather. Couldn't they have chosen a different name, that had no connotations of idol-worship?

One reason is because in Judaism, the weather at a particular time of year is not incidental but reflects G-d's relationship with the world at that time. When the sun shines strongly, this derives from an intense reflection of spirituality in this world, which aids us in our Divine service. The name Tamuz indicates not only the intense weather during this month, but the intense G-dliness that shines in this world.

And, to reflect this reality, the name Tamuz is used, despite the fact that some idol-worshippers decided to usurp the name for their deity.

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This approach is fundamental in Judaism: When our rabbis have established a certain path in Divine service, or use a particular expression in prayers, we accept that as part of our tradition, without weighing how outsiders will receive it. The ways instituted by our sages have spiritual weight, even if one can raise questions based on alternate interpretations. If a word used by our sages has a negative association, we must correct the misconception, but not negate the original intention of our sages.

This is also an answer to those who wonder how Chabad chassidim disseminate the Rebbe's message that the Redemption is at hand and that the Rebbe will lead us out of exile at any moment. The argument is that talk such as this evokes a connotation of idol-worship, or has an association with foreign religions.

 However, "We have nothing more than the words of [Moses] ben Amram." We have implicit faith in the Rebbe's message, which is based on his thorough and deep understanding of Torah. The Rebbe will not lead us astray. The Rebbe has instructed us to disseminate this message, in a manner that will be understood and accepted by all. We have an obligation to carry out this instruction, and with G-d's help, this message will take root and we will all witness its fruition, immediately in our time.
   
 

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