Israel Commemorates the “Saddest Day on the Jewish Calendar”

July 30, 2020

by: Ilse Strauss

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Jewish people spend the day prostrated in prayer (illustrative)

Thursday, 30 July 2020 | Sunset last night ushered in Tisha B’Av, a date known as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. The 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. From sunset last night to sundown tonight, many Jewish people in Israel and around the world spend the day without food or drink, prostrated in prayer. The fast is accompanied by reading the biblical account of the destruction of the First Temple from Jeremiah and Lamentations, the biblical book describing the aftermath of the destruction.

Traditionally, thousands also flock to the Kotel, or Western Wall, to pray and mourn in the shadow of the only physical reminder of the Second Temple. However, this year Israel observed a socially distanced Tisha B’Av, adhering to coronavirus restrictions limiting attendance to 1,000 people praying in fenced off areas of 20 worshipers per area. Those who were unable to attend could also participate via a livestream.    

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 when God commanded Moses to send spies to scope out the Land of Milk and Honey ahead of Israel’s entry. The rabbis teach that the spies returned from their mission on the 8th of Av. 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 in relatively quick succession. In AD 135—on Tisha B’Av—Israel made its last stand against the Roman army in a devastating battle that claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 people. Then, exactly one year later, the Romans plowed up the area where the two Temples once stood, forging ahead with a solution to wipe all traces of Jewish history from Jerusalem by building a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina, in its stead.

During the Jewish people’s wanderings of almost two millennia in the Diaspora, Tisha B’Av continued to be marred by tragedy. The First Crusades, which resulted in tens of thousands of Jewish deaths, were launched on the 9th of Av. Jews were also booted from England on Tisha B’Av in 1290, and in more modern history, the 9th of Av in 1914 saw Germany entering World War I, which paved the way for 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.

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 (Isa. 61:3).

That is why Israel holds fast to His promise is Zechariah 8:19, even during times of mourning, tragedy and pandemic: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth [the biblical month of Av]…shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah.”

Posted on July 30, 2020

Source: (Bridges for Peace, July 30, 2020)

Photo Credit: Idobi/

Photo License: Wikipedia