While observance of the solstices and equinoxes may not taught in Hebrew school, there is a long tradition of observing these moments drawn from the talmud. In Hebrew a solstice or equinox is called tekufah (תקופה) or plural tekufot (תקופות). The word means to cycle or turning.
The solstice is an astronomical event but in Jewish teachings the observance of the solstice may actually fall up to 14 days after the actual event. For example, think about the fact that the Winter solstice is called the “Tekufat Tevet” but in many years the solstice occurs during the month of Kislev. The reconciling of the astronomical event with the ”season” is the subject of much debate and discussion in halakhic texts.
As the winter solstice is connected to Hanukkah, which occurs during a dark moon nearest the winter solstice, the observance of the turning offers an opportunity to not only see this holiday through the lens of a winter solstice ritual but also to explore the impact on the movement of the start of the solstice season nearer or farther from Hanukkah.
There are actually many Jewish winter solstice tales and a great deal of lore around the Winter and other tekufot. For a variety of reasons, we’re not supposed to drink water stored in the house or in “vessels” on the first day of the tekufot. The belief is that the water is poisoned with blood. Each season seems to have its own reason for this. At the Winter Solstice it’s because that is the day Jepthah sacrificed his daughter.
The winter solstice seems to have to do with sight, or the lack thereof. Mountains become visible to Noah, and the patterns of nature become visible to Adam and Eve. Leviathan is associated with inner site. Jepthah, on the other hand, is blind to his own wrong doings. On the winter solstice the sun’s light begins to become stronger, and we too consider how to strengthen our vision.”The Jewish Book of Days by RK’Jill Hammer
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Adapted from a post originally written for Peeling a Pomegranate (2003-2013) by Kohenet Ketzirah haMa’agelet