l We are accustomed to the way that the Jewish and Christian calendars remain in sync; sure, Chanukah may bounce back and forth from early December to early January, but thanks to the occasional leap month, Chanukah is always near December 25 and Passover is always near Easter.
The Muslim calendar, however, poses a more interesting challenge — or opportunity — to interfaith activists. Like the Jewish calendar, it is lunar; every year, each Muslim month begin within a day or two of the start of a Jewish month. But since the Muslim calendar lacks a leap month, its months rotate through the year. A month that coincides with Kislev in the winter one year drifts into Tishrei in the fall a years later, and from there, a few years on, into Tammuz in the summer.
This year, the Hebrew month of Tammuz is the Muslim month of Ramadan. Ramadan, of course, is a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Tammuz has one Jewish fast day — the 17th of Tammuz, marking the siege of Jerusalem, the beginning of the events that led to the destruction of the Temple. (This year, because the 17th of Tammuz fell on Shabbat, it was marked on Sunday, 18 Tammuz.)
The Jewish fast falling during Ramadan led interfaith activists to hold joint Muslim-Jewish iftars, as the celebratory evening break-fast is called in Arabic.
One such iftar took place near Boston on Sunday night. It was hosted by Anne Meyers—a student at Harvard Divinity School and aspiring Muslim chaplain—and Dr. Jill Smith, who is Jewish and teaches sociology at Tufts University.
The gathering was called for 8 p.m. But when could they eat? Iftar, as it turned out, began at 8:25. And what about the fast of Tammuz? Jewish participants looked it up on their phones and found conflicting answers: 9:02, 8:59, 9:07. The Muslims ate the traditional milk and dates at 8:25; the Jews broke their fast at 9:02.
While waiting to break their fasts, everyone speculated about how long you could survive without eating, and if it still counts if you drink. They shared legends of people who fasted for years straight, mulling over the credibility of these tales.
They compared rules for people who are ill, pregnant, or breastfeeding—must they fast? May they fast?—and discovered an interesting discrepancy: In Islam, as in Judaism, there is leniency for the infirm. In Islam, however, once you are healed, you must make up the missed fast days within 11 months.
“It is easy to become discouraged by the many conflicts between different groups of people,” Dr. Smith said. “Hosting a small-scale event like this is a way of bringing people of different backgrounds together, and hopefully bringing about understanding on a micro level.”
“It just seemed like a nice thing to do, to feed fasting people,” Ms. Meyers said. As to sharing faith experiences, “I love it,” she said. “It helps me connect to God in a different way than I’m used to.”
If all this has you eager to hold a 17th of Tammuz iftar next year — well, the calendar has some bad news. Next year, Ramadan falls in the Hebrew month of Sivan.