Tisha B'Av: Day of Mourning or Introspection?

Jews continue to mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple, but do they acknowledge the miracles around them?

Yochanan Visser ,

Temple Mount
Temple Mount
Flash 90

As of the writing of this article, thousands of Muslims are rioting on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to prevent Jews from going up to the holiest place in Judaism during the Tisha B’Av fast day.

The Muslim worshippers were on the Mount to celebrate the beginning of the Eid al-Adha holiday, the feast which commemorates their distorted version of the ‘Akeidah’ - the Patriarch Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, an act stopped by God and described in the Bible, but which the Quran turned into the intended sacrifice of Ishmael.

The annual commemoration of Tisha B’Av mainly focuses on the destruction of the two Jewish Temples which were destroyed by foreign armies on this day, according to Jewish tradition.

Some sources say, however, that “the First Temple was destroyed on either the seventh or the 10th of Av, and the Second Temple was destroyed on the 10th of Av.”

This year Tisha B’Av, which is Hebrew for the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Hebrew calendar (the Jewish 9/11) coincided with Shabbat, the Biblically ordained day of rest on the seventh day of the week.

For this reason, the Jewish law is to delay the day of mourning to the tenth of Av.

If we take a good look at Jewish history we will see that the tragedy which is at the root of the mourning on Tisha B’Av is not the destruction of the two Temples, but the fact that they were part of the destruction of the whole city of Jerusalem.

This is the reason Jews have prayed for the reconstruction of Jerusalem and not only for the rebuilding of the Temple, for almost two thousand years.

The Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin 104b states that God decided to make Tisha B’Av a day of tragedy throughout the history of the people of Israel after they sinned and refused to conquer the land of Israel believing a false report by ten spies who overestimated the strength of the inhabitants of Canaan.

“You wept an unwarranted weeping, (therefore) I will establish for you a reason to weep throughout the generations,” God said to the people of Israel after they wept out of fear and didn’t believe God would be able to win the war for them, according to the Jewish Sages.

Indeed, Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks of mourning leading up to the fast have witnessed tragedies throughout Jewish history.

Not only two Temples were destroyed on or around the ninth of the eleventh month of the Hebrew calendar but many tragic or even catastrophic events in Jewish history took place during this period.

  • On Tisha B’AV it was decreed that the Israelites, after leaving Egypt, would wander in the desert for 40 years, until a new generation would be ready to enter the Promised Land.
  • The First Temple (that Solomon built) was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, in 586 B.C.E.
  • The Second Temple (that returning exiles built and then Herod rebuilt) was destroyed by Titus and the Romans in 70 C.E.
  • Betar, the fortress headquarters of Shimon Bar Kochba who lead the Great Jewish Revolt, fell to the Romans in 135 C.E on the ninth day of the eleventh month.
  • Hadrian, the Roman emperor, and ruler of Jerusalem, in 136 C.E., established a heathen temple in Jerusalem and rebuilt Israel’s capital as a pagan city in this period.
  • The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from England was signed by King Edward I in 1290 on Tisha B’Av.
  • Ferdinand and Isabella (Spanish rulers) decreed this to be the official date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and on the same day Jews were expelled by France in 1306.
  • The first bloody Crusade officially began on Tisha B’Av and killed 10,000 Jews.
  • On Tisha B’Av the first World War began, a war in which hundreds of thousands of Jews died including over 15,000 who died of hunger in Jerusalem, then leading to the Second World War and the rise of Nazi Germany.
  • On the Jewish fast day, Nazi Minister Herman Goring ordered his SS General Reinhard Heydrich to start preparing for the ‘Final Solution’ the mass murder on European Jewry during WW2.
  • A year later on Tisha B’Av on July 23, 1942, the first train full of Jews reached Treblinka where they were murdered the same day and the Warsaw Ghetto fell.
  • The late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon originally planned to uproot thousands of Jews from their homes in Gaza in 2005 on the fast day until one of his advisers took a look on the Hebrew calendar. Sharon subsequently decided to postpone the so-called disengagement from Gaza by one day. The Jews were forcefully expelled on the tenth of Av.

Jeff Dunetz an American Jew who writes for several media outlets and runs his own blog says that all of these disasters are the result of the Jews being a stiff-necked people who lack faith in God.

“Today many Jews still show a lack of faith in God and God’s promise,” Dunetz says pointing out that even today God’s promises “are being proven”. To support his claim Dunetz republished video images taken last week which showed foxes on the Temple Mount.

The images were a fulfillment of prophecy according to Dunetz who pointed to Chapter 5, Verse 18 of the Book of Lamentations (Eicha).

“For Mount Zion, which has become desolate; foxes prowl over it,” reads the verse.

Mount Zion, however, is no longer a desolate place since the Israeli army conquered the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day-War in 1967.

True, “Har HaBayit” (Hebrew for Temple Mount) isn’t fully under Jewish control due to a blunder by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan who decided to maintain WAKF control over the upper part of the Temple Mount, and as another result, preventing the excavations which could have proven exactly where the sacred areas Jews are not allowed to tread are located..

Things have significantly changed since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the victory over the Jordanian army in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria in 1967.

“When I look out my window, I see one of the greatest miracles in my lifetime and in the past 2,000 years of Jewish history. I see a vibrant Jerusalem with its infinite beauty, countless Jewish children playing in the streets, and Jews sitting in kosher restaurants, laughing and smiling,” Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers in our time wrote in an article about the way we use to commemorate Tisha B’Av.

“We have not seen anything like this in the last 2,000 years. It is so miraculous and so completely contrary to our long history in exile, that we sometimes cannot believe our own eyes,” the Netherlands-born Rabbi wrote.

Lopez Cardozo considers the way we commemorate Tisha B’Av today “a slap in the face” of God who allowed the people of Israel to return to their ancestral homeland and rebuild Jerusalem.

“Are we still living in ghettos that often resembled the ruins of Jerusalem?” the Jewish philosopher asked, although Tisha B'Av iis considered relevant for other reasons (see here).

Lopez Cardozo thinks it is time to rethink the way we commemorate Tisha B’Av and urges Jews to study the essence of the true problem which is insensitiveness to the needs of our fellow human beings.

“Perhaps the Three Weeks should no longer be a time of just mourning and not playing musical instruments, but, rather, a time for reading, studying and discussing passages that call on us to become more sensitive to the needs of others, and show more respect to those we do not agree with and be proud Jews, “ the Jerusalem-based Rabbi suggests.