At sundown, Wednesday, July 26, through Sunset, Thursday, July 27, is the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’ Av (literally the 9th of the Jewish month of Av).
Since Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, through modern times, horrible things have happened to the Jewish people on or around the 9th day of Av.
Tisha B’ Av is one of only two full-day fasts on the Jewish Calendar, the other being Yom Kippur (why do they call it a fast anyway? IMHO, the 27 hours of not eating goes really slow). The two fasts are very different in tone and meaning.
Yom Kippur is considered a happy fast. The thinking is that people are concentrating so hard on getting close to God that they can’t think of eating.
Tisha B’Av is different. It is a sad, mournful fast. It is a day associated with great tragedies for the Jews.
The day’s sadness centers around losing the two Temples in Jerusalem. They are the worst two of the many horrible events on Tisha B’Av.
Why did all those bad things happen on the 9th of Av?
As a kid, I would cry at the drop of a hat. My Mom, of blessed memory, would tell me that if I continued to cry, she would give me something real to cry about. My Mom didn’t originate that kind of phase, God did, and he “said it” on Tisha B’Av.
After being freed from slavery, leaving Egypt, and getting the Ten Commandments (and the entire Torah) at Mount Sinai, the children of Israel neared its eternal homeland.
At the people’s urging, Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan. Two spies, Caleb ben Jephunneh and Joshua ben Nun, returned with a favorable report, “We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it.”
The other ten returned with a report that today would be fake news. The ten remaining spies’ report wasn’t positive at all. As described in the Parsha Shelach in the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, the ten remaining spies reported:
We came to the land you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant.
“They spread a [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, ‘The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.”
The newly freed slaves believed the negative report of the ten naysayers and freaked out big time. They begged Moses to take them back to Egypt, where they would be slaves but safe. In other words, they went nuts.
Would the God who just performed miracles to get them out of Egypt really send them into the land of Canaan to get destroyed? Only a few months earlier, these same people witnessed first-hand God’s miracles: the ten plagues, the splitting of the Reed Sea, the revelation at Sinai where they heard God’s voice and received the Ten Commandments, fed by God with mana from heaven, et al.
Despite seeing all those miracles first-hand, the newly freed slaves lost faith in God, who pledged to help them conquer the land.
God’s response to their loss of faith was that the generation who knew slavery would die out in the desert (taking 40 years) and that day, the 9th of Av, would be a horrible day for the Jews until the coming of the Meshach (Messiah).
Like my Mom, God gave the Jews something to cry about. From that day forward, horrible things happened to the Jewish people on or around Tisha B’Av, including:
- The First Temple was destroyed
- The Second Temple was destroyed
- Bar Kokhba’s revolt against Rome failed in 135 CE
- Roman general Turnus Rufus ordered the Temple area and its surroundings to be plowed under. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt as a pagan city renamed Aelia Capitolina, and access was forbidden to Jews.
- The First Crusade officially commenced. The Crusaders killed 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroyed Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland. A grand total of 1.2 million Jews were murdered during this crusade.
- The Jews were expelled from France in 1306
- In 1492, it was the deadline for Jews to leave Spain, convert, or die
- The beginning of WWI –leading directly to the rise of Hitler
- 1941 Hermann Göring ordered S.S. general Reinhard Heydrich to make all the necessary preparations for the Final Solution.
- The first transports reached Treblinka, and the extermination of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto began on July 23, 1942, which was Tisha B’av.
- In 1955 El Al Flight 402 was shot down over Bulgarian airspace on the 8th of Av.
- Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was bombed, which killed 85 and wounded more than 120, occurred on July 18, 1994, the 10th of Av.
- The disengagement from Gaza began on the 10th of Av in 2005, giving Hamas a base for terrorism. Disengagement led to years of rocket bombardment and other terrorist attacks from Hamas and three wars.
Tisha B’Av became the saddest day in the Jewish Calendar all because the Jews didn’t trust God and his promise to give us the land of Israel.
Perhaps our collective egos were too big. Despite witnessing those miracles, the nascent Jewish people felt they knew better than God and didn’t believe he would keep his promise. That lack of belief caused the two Temples to be destroyed and the Jews to be spread around the world.
But every bad God creates is balanced by good. The 9th of Av was also the day that Zionism began. Except for the 70 years of the Babylonian exile, from approximately 1400 B.C.E. – 70 C.E., there was a Jewish State in their eternal homeland, now called Israel.
Many Jews lived there afterward, but the number and their movement were restricted by the Romans and all the empires that followed.
Zionism is the movement for the Jews to return to their eternal homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty over that homeland.
What is not usually understood is that the first Zionists appeared soon after the Exodus from Egypt when the newly freed slaves wandered in the wilderness.
The two spies, Caleb and Joshua, returned to Moses with a favorable report and were the first Zionists. They recommended that the nascent Jews return to their eternal homeland. The land which God told Abraham to leave his father’s house and go to.
Throughout all the exiles, some Jews stayed in the Holyland. Therefore it was never bereft of Jews.
Tisha B’Av is not only the day the two Temples to God on top of Mount Moriah. But it’s also a day when we realize that wherever we live, in any country, Jews must support and protect the land of Israel and recognize that one day all Jews will return home. The movement to ensure all of that happens is known as Zionism.
Psalm 137: H/T The Prophet Jeremiah introduced the Psalm with,: “For David. By Jeremias, in the Captivity.”
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill].
May my tongue cling to my palate if I do not remember you
if I do not bring up Jerusalem, even at the beginning of my greatest joy.