Israel Commemorates the Saddest Day on the Jewish Calendar

August 9, 2019

by: Ilse Strauss

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A painting of the Second Temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Roman army in AD 70.

Friday, 9 August 2019 | Sunset on Saturday night ushers in Tisha B’Av, a date known as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. The dubious title comes with good reason. On the 9th day of the biblical month of Av, or in Hebrew, Tisha B’Av, the Jewish people mourn the terrible tragedies—including the destruction of both the First and Second Temples—that have struck the Children of Israel on this specific date.

The annual day of mourning is marked by a 25-hour fast. This year will be no different. From sunset on Saturday night to sundown on Sunday night, many Jewish people in Israel and around the world will spent the day without food or drink, prostrated in prayer. The fast is accompanied by reading from Jeremiah the biblical account of the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC and Lamentations, the biblical book that centers on the events in the aftermath of the destruction.

Thousands from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas will flock to the Kotel, or Western Wall, to pray and mourn in the shadow of the only physical reminder of the Second Temple.

The day set aside for sorrow is certainly warranted. The tales of tragedy on Tisha B’Av read like a chronology of destruction in Jewish history.

According to rabbinic teaching, the cycle of devastation started more than three millennia ago. As the nation of Israel stood poised to enter the Promised Land, God commanded Moses: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan” (Num. 13.2). The story—and consequences—of the 12 scouts sent to check out the situation in the Land of Milk and Honey is well-known. However, rabbinic tradition adds the specific date on which the events occurred to the account. The spies returned from their mission on the 8th of Av, the rabbis teach. The camp of Israel thus erupted in wails of unbelief against God that evening—on the 9th of Av. Angered by the people’s distrust and rebellion, God is said to have decreed that day—Tisha B’Av—as a day of sorrow and destruction for future generations.

Nearly 2,000 years later, the first of many great calamities befell the Jewish people on the 9th of Av. The First Temple was destroyed in 423 BC—on Tisha B’Av. Five centuries later, disaster struck again on the exact same date, as the Second Temple was destroyed in AD 70—on Tisha B’Av.

Two more national tragedies struck the floundering nation in relatively quick succession. In AD 135, Israel made its last stand against the might of the Roman army. The Roman legions proved too strong for the tiny pocket of Jewish resistance and crushed the last of the people’s hopes in a bloody battle that claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 people. Then, exactly one year later on the 9th of Av, the Romans desecrated Israel’s holiest site. Ploughing up the area on which the Temple had stood, Rome forged ahead with its solution to wipe all traces of Jewish history from Jerusalem by building a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, in its stead.

The Jewish people were scattered throughout the nations, exiled for nearly 2,000 years. During their almost two millennia in the Diaspora [the Jewish population outside Israel], Tisha B’Av continued to be marred by tragedy. The First Crusades, which ultimately led to tens of thousands of Jewish deaths, were launched on the 9th of Av. Jews were booted from England on Tisha B’Av in 1290. In more modern history, the 9th of Av in 1914 saw Germany entering World War I, events which gave way a few years later to World War II and the Holocaust. Then, on Tisha B’Av, SS commander Heinrich Himmler got the nod of approval for what was called the “Final Solution,” the worst and most methodical attempt to eradicate the Jewish people in our time.

The 9th day of the biblical month of Av has arguably seen more tragedy than any other in history. What to make of the series of sorrow? According to Chabad.org, the Jewish people view Tisha B’Av as “another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history is not haphazard; events—even terrible ones—are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we do not understand it.”

Tisha B’Av,” a popular saying goes, “commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it is clearly a day set aside by G-d for suffering.” Over the past 3,000 years, the date has indeed been synonymous with heartbreak, sorrow and destruction. Yet God is a God of restoration, of beauty for ashes and joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3).

That is why Israel holds fast to His promise in Zechariah 8:19 (NIV): “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth [Av], seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah.’”

Posted on August 9, 2019

Source: (Bridges for Peace, August 9, 2019)

Photo Credit: The Yorck Project/wikimedia.org

Photo License: Wikimedia