On the “ninth of Ab” it was decreed concerning our fathers, that they should not enter into the land (of Canaan), the first and second temple were destroyed, Tisha B’av may have been our 9/11, but out of this painful crucible, we will eventually emerge stronger and more robust than ever before.
Tisha B’Av Study Archive
17 Tammuz / 9th of Av
- First Temple destroyed by Babylonians, 586 BC
- Second Temple destroyed by Romans, 70 C.E.
- Expulsion of Jews from Spain, 1942
- World War I started, precipitating WWII and the Holocaust
- The first Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were shipped to the Treblinka extermination center
Jewish Sources: Talmud | Visual Timeline of the Roman-Jewish War | Zakkai Study Archive | The Wars of the Jews Libraryﻩ Exhaustive Bibliographyﻩ Visual Timeline | Works of Flavius Josephus ﻩ Josephus in Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia ﻩ Ancient Histories of Flavius Josephus ﻩ Flavius Josephus Home ﻩ PACE ﻩ Josephus, the Primary Source ﻩ Scientific Dating ﻩ Governmental Administrations ﻩ First Century Jerusalem ﻩ Historical Maps ﻩ Maps of Jerusalem | Rabbi Finkle
- 2001: The Third Haftarah of Punishment
- A Harrowing Tale of Destruction
- Calibrating the Year of the 2nd Temple’s Destruction Maimonides wrote in his Responsa (responsum # 389) that the date in which we traditionally reckon the 2nd Temple’s destruction is the year which preceded the 380th year of the Seleucid Era, otherwise known as the Year of Alexander (a date which corresponds to anno69 CE). This means the destruction of the Temple fell out in the month of Av in 68 CE. The dating of 70 CE, on the other hand, is widely used by the Christian world to reckon the year of destruction. This treatise will prove the accuracy of the Jewish tradition.
- Remembering Jerusalem’s destruction “Welcome to Beit Katros – the home of an important family of priests who served in the Second Temple and are mentioned in the Talmud. Visitors to the restored ancient site are in for a unique experience: a gripping multimedia, sound and light show dramatically recreates the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple against the backdrop of the social strife and fraternal division that undermined the foundations of the Jewish nation.”
- Rabbi Cassi Kali: A decade later, hatred from Sept. 11 far from over “After the second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, the resulting devastation on the Jewish people left many asking, “why?” One reason given was that this happened not because of war or political strife, but because people harbored baseless hatred for one another.”
- MK Ze’ev: Remember Expulsion Like the Destruction of the Temple “Wednesday marked six years since the destruction of Gush Katif, the expulsion of its 8,000 Jewish residents and the burning of the synagogues there, in the “disengagement” from Gaza by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government. MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) told Arutz Sheva that the expulsion from Gush Katif should be remembered just as the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is remembered.”
- Reuven Hammer: The Limits of Mourning (2008) “The three week period mourning for the destruction of the Temple begins this week and once again we will recall the catastrophes that overtook our people both in the year 586 BCE when the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and in 70 CE when the Second Temple was burned by the Romans. Perhaps it is too simple, however, to speak only about the Temple. Much more was involved.” (The writer is an author and lecturer who serves as the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement.)
- Tisha Be’Av: The Third Temple that wasn’t Julian, who wanted to form a common cause with the Jews against Christianity, asked: “Why do you not sacrifice to God, as required by the laws of Moses?” The Jews replied: “We are not allowed by our laws to sacrifice outside our Holy City. How can we do it now? Restore to us the City, rebuild the Temple and the altar, and we shall offer sacrifices, as in days of old.” He promised: “I shall endeavor with the utmost zeal to set up the Temple of the Most High God.”
- 2007: When God Moved Out “Then, in the middle of the night one night, I woke up from a drunken stupor. I must have been out for a long time, maybe the whole previous day. I looked around and discovered that Jeff and the kids were gone. I mean really gone. They had moved out and taken all their stuff with them. I couldn’t believe it. Jeff was always crazy about me. I was sure he’d come back. I was sure until the day the divorce papers arrived by registered mail. Then I knew that I had ruined my life. That’s when I started to come to AA. On Tisha B’Av God walked out on us and took His house with Him. “
- 2007: Group seeks to make AD70 more relevant for secular Jews – “Kalmanovitz decided to use the words of the Jewish historian Josephus, who witnessed and survived the bloody ordeal of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. by the Romans. In his writings, Josephus describes not only the Second Temple’s destruction, but also the Roman massacre of the Jewish population in the Holy City. “We deal with so many symbols that we tend to forget that these events happened to real people,” Kalmanovitz says. The audience can expect to hear such horrific descriptions as “…They [The Romans] went in numbers into the … city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook … and set fire to the houses whither the Jews fled … and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood.” (Jewish Wars, Book VI, chapter 8, paragraph 5)”
- 2005: History through a Jewish lens: The War of Tisha B’av – “This translation comes from my Artscroll edition of the Chumash, pages 1081 and 1085. First, Devarim/Deuteronomy 28:49-50: HaShem will carry against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, as an eagle will swoop, a nation whose language you will not understand, a brazen nation that will not be respectful to the old nor gracious to the young. Rambam comments on Deuteronomy 28:49that Vespasian and his son Titus came from Rome to conquer the Land of Israel and destroy Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The awful conditions described though verse 57 took place during the siege of Jerusalem. A yeshiva student studying these lines in Warsaw on the night of Wednesday, August 30, 1939, would have read Rambam in the Hebrew, saying exactly what I quoted you. However, if he had time to follow the reading of the Torah in shul (synagogue) on September 2 and could concentrate upon it, instead of the screaming of the Luftwaffe overhead, he might have had a very different comprehension of these same lines. “
- A Breach in the Walls – Israel Today “Historian Flavius Josephus, an eyewitness of all that took place, described these scenes in his book The Jewish War, recounting how the Romans made the first breach in the wall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This was the beginning of the end of the Jewish homeland at that time in history…. But even if the (current) pullout takes place just after the 9th of Av, the proximity to this tragic period is allegorical. The Palestinians are poised to create the first breach into the Promised Land, an event they see as the beginning of the end of Zionism. The question is whether this is the beginning of the end, as it was in 70 AD, or is it simply a turning point? After all, God has promised to change Israel’s destiny for good: “I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:14).”
|The Targumim of the Megillot|
“2 When Moses the Prophet sent messengers to spy out the land, the messengers returned and gave forth a bad report concerning the land of Israel. This was the night of the ninth of Ab. When the people of the House of Israel heard this bad report which they had received concerning the land of Israel, the people lifted up their voice and the people of the House of Israel wept during that night. Immediately the anger of the Lord was kindled against them and he decreed that it should be thus in that night throughout their generations over the destruction of the Temple. “
“19 “When I was delivered into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar,” Jerusalem said, “I called to my friends, sons of the nations, with whom I had made treaties, to come to my aid. But they deceived me and turned to destroy me. (These are the Romans who entered with Titus and the wicked Vespasian and they built siegeworks against Jerusalem.) My priests and my elders within the city perish from hunger, because they searched for sustenance for themselves to eat, in order to preserve their lives. ” (Targum Lamentations)
“On the “ninth of Ab” it was decreed concerning our fathers, that they should not enter into the land (of Canaan), the first and second temple were destroyed, Bither was taken, and the city ploughed up.” (Misu. Taanith, c. 4. sect. 7. T. Hieros. Taanioth, fol. 68. 3. & Maimon. Hilch. Taanioth, c. 5. sect. 2.)
“If I had been in the generation (which fixed the fast for the destruction of the first temple), I would not have fixed it but on the tenth (of Ab); for, adds he, the greatest part of the temple was burnt on that day; but the Rabbins rather regarded the beginning of the punishment.” (T. Bab, Taanith, fol. 29. 1.)
“what is the meaning of these words, “the day of vengeance is in my heart?” Says R. Jochanan, to my heart I have revealed it, to the members I have not revealed it: says R. Simeon ben Lakish, to my heart I have revealed it, “to the ministering angels I have not revealed it”.” (T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 99. 1.)
“Had I been alive in that generation, I would have fixed [the day of mourning] for the tenth [of Av], because the greater part of the Temple was burnt on that day.” ( The 10th of Av: When the Temple was in Flames)
(1) As Tisha B’Av has been a day of Jewish misfortune and unfortunate occurrences throughout Jewish history, so too has been the Tenth of Av. Will history record that on the Tenth of Av in the year 5765, the process of the expulsion of the Jews from their homes in Gaza began?”
“The replacement for Vespasian, the newly crowned Emperor, was the wicked Titus, from whose mouth the verse ‘Where is their G-d, the Rock in Whom they trusted?’ seemed to come. For Titus blasphemed and cursed Heaven!”
“What did he do? He seized a prostitute, and entered the Holy of Holies, spread out a Sefer Torah, and committed a sin on it. He then took a sword and thrust it into the curtain dividing between the Holy and the Holy of Holies. A miracle occurred and blood spurted forth, causing him to think that he had killed “himself” (where “himself” is a euphemism for Heaven)…”
“Abba Chanan says, ‘Who is like You, O Strong One, G-d?’ (Psalms/Tehilim 89:9), ‘Who is like You Strong and Hard, for You hear the blasphemy and the cursing of that wicked person, and are silent?’ “
“In the Yeshiva/Academy of Rabbi Yishmael it was taught, ‘Who is like you among the mighty (e-lim), O G-d?’ (Shemot 15:11), ‘Who is like You among the silent ones (il-mim), O G-d?’ “
“What did he do?”
“He took the curtain and made it like a sack and he brought all the holy vessels from the Temple and put them into it, and placed the curtain with the vessels on a ship for transport to Rome where he would use them to boast (as we see to this day recorded on the Arch of Titus).”…
“On the way to Rome, a giant wave was about to crash down on his ship and sink it, when Titus again blasphemed, ‘It seems that the G-d of the Jews has power only on the water; let Him come onto the land and fight me!’ Whereupon a Heavenly voice was heard, saying to him, ‘Wicked person, the son of a wicked person, the grandson of Esav, the wicked! I have a small creature who lives on the land. Get off the boat and fight with it.’ “
“As he stepped off the boat, a small insect entered through his nose and lodged in his brain, where it pecked for seven years, causing him incredible agony… After he died, his brain was examined and they found in it a creature the size of a wild bird weighing two selahs. Before he died, he instructed that his body be cremated, and his ashes scattered over the seven seas, so that the G-d of the Jews would not be able to find him and bring him to Judgment.”
“Onkelos the son of Kalonykos was a nephew of Titus, and he considered converting to Judaism. He had his uncle raised from the dead by magic and asked him, ‘Who is most important in the next world?’ Titus answered, ‘The Jews are.’ Onkelos asked, ‘Should I attach myself to them?’ Titus responded, ‘No! They have too many laws; you wouldn’t be able to observe them all. Better to fight against them and be a leader in the world, as it says, ‘Those who oppressed them were on top.’ ” (Megillat Eichah 1:5)
“Titus’ nephew asked, ‘What is your judgment in the next world?’ ‘My judgment is what I decreed on myself. Every day I am burnt anew and my ashes are scattered over the seven seas.’ “
Tisha B’Av & 17 Tammuz
A brief listing of infamous events that took place on
Tisha B’Av and 17 Tammuz throughout history.
Moshe declared 17 Tammuz and 9 Av (21 days apart) as special Fast Days of Mourning annually. Zechariah said that in the Messianic Kingdom, however, these Fast Days would become Feast Days of celebration.
Originally, the fast was observed on the Ninth of Tammuz since that was the day Jerusalem fell prior to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. However, after Jerusalem fell on the 17th of Tammuz — prior to the destruction of the Second Temple – the Sages decided upon a combined observance for both tragedies, the 17th of Tammuz.
The 17th of Tammuz falls on Sunday, July 8, 2001,
and the 9th of Av falls on Sunday, July 29, 2001.
The Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz (Tammuz 17)
Mentioned by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 8:19) as “the fast of the fourth month,” the 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem. On this day in 70 CE the Romans breached the walls encircling Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the second Temple. (During the siege preceding the first destruction of the Temple in 587 BCE, the Babylonians breached the walls on the ninth of Tammuz (Jeremiah 39:2), but both events are commemorated on the same date. The actual destruction of the Temple itself took place on the 9th of Av—both in 587 BCE and 70 CE See Tisha B’Av.)
“Five catastrophes befell our fathers on the 17th of Tammuz: the tablets (of the Covenant) were broken, the daily Temple sacrifices were suspended, the walls to the city were breached, Apostamus burned a Torah scroll, and an idol was erected in the Temple” (Ta’an 26a). The tablets were broken because Moses ascended Mount Sinai on the 7th of Sivan, remained there for 40 days, and descended to find the people worshipping the Golden Calf on the 17th of Tammuz. The daily sacrifices were suspended during the civil [sic.] of the Hasmoneans John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus because the Greeks at that time laid siege to Jerusalem and there was no access to sacrificial animals. The inhabitants of Jerusalem would lower money over the city wall in a basket, and the enemy would send up lambs in return. “On one occasion, a pig was sent up instead, and it dug its hooves into the wall, and the earth shook over an area of 500 parasangs … Apostamus burned the Torah scroll.” It is not known precisely to what this refers. However, some identify it with the incident in which the Roman procurator discovered a Torah scroll, desecrated, and burned it.
For the traditional, this day is observed by fasting. The fast begins at sunrise and concludes at sunset of the same day. this applies to all fasts, with the exception of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, both of which begin on the preceding night. Fasting is the only restriction imposed; Working and bathing as usual are permitted.
The fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz extends only from dawn until dark. During the Shaharit service, special penitential prayers (selihots) are recited. The Torah is read at both Shaharit and Minhah services, and a haftarah (prophetic reading) is chanted as on other fast days. The Seventeenth of Tammuz initiates a period of mourning, known as bein ha-metzarim, “between the straits”, which concludes three weeks later with the fast of Tishah be-Av.
The Three Weeks (Tamuz 17-Av 9) and The Nine Days (Av 1-Av 9)
For the traditional, the days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are considered days of mourning, for they witnessed the collapse of Jerusalem. In the Ashkenazi Jewish minhag (custom), weddings and other joyful occasions are traditionally not held in this period.
A further element is added within the three weeks, during the nine days between the 1st and 9th day of Av. During this period, the pious refrain from eating meat and drinking wine, except on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (such as a Pidyon Haben or completing the study of a religious text.) Many minhags observe a ban on cutting one’s hair during this period. However, the length of time varies: some refrain only during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls.
Tisha B’Av (Av 9)
The saddest day of the Jewish calendar. On this day both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. (587 BCE and 70 CE) On this day in 1290, King Edward I signed the edict compelling the Jews to leave England. The Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 also occurred on this day. Tisha B’av also marked the outbreak of World War I. The date is also associated with the final collapse of the abortive Bar Kokhba revolt (135 CE).
 I have not been unable to determine the source of this quote. The extremely awkward wording of this sentence fragment is presented exactly as I found it written identically on eight or nine different web sites.
|17 Tammuz||Noah sent the dove out of the ark, to see if the waters had receded. (Genesis 8:9)|
|17 Tammuz||Joseph and Samuel are born 40 weeks after 1 Tishrei.|
|17 Tammuz||Moshe broke the tablets at Mount Sinai in response to the sin of the Golden Calf. Levites kill 3000 Israelites and become set apart to HaShem. (Exodus 32:25-29)|
|17 Tammuz||Moshe’s spies search out the promised land. Day 19 (Numbers 13, 14 Mishna, Ta’anit 29a)|
|-1312||9 Av||Spies return from 40 days in Israel with evil reports of the Land of Israel. Jewish people cry in despair, give up hope of entering the Land of Israel.|
|-587||17 Tammuz||The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, after the Kohanim could no longer obtain animals.|
|-587||9 Av||Destruction of First Temple by the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezar. About 100,000 Jews killed during invasion. Exile of remaining tribes in southern kingdom to Babylon and Persia.|
|-168||17 Tammuz||Antiochus defiled the Temple by offering a slaughtered pig on it’s altar and spreading pig’s blood and entrails on the walls and inner parts of the holy of holies in the Temple. This was the “abomination of desolation” foretold by Daniel and was also a precursor to antichrist who will come in the End Times.|
|70||17 Tammuz||Jerusalem’s walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple.|
|70||9 Av||Destruction of Second Temple by Romans, under Titus. Over 2,500,000 Jews die as a result of war, famine and disease. Over 1,000,000 Jews exiled to all parts of the Roman Empire. Over 100,000 Jews sold as slaves by Romans. Jews killed and tortured in gladiatorial “games” and pagan celebrations.|
|71||9 Av||Turnus Rufus plows site of Temple. Romans build pagan city of Aelia Capitolina on site of Jerusalem.|
|134||17 Tammuz||Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos the Wicked burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries. |
|135||9 Av||Bar Kochba revolt crushed. Betar destroyed – over 100,00 killed.|
|1095||9 Av||First Crusade declared by Pope Urban II. 10,000 Jews killed in first month of Crusade. Crusades bring death and destruction to thousands of Jews, totally obliterate many communities in Rhineland and France.|
|1239||17 Tammuz||Pope Gregory IX ordered the confiscation of all manuscripts of the Talmud.|
|1290||9 Av||Expulsion of Jews from England, accompanied by pogroms and confiscation of books and property.|
|1391||17 Tammuz||More than 4,000 Spanish Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain|
|1492||9 Av||Inquisition in Spain and Portugal culminates in the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. King Ferdinand of Spain issued the expulsion decree, setting Tisha B’Av as the final date by which not a single Jew would be allowed to walk on Spanish soil. Families separated, many die by drowning, massive loss of property. With funds provided by Ferdinand, Christopher Columbus, a Messianic Jew, sets sail to locate the land which will become a Jewish refuge.|
|1559||17 Tammuz||The Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted.|
|1776||17 Tammuz||United States of America gained their independence from England, and became the place of religious freedom for both Jews and Gentiles for over 200 years.|
|1914||9 Av||Britain and Russia declare war on Germany. First World War begins. First World War issues unresolved, ultimately causing Second World War and Holocaust. 75% of all Jews in war zones. Jews in armies of all sides – 120,000 Jewish casualties in armies. Over 400 pogroms immediately following war in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.|
|1942||9 Av||Deportations from Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp begin.|
|1944||17 Tammuz||The entire population of the Kovno ghetto was sent to the death camps|
|1970||17 Tammuz||Libya ordered the confiscation of all Jewish property.|
|1989||9 Av||Iraq walks out of talks with Kuwait.|
|1994||9 Av||The deadly bombing the building of the AMIA (the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina) which killed 86 people and wounded some 300 others.|
 Some sources claim that Apostamos was a Roman general and that this event occurred just prior to the Bar Kochba revolt. Other sources claim that Apostamos was a general of Antiochus and that this event occurred ca. 168 BCE.]
“The Destruction of the House”
Tisha Be’av: The Jewish people’s 9/11
By MICHAEL FREUND
Say what you will about Jewish holidays never being on time, but Tisha B’av this year couldn’t possibly be falling at a more suitable moment.
With rockets raining down on the north and south of the country, suicide bombers attempting to infiltrate Israel’s cities, Iran developing nuclear technology and much of the world’s wrath unfairly aimed in our direction, the onset of the fast day this evening seems downright fortuitous.
After all, this time of year has always been one of sadness and grief on the Jewish calendar, as we commemorate the numerous disasters that befell our people on Tisha B’av throughout the ages.
Now, with so much terror and bloodshed going on around us, and mounting uncertainty about what the future may hold, Tisha Be’av has never seemed more relevant.
Obviously, a little historical perspective helps, so consider this: Tisha B’av is the ninth day of the 11th month on the Hebrew calendar. In other words, it is the Jewish people’s 9/11, our national day of infamy.
ALL THROUGH our history this day has been one of calamity and disaster, starting with the biblical sin of the spies in the desert who spoke ill of the Promised Land, on through the outbreak of World War I, the outcome of which paved the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
In the medieval period, Tisha Be’av coincided with the banishment of the Jews from various European countries. It was in 1290, on Tisha Be’av, that King Edward I of England signed the edict ordering the expulsion of all Jews from his realm. This dastardly act was replicated by France’s Philip the Fair in 1306, and later by Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
But, of course, the central theme of the day lies in recalling the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, both of which fell, centuries apart, on Tisha B’av.
When the Roman legions of the emperor Vespasian, led by his son Titus, captured the Holy City over 19 centuries ago, it marked a turning point in our people’s fate.
The historian Josephus, in Book 6, Chapter 9 of The Jewish War, asserts that some 1.1 million Jews died at the hands of the Romans during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and another 97,000 were taken captive. Many were either sold into slavery or fed to the lions.
It was akin to a spiritual and demographic Holocaust, one that nearly shattered the people of Israel, marked the end of the commonwealth and initiated a long and painful exile from which most of world Jewry has yet to return.
Indeed, all the tragedies and suffering that have befallen the Jewish people over the past 2,000 years – the Crusades and the Inquisition, the Cossacks and the pogroms, on through the Nazi Holocaust – can be traced back to that fateful day, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, when the flames rose up over Jerusalem and consumed the house of God that lay at its heart.
Had the city not fallen, had the Jews not been defeated, the exile might never have occurred, along with all the death and destruction that have accompanied it throughout the ages.
AND HERE we are, on the eve of Tisha Be’av, nearly 2,000 later, and the Jewish people find themselves once again under siege.
Like the Romans of old, our modern-day enemies have surrounded the Jewish state, diplomatically and militarily, terrorizing the populace and attacking the innocent. Cease-fires are of no interest to them, nor is peace their concern. Their agenda is simple and straightforward, and chillingly extreme: to eliminate the Jewish presence entirely from the region.
It is not a very cheerful thought, I know, given our past track record on Tisha B’av. Even the most jovial of optimists must surely be wondering where this is all headed.
Yet there is precisely one aspect of Tisha B’av that gives me reason to hope that somehow, in some way, this time around things might just be different.
The Talmud tells us that it was senseless hatred among the Jews that brought about the downfall of the ancient Temple. Josephus too notes how the bitterly divided Jewish factions continued to fight and undermine each other, even as the Roman troops advanced forward to slaughter them.
Nowadays, however, one thing has become clear: Amid all the violence directed against us we stand together, united as never before.
How long it will last is anyone’s guess. But even if it does prove fleeting, it nonetheless gives us a glimpse of a better future, when all of Israel will truly come together.
SO WHEN we sit down on the floor this evening and read the prophet Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations while abstaining from food and drink, it is worth recalling that all is truly never lost.
Tisha B’av may have been our 9/11, but out of this painful crucible, we will eventually emerge stronger and more robust than ever before.
For if Jewish suffering was born on Tisha B’av as a result of disunity, at least we can say that this time around, we are entering the fast day forged again into one.
And that thought alone should provide us with comfort. As King David once said (in Psalms, chapter 30): “You have transformed my sadness into a joyful dance, you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy.”
May that be the legacy of this year’s Tisha B’av, and ours as well.
The writer served as an aide in the Prime Minister’s Office to former premier Binyamin Netanyahu. He is currently chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.
“The Destruction of the House”
Parashat Dvarim/Shabbat Chazon
5764/2004: “The Absence of Jerusalem”
By Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Tisha Be’Av, the only sad day on the Jewish calendar, the day upon which we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, is soon upon us. And so we mark this Shabbat as the “Shabbat of Vision” (“Shabbat Chazon”), named for the first verses of the Haftarah in which Isaiah son of Amoz gives voice to a divine vision that loathes the contemporary reality. Isaiah, who lived more than one hundred years before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE, calls out against a community tremendously careful regarding ritual and wantonly careless regarding human morality. As Rabbi Ismar Schorsch writes, “without the latter God found the former utterly repugnant.”
Tradition tells us that the Second Holy Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, fell in 70 C.E. to the Romans because of Sinat Chinam, free-flowing hatred. This hatred, emblematic of the moral low the Jewish community had reached, led, in theological terms, to God abandoning the Temple and Jerusalem. Interpersonal hurt has serious ramifications, to which even Heaven is vulnerable.
The Lecha Dodi is full of references to this concept of Jerusalem’s abandonment, and on the Friday night of Shabbat Chazon it is therefore traditional to sing Lecha Dodi to a mournful melody, atypical for both the joyous Shabbat and the stirring Lecha Dodi.
Some Jewish communities use the tune of “Eli Tziyon,” a traditional dirge for Tisha Be’Av. But the melody I’ve learned has no known origin. It manifests for one night and disappears until the next year.
During my early years at Ramah Nyack, Rabbi Stanley Bramnick traditionally led davenning on the Friday night of Shabbat Chazon. Voiced with depth, the Lecha Dodi that would pour from the front of shul that night somehow conveyed a pervasive sense of absence. And when Rabbi Bramnick ended his tenure at Ramah, I nervously began leading that davenning, using his tune for Lecha Dodi.
As the first time arrived for me to begin Rabbi Bramnick’s Lecha Dodi, it took me a moment to remember how it went. And once the melody began it became increasingly difficult to continue through my tears. Something within that haunting melody pulled my soul and made me cry like a young child.
There is something real in that moment of sadness, something that should not be forgotten. Something that defies words.
Perhaps crying comes closest.
Think back to a place you’ve felt comfortable. Things are good in that place. The place nurtures you, sustains you. For one day a year, Jews live the absence of that place. And for us, that place is Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most incredible part of this scheduled absence occurs if you stand in modern Jerusalem on Tisha Be’av. An over-abundance of construction sites, vibrant and colorful streets, and an eclectic collection of residents and tourists going about their business surround you. There is hardly a feeling of desolation, of absence, in the air of modern Jerusalem.
Hold onto that tension between the destruction of Jerusalem remembered and the vibrancy of Jerusalem lived as you read these words taken from the Lecha Dodi, written by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz in the mystical city of Tzfat around the year 1529:
“Sanctuary of the Ruler, royal city,
Arise from within the upheaval.
Too long you have sat in the valley of tears,
God will grant you Mercy.
“Get up! Shake off the dust!
Dress in your robes of glory my people.
Through the son of Jesse the Bethelemite,
Draw near to my soul, set her free!
”Wake up! Wake up!
For your light has arrived, rise up and shine!
Awaken! Awaken! Sing a song!
The Glory of God is revealed upon you!”
These passionate words reveal that very tension. Where there is an experience of upheaval, tears, dust, and weariness, the Lecha Dodi promises Jerusalem imminent resurrection, glory, and light. Perhaps as we today witness the rebirth of Jerusalem, the Lecha Dodi reminds us of its darker, and perhaps hidden, past lives. While there are moments when we wish God’s Glory would truly reveal itself and complete the wholeness of Jerusalem and our world, true to the messianic dreams of the Lecha Dodi, we know that we are far from the despair of the destruction.
And so, when we sing the Lecha Dodi this Friday night, we can have two experiences. With eyes open we can witness a thriving Jerusalem, but with eyes closed – and ears and heart open – we might experience an ancient soul-wrenching hope for God’s return to Jerusalem.
Which message will the Lecha Dodi deliver this Shabbat? It all depends, for me, on which tune is used.
The Midrash teaches that Jerusalem is the “belly-button of the world” (Breishit Rabbah 59:5). Though the image sometimes invites light-heartedness, Rabbi David Walk sees this statement as exemplifying the rabbis’ belief that “Jerusalem is where the umbilical cord between heaven and earth is found. Jerusalem is the physical interface with the divine.”
If you’ve breathed once in Jerusalem you already know.
But the fascinating part of all this for me is that I’ve never spent Tisha Be’Av in Israel. I’ve either arrived soon after or departed right before Tisha Be’av a few times, but have always experienced the day in the United States, so very far away.
Rabbi Bramnick’s Lecha Dodi brings me there in a heartbeat. It’s as if my body and Jerusalem develop a direct link, if only for a moment. And standing in my nurturing religious environment, with a direct lifeline to Jerusalem, I am that baby viscerally connected to my source. As God is called “Rachamim,” a word which can be translated as either “Merciful” or “Womblike,” perhaps a holy womblike environment is the best entry point to Tisha Be’Av.
What does Tisha Be’Av mean? It means that the Jewish umbilical cord is cut. It means that we’ve become detached from our source of nourishment. And for one unsettling day we experience spiritual hunger and the dependence of an infant.
If we are to understand Tisha Be’Av, we must let the day pull our souls together and remind us that our body’s blood flows through one beating heart whose very name scorches the lips.