The supermarkets may still be full of shoppers preparing for the advent of the coming Sabbath on Friday, but Thursday is not going to be a day in which observant Jews will be filling the kosher restaurants -- at least, until after sundown.
On the Jewish calendar, this Thursday is the tenth day in the Hebrew month of Tevet -- the anniversary of the date on which the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar began his deadly siege of Jerusalem in the year 425 BCE. We mark the day by fasting from just before sunrise, until nightfall, and add the Selichot and other special supplements including a special Torah reading to the daily set of prayers. It is one of four fast days commemmorating the stages of the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples.
Two other sad events were recorded by the Talmudic sages as having occurred on the tenth of Tevet, one the death of Ezra the Scribe who led the revival of Jewish adherence to the Torah when the Jews returned from Babylon to build the Second Temple. The other event is the translation of the Torah into Greek, known as the Septuagint, considered an event to mourn as well.
Israel's Chief Rabbinate connected current Jewish mourning to the date and designated the Tenth of Tevet to serve as a "general Kaddish day" for victims of the Holocaust, many of whom were murdered on dates lost in time, and whose day of martyrdom is thus unknown.
It took Nebuchadnezzar 30 months to breach Jerusalem's thick stone walls, but he finally managed it on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, in the year 586 B.C.E (some claim it was in 420 B.C.E).
Only one month later, on Tisha B'Av -- the ninth of Av -- the Holy Temple was destroyed for the first time, and the Jewish People were sent out into exile to Babylonia for the next 70 years. The prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations to memorialize the tragedy.
The Second Temple was built when the Jews were allowed to return by Cyrus the Great and destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans, also on the 9th of Av. Remnants of the Holy Temples still remain -- one outside retaining wall of the Second Temple is today referred to as the Western Wall, or the Kotel, or Wailing Wall -- the place where Jews weep for its destruction.
The Temple Mount, over which such controversy with the Waqf Islamic Authority has raged for so many years due to its unwillingness to allow Jews to even murmur a prayer on the grounds, is the site of the Temple and its "holy of holies," an area which only the High Priest could enter on Yom Kippur. There is ongoing controversy over where exactly on the Mount this was located, so that prominent rabbis, among them the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Cahane Shapira of Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, forbade ascending the Mount. Others, who feel the location is known, stress that it is important to show Jewish presence on the Mount.
The Islamic clerics who now inhabit the area, and deliver sermons in the Al Aqsa mosque built on the site, periodically express their intense fear of the day that a Third Holy Temple will rise from the site, and make enormous efforts to prevent at all costs the possibility that the Jews will help bring this about.
Words of inspiration and arousal to repentance are delivered on fast days by prominent rabbis in Jewish communities around the world. They urge their followers to reflect on the tragic events of our history and to be motivated, encouraged and inspired to improve their ways in order to shape events to bring a better future and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.