The Saddest Day in Jewish History
Today marks the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It is Tisha B’Av.
Tisha B’Av means literally, the 9th (tisha) day of the month of Av. There were many tragedies that happened on this day in Jewish history and commemorate them and remember the sadness, today is a fasting day. We began fasting last night around 8:20 (well, that is Denver time) and the fast will end 25 hours later at 9pm (again, Denver time).
The fast of Tisha B’Av commemorates 5 tragedies that befell the Jewish people on that date:
- Moses sent 12 spies into Israel to look at the land. Ten came back with horrible reports but two, Joshua & Caleb, brought a positive report. The people Israel believed the bad & not the good, getting themselves 40 years in the desert.
- The first Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple), built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar on the ninth of Av almost 2,500 years ago.
- The second Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple), built by Ezra and Nehemiah, was destroyed by the Romans on the ninth of Av about 1950 years ago. This scattered the Judean empire and began our exile from Israel.
- The failure of Bar Kochba’s revolt against the Roman Empire and the destruction of the city of Betar left 100,000 Jews dead in 132 C.E.
- Jerusalem was destroyed in 133 C.E. after the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the site of the Holy Temple was plowed under by Roman commander Turnus Rufus who renamed it Aelia Capitolina.
Since these tragedies occurred on the ninth of Av, it was decreed as a day of fasting and mourning
Source: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 121:5
Other tragedies that happened on 9 of Av:
- The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095 C.E. which killed 10,000 Jews in the first month and permanently destroyed renowned Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
- 4,000 Jews were expelled from England by King Edward I in the year 1290.
- 300,000 Jews were expelled from Spain by Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in the year 1492 (which interestingly, led to the first Jew in the Americas… a Ladino Jew who was Columbus’ translator… who didn’t speak any of the Americas’ languages but needed to escape the expulsion).
- Word War 1 started on 1 August 1914 – with Germany declaring war on Russia causing devastation in Europe, German financial depression, increased anti-semitism and setting the stage for WWII and the Holocaust.
- The mass deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto of Jews to the concentration camp Treblinka happened on the eve of Tisha B’Av, 1942.
- The Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 86 and wounding 300 others on the ninth of Av in 1994.
(thanks to Halocha a Day on Facebook and Wikipedia for some of these details)
Certainly, this is not the happiest day in Jewish history and there are a lot of ritual surrounding the observance. Not only is there no eating or drinking, people don’t wash or bathe, no applying creams or oils, no wearing leather shoes or having “marital relations.” In addition to all that, since this is a day of mourning mourning customs apply. This means that people don’t sit on comfortable chairs but rather low stools or the floor, some refrain from work or greeting other people or sending gifts. Some people also will alter their sleeping routine and sleep on the floor or without a pillow to be uncomfortable. Of course there are some exceptions. Unlike Yom Kippur, if someone is ill they can eat bread or drink water (whereas on Yom Kippur only life-threatening situations will get you off the hook). Also, you can ritually wash your hands but only to the knuckles and you can clean dirt or mud off your body. But it doesn’t stop there. Studying Torah is forbidden on Tisha B’Av… I know, it sounds weird, wouldn’t you want to study Torah at a time like this? Well it is considered an enjoyable activity so… no go on that one. Except the Book of Lamentations, Job, and portions of Jeremiah that are considered distressing. Lastly, old prayerbooks or Torahs are buried on this day in a geniza. A geniza is a cemetary for holy books. Since they contain G-d’s name, we cannot just toss them out. Therefore, we bury them in a special place.
Even after the fast is over and we move into the 10th day of Av, the sadness isn’t finished. Tradition tells us that our Holy Temple burned all night and most of the day on the 10 of Av and so many people will refrain from eating meat or drinking wine until midday on the 10th.
It is a very intense time for us. Even as I sit at work and write this, I have found myself shaky with hunger and overwhelmed with sadness. But there is hope. Some people believe that the Moshiach (messiah) will be born on Tisha B’Av.
We want Moshiach NOW!
(This blog was first posted at the Modern Midrash Blog of the Jewish Portal at Patheos)
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