Tisha B'Av in Israeli society today
Commemorating Tisha B’AvJews across the world are fasting to commemorate Tisha B’Av. Many tragic incidents occurred on this day throughout Jewish history. However, the Jewish scholars also teach that the messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av as well: “Had I not fallen, I could not have arisen; had I not sat in the darkness, G-d would not have been a light for me.”
Today, Jews around the world are commemorating the Tisha B’Av fast. On this day throughout Jewish history, many tragedies have occurred. During Moses’ lifetime, on this day following the sinful report of the spies, it was declared that the Jewish people would be forced to wander in the desert for another 40 years rather than enter the Holy Land. On this day, the Jewish people cried and regretted their sin of believing the slanderous report of the spies, but it was too late. Their generation was condemned to die in the desert and only their children were able to enter Israel. From that day forward, Tisha B’Av would be a day of great sorrow for the Jewish people.
On Tisha B’Av in 423 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed King Solomon’s Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The fire that burned the temple lasted for 24 hours. 940,000 people were slaughtered by the Babylonians. Millions more were massacred throughout the country. Many thousands that had escaped the sword of the Babylonians were taken prisoner and led into captivity in Babylon.
“With what shall I bear witness for you,” the Prophet Jeremiah wrote in the Book of Lamentations. “To what can I compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what can I liken you that I may comfort you, O maiden daughter of Zion? Your ruin is as vast as the sea; who can heal you?” According to Rashi, “In times of trouble, one finds comfort in hearing of others who experienced similar tribulations, but Israel’s suffering is beyond comparison.”
The Israel Museum has archaeological proofs for the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian conquest of ancient Israel. Inside the museum, Babylonian arrow-heads are shown beside human skeletons that were uncovered in the Holy Land. Furthermore, a cuneiform inscription in which King Sennecherib brags about his defeat of Judah is also presented. King Sennecherib declared, “And Hezekiah, King of Judah, who did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity. I besieged them and conquered them.”
Five centuries later, in 70 AD, the Jewish people were starving to death while under siege by the Romans, a famine that could have been totally prevented had the Zealots not completely destroyed the food storage supply due to internal in-fighting among the Jewish people during that period of time. It was a dark period in history where the Jewish people lacked unity, were divided by various factions, and did not care for the common good. The Talmud speaks of a woman who killed and ate her own baby. According to Josephus, “The roofs were filled with women and small children expiring from hunger, and the corpses of old men were piled in the streets. Youths swollen with hunger wandered like shadows in the marketplace until they collapsed. No one mourned the dead because hunger had deadened all feeling. Those who fell to the ground turned their eyes for the last time to the Holy Temple and beheld the defenders still fighting and holding out.” Jews that tried to escape from the siege were crucified; Josephus recalled that 5,000 Jews that were searching for food were crucified by the Romans. In the end, on Tisha B’Av, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
Archeology testifies to the great suffering the Jewish people experienced during this period of time. According to the famous American archeologist Eric Cline, “Nahman Avigad and his team of archaeologists found the severed arm of a young woman in her twenties who had died nearly two thousand years ago. That was all, just an arm—with the hand and fingers still attached. It lay in a room filled with ash and soot. In a nearby room, a spear was propped up against the wall. Other rooms contained utensils of daily living, all covered by a thick layer of ash and debris from the fire that destroyed the ancient dwelling. The house had belonged to a well-to-do family, probably by the name of Bar Kathros. Coins were scattered on the floor. Some bore the inscription ‘year four of the redemption of Zion,’ indicating that they were minted in the year 69 CE, in the fourth year of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans.”
A bit later in history, the Jewish people revolted against the Romans in the Bar Kokhba Revolt. On Tisha B’Av, 135 CE, the Jewish rebels were massacred by the Romans in the final battle at Betar. The results of the Bar Kokhba Revolt was one of the most tragic incidents in Jewish history prior to the Holocaust. According to Cline, “Dio Cassius says that fifty important outposts and 985 famous villages were burned to the ground during the Roman suppression of the Second Jewish Revolt. Moreover, 580,000 Judean men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. Dio Cassius also says that the Romans sold so man Judeans prisoners as slaves that the price of slaves in the Mediterranean area dropped drastically in the years following the suppression of the revolt: so may Judeans were carried off that almost the whole of Judea was made desolate. […] The emperor expelled all remaining Jews from Jerusalem and forbade them to ever live there again. Jerusalem was now renamed Aelia Capitolina and Judea renamed Syria Palestina. And so the Diaspora of the Jews began.”
Other tragic events occurred for the Jewish people on this day later on in history. On Tisha B’Av in 1290, the Jews were expelled from England. Additionally, following the Spanish Edict of Expulsion in 1492, the last day that Jews were permitted to remain within the country was on Tisha B’Av. The Jewish Expulsion from Spain, aside from the Roman persecutions, the Crusades, and the Holocaust, was one of the worst catastrophes in Jewish history. Up to 800,000 Jews were forced to leave Spain.
Tens of thousands died while trying to reach safety. As Ben Zion Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post based on his historical research from this period of time, “The journey from Spain was one of continuous suffering. The ship owners were unsympathetic, cruel and greedy. The ships were overloaded and lacked sufficient food. The sanitary conditions invited disease and the plague quickly spread among the passengers. All these conditions left the expelled in a state of abject penury after weeks of suffering. The historian Genovani, who saw some of these exiles when their ship passed through his town’s port, wrote, ‘It was possible to mistake them for ghosts; they were so hollow; their looks were so frigid, their eyes so sunken in their sockets. They looked just like the dead, aside from the fact that with great difficulty, they were still able to move.’”
Another 50,000 Jews chose to convert to Catholicism rather than being driven out of their homes, only to become targets of the Spanish Inquisition later on for practicing Judaism in secret or merely for possessing Jewish blood. According to Netanyahu, many Spaniards were jealous of the fact that many conversos rose to the top of society and therefore, they were targeted for having Jewish blood rather than for practicing Judaism, merely due to the envy of the Spaniards. This proves that the Holocaust was not the first time in history when Jews were targeted merely because of their ancestry rather than their faith.
World War I also began on Tisha B’Av in 1914, which was a catastrophic war for the Jewish people that ended with the Bolshevik Revolution and the Holocaust, two events in world history that have been ruinous for the Jewish people. Additionally, the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp began on Tisha B’Av in 1942. Therefore, due to the tragic events that occurred on this day, Jews across the world are fasting today. After all, it was due to these events that the number of Jewish people in the world today are a remnant of what they could have been if it were not for all of these tragic historical events.
However, even though this day has been one of great sorrow throughout Jewish history, Jewish scholars teach that the messiah will also be born on Tisha B’Av and thus the redemption of the Jewish people will come from one of our most tragic days. As Tehillim Ch. 22 stresses: “Had I not fallen, I could not have arisen; had I not sat in the darkness, G-d would not have been a light for me.”
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