Judaism: The Tenth of Av: While the Temple Was in Flames

The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan stated, "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."(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.
Published: Friday, August 12, 2005 1:30 AM


The fires the consumed the first Jerusalem Temple continued to burn until the middle of the following day. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan stated, "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."(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.

On the Tenth of Av, several events occurred that had a profound effect upon the history of the Jews, resulting in tragedies of untold proportions.

Expulsion From France

On July 22, 1306, the Tenth of Av, the Jews of France were arrested and ordered to leave the country.

The Jewish community was not aware of the planned expulsion, for France's king, Phillip the Fair, did not want them to flee in advance with their assets. One of the monarch's motives for expelling the Jews was financial. Phillip saw plundering the wealth of the exiles as a way to shore up France's economic woes. No doubt, frustration at centuries of failed attempts to force the Jews into apostasy was also a contributing factor. Some local European provinces in prior years had expelled the Jews, but this decree applied to most of France. It was by far the most significant expulsion to date in Medieval Europe. Approximately one hundred thousand were forced to wander in search of new homes; many perished along the way.

In less then ten years, when Louis the X invited the Jews back to France, some did return. However, the expulsion had serious consequences beyond the immense human suffering that it caused. It had ended the great era of Jewish scholarship of the Tosaphists of France, whose commentaries illuminated Talmudic texts. The expulsion also set a precedent for other mass expulsions, which plagued the Jews of Europe in the Middle- Ages. The existence of Jewish communities within a European country became precarious. Jews never knew for sure if they might be compelled by law to pack their bags.

Barred from England

As Jews might be forced from their homes in host countries, others had denied Jews entry. In the twentieth century, with the emergence of Nazi Germany, such policies had grave implications for the Jewish community.

In the late nineteenth century, England was a haven for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing from oppression in Russia. Many of the immigrants made their way to the East End of London. Their continuous flow had slowly aroused the opposition of many British lawmakers. Some as far back as the 1880s dubbed the immigration wave "the alien invasion." Many viewed the Eastern European Jewish immigrants as pariahs, or as living in a "state within a state." With the increase of xenophobia, laws were proposed to limit the flow of 'aliens' into Great Britain.

On August 11,1905, the Tenth of Av, the Aliens Act was passed, which entitled an immigration officer to deny entry to an 'undesirable immigrant', defined by the bill as one who had no means of earning a living, one who is judged to be a lunatic, or one who was convicted of a nonpolitical crime. The bill also allowed for the expulsion of those who had already immigrated and were deemed undesirable.

With the passage of the Alien Act, immigration restriction had become law. The British legislation was not only the beginning of a policy that would enforce increasingly stricter anti-immigration measures over time, but it also impacted American policy. Americans who opposed the levels of Eastern European immigration looked towards the bill as an example of immigration limitation. In 1924, the US Congress passed the Johnson Reed Bill, which severely restricted the flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe. These restrictions remained in force throughout the era of Nazism and the Holocaust, denying European Jewry desperately needed sanctuary.

Events on the Tenth of Av in Israel

On the Tenth of Av in the year 1929, Arab hostilities towards Zionism exploded into full-scale riots. The Arabs of Jerusalem were well aware of the significance of the Western Wall to the Jews and used Judaism's holy site to express their opposition to Zionism. On Yom Kippur 1928, the British consented to Arab demands to remove the mechitza, the divider separating men from women when in prayer. In the middle of Yom Kippur services, British soldiers entered the grounds of the Western Wall and removed the mechitza.

As the debate over Jewish rights to pray at the Western wall continued, efforts were made by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, to keep Jews from praying at their sacred site. Husseini whipped Arab masses into a rage by charging that the Jews were attacking the Muslim holy places.(2) Soon after, on the sixteenth of August 1929, as a newly constructed door near the Wall was opened, Jewish worshippers were attacked, despite British assurances that the door would never be permitted to be used for such purposes.(3) Two Jews were injured and many religious articles were destroyed.

On the next day, the seventeenth of August - the 11th of Av - thousands of Arabs armed with clubs, swords and daggers converged upon the Mosque of Omar to hear impassioned speeches by their leaders.(4) Soon, the cry "Slaughter the Jews!" was bellowed by masses of Arabs in the streets of Jerusalem. Over the next few days, there were attacks at Mount Scopus and in the Bukharan section of Jerusalem, where young Abraham Mizrachi was mortally stabbed.

Over the next ten days, rioting would take the lives of 133 Jews and leave 339 wounded. Among the victims were those of the massacre in Hebron. When the British police, who were slow to act, finally restored order, it again became clear that solutions to the conflict between Arab and Jew were not forth coming.

Throughout the Arab world, the conflict and the issue of Jewish settlement became highlighted as a result of the riots. Massive demonstrations were held throughout Arab countries in sympathy with the Arabs in 'Palestine'. In Iraq, ten thousand assembled in memory of the victims of "British Zionist aggression". Then, they poured out into the streets in angry demonstration. Such displays further pressured the British to yield to Arab terms, which demanded severe restrictions on Jewish immigration into Palestine, and the British did respond by imposing such severe restrictions with the Passfield White Paper of 1929 and the eventual MacDonald White Paper of 1939.

The first of the 1929 anti-Zionist riots, which prompted the British to further restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine, began on August 16 1929 -- the Tenth of Av. As events of the day contributed to the closure of the West to Jewish immigrants, so too was sanctuary in the Land of Israel denied to the Jews in their greatest hour of need.

Indeed, the destruction of the Temple, which continued into the Tenth day of Av, is remembered and mourned on that day; so too are the tragedies over the course of Jewish history remembered and mourned on that fateful day.

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?

Footnotes:

(1) Taanit 29A

(2) Jewish Daily Bulletin, August 19, 1929, no. 1444, pg.1

(3) Jewish Daily Bulletin, August 20, 1929, Vol. 1445 pg. 1

(4) Jewish Tribune August 30, 1929, Volume 95 no. 9, Pg.1