Earlier this week, Jews all over the world observed Tisha B’Av, the Ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning in Judaism, wherein several calamitous events are remembered. The first of these is a central element in my second book, By the Waters of Kadesh—the report of the spies.
When the scouts returned after their forty days in Canaan, only Joshua and Caleb gave a promising report. Gaddiel and the others told the Israelites that the land was full of giants, walled cities and could never be conquered. The Israelites accepted the false report, and wept all night, demanding to return to Egypt, where though enslaved, they at least had food. The night that the people cried was the ninth of Av, which became a day of weeping and misfortune for all time.
According to Rabbinic tradition, the sin of the Twelve Spies produced the annual fast day of Tisha B’Av. Four other specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that are also remembered on Tisha B’Av:
- The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah were destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC after a two-year siege, and the Judaeans were sent into the Babylonian exile. According to the Talmud, the destruction of the First Temple began on the Ninth of Av and the Temple continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.
- The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in August 70 AD, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
- The Romans crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 100,000 Jews, on July 8, 132 AD (Av 9).
- Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and the surrounding area, in 133 AD.
Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the Western calendar. Each of the following calamities also happened on 9 Av in its particular year and is remembered on Tisha B’Av:
- The First Crusade officially commenced on August 15, 1096, killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland. A grand total of 1.2 million Jews were killed by this crusade that started on the 9th of Av.
- The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290.
- The Jews were expelled from France on July 21, 1306.
- The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492.
- Germany entered World War I on August 1-2, which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.
- On August 2, 1941, SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution“. Almost 50% of world’s Jewish population were captured and killed at that time.
- On July 23, 1942, began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
Most religious communities use Tisha B’Av to mourn the 6,000,000 Jews who perished in the Holocaust, in addition to, or instead of, the secular Holocaust Memorial Days.
When it falls on the Sabbath, observance of Tisha B’Av takes place on Sunday. No outward signs of mourning intrude upon the normal Sabbath, although normal Sabbath eating and drinking end at sunset, rather than nightfall. The fast lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the preceding evening lasting until nightfall the next day. In addition to fasting, other pleasurable activities are also forbidden. There is no eating or drinking, no washing or bathing, no application of creams or oils, no wearing of (leather) shoes, and no marital relations.
Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and a day which is destined for tragedy.
If you were to make a list of your saddest days, what would it include?