From holiday to holiday, we travel through the Jewish year. After Chanukah and the secular New Year, we have Tu B’shvat (new year for the trees), Purim, Passover and Shavu’ot (receiving of the Torah). We also have the commemorative holidays for the Holocaust, Memorial Day (for fallen soldiers and victims of terror) and Israel’s birthday.
Come June, one might think we have the summer off, but that’s not exactly the case. Here and there are minor holidays or fast days often not heard of in “mainstream” Judaism. The Fast of Tammuz, The Three Weeks and the Ninth of Av are three of these moments in Jewish time.
On the 17th of Tammuz (coinciding with July 20, 2008), there is a minor fast (dawn to dusk) to commemorate the many tragedies that occurred on this date in Jewish history.
On this day, Moses threw down the two tablets (the Ten Commandments) when he saw the Golden Calf that was created during his absence. The Tamid offering (daily sacrifice during the time of the First Temple) given by the priests was discontinued. The walls of Jerusalem were violated, leading to the destruction of the Temple. On the 17th of Tammuz in 1391, 4000 Jews were killed in Toledo, Spain. In 1944, the entire population of the Kovno ghetto was sent to their death.
From the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av is an interval of time known as The Three Weeks. The Three Weeks are a period of mourning over the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the physical and spiritual exiles that came with it. During The Three Weeks, it is a quiet and contemplative time for the Jewish people. We hold no weddings, refrain from getting our haircut and do not purchase any new clothes.
Nine days prior to the 9th of Av, we stop eating meat, drinking wine and listening to music. Our sorrow is so strong that we take actions to diminish our joy. Our thoughts during this time focus on the cherbin - the destruction - and we judiciously contemplate the improvements we can make in our lives. It is another opportunity for rededication, personal growth and focusing on what’s truly important in life.
When we reach the Ninth of Av, we have fully immersed ourselves in our mourning. On the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), there is a full fast day – from sundown until sundown. Tisha B’Av is another day in Jewish history where – year after year – tragic events have occurred.
While wandering the desert after leaving Egypt, twelve spies – one from each Tribe – were sent to scope the land. Despite the signs that G-d provided telling them this was the place to enter, the spies came back recommending that the Jewish people not enter the Land of Israel. Because of this, G-d declared that none of the Jews present in the desert would enter the Land of Israel, only their descendants would.
Later, the first Temple was destroyed and years later on the same day, the second Temple was destroyed. World War I, leading to the Holocaust, began on the 9th of Av. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 occurred on the 9th of Av. In 135 CE, the Bar Kochba and tens of thousands of Jews were massacred during the capture of Beitar. A year after that, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. His desire was to eliminate any memory of the Jewish people. In 1190, anti-Jewish riots in York, England led to the mass suicide of the Jews living there. In 1290, Jews were ordered to leave England by King Edward.
We can only imagine what life was truly like during the time of the First and Second Temples. We’ve only known a time when the Temple does not exist, and we may take for granted the central role it had in our lives. With the destruction of the Temple came our inability to practice so many of the mitzvot G-d gave to us.
On Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), we slow down and take time for honor. We truly feel the sadness and engage in traditional mourning practices, such as sitting on low stools until midday and refraining from work, marital relations and greeting others with idle conversation. We do not bathe or cut our hair, and we don’t play music or engage in leisure activities.
The prohibitions may seem rather constrictive, but they are in place to help us stay focused. Just as when we mourn a loved one, the laws of mourning help to support us, move us forward and provide us with direction. The loss of the first and second Temples took the core of Judaism from us. The Temple was a place where we could feel the direct connection with G-d. Tisha B’Av is a time for us to yearn and grieve for that connection.