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What is Tisha B'Av and Why is it Important Right Now?

Tonight in Israel starts the holiday of Tisha B'Av. For those who are unfamiliar with it - or only familiar with parts of it, here is a quick breakdown. Tisha B'Av - literally the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar - is a full 24-hour fast in which we commemorate major calamities that have befallen the Jewish people on or near this holiday. Here are a number of things which the holiday marks. [And if you just want the nice message of why it is important - especially today - feel free to skip to the end (below the line)]

According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6), five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:

  1. The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission and ten of them gave a damning report about the Israelites ability to enter into the Promised Land, causing great sorrow and distress among the people. God punished them by then having them wander the desert for 40 years until this generation died off, only allowing the two spies who trusted God, Joshua and Caleb, to enter the land. The midrash quotes God as saying about this event, "You cried before me pointlessly, I will fix for you [this day as a day of] crying for the generations", alluding to the future misfortunes which occurred on the same date.

  2. The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, and the population of the Kingdom of Judah was sent into the Babylonian exile.

  3. The Second Temple built by the returnees from Babylon and redone by King Herod was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, and 97,000 slaves were taken from Jerusalem to Rome.

  4. The the last Jewish revolt against the Romans - the Bar Kokhba revolt - was crushed in 135CE at Beitar, killing 580,000 people. Afterwards the Romans banned the teaching and practice of Judaism, rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman city, banned Jews from their homeland in Judea for what would be 500 years and renamed the land after our ancient enemies the Philistines (who had ceased to exist 800 years prior). Jewish life however did not completely end in the land of Israel at this time, as the Galilee had not taken part in that revolt and vibrant life continued there until the earthquake in the mid-8th c. and in the 4 holy cities afterwards until modern times.

  5. Following the BaKokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE to rebuild it as a Roman city.

However, in the past 2000 years since the fast day was initiated, a number of other terrible things have been added to the list:

  • The First Crusade officially commenced on August 15, 1096 (Av 24) which killed tens of thousands of Jews and decimated communities on their way to the Holy Land.

  • The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 (Av 9)

  • The Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 (Av 10)

  • The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 (Av 7)

  • Germany entered World War I on August 1–2, 1914 (Av 9–10) which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.

  • On August 2, 1941 (Av 9), SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for "The Final Solution." As a result, the Holocaust began during which almost one third of the world's Jewish population perished.

  • On July 23, 1942 (Av 9), the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, en route to Treblinka.

  • The AMIA bombing, of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killed 85 and injured 300 on July 18, 1994 (10 Av) by Hizbullah agents sent by Iran. Nobody has been formally charged for it and a chief prosecutor/investigator was murdered.

  • The Israeli disengagement from Gaza began in the Gaza Strip, which [rightly or wrongly] removed 8000 Jews who lived in Gush Katif in Gaza; August 15, 2005, (10 Av) which many see as having led to the 3 wars with Hamas who subsequently took over the area.

Some religious communities also add a commemoration of the Holocaust on this day, as Yom HaShoah and International Holocaust Remembrance Day are both secular commemorations.


The biggest focus, however, of the day is the destruction of the Temple. While it may likely have been the greatest building in the Roman world, we mourn the loss of the House of God and the Divine Presence which physically dwelled in our midst. This is not to say that people cannot have a relationship with God today and that the covenant with the Jewish people does not still exist; rather that back then it was clear and abundantly evident to all. It was centralized everything - religion, justice, education, finance - and all to the highest ideals and standards - in theory, if not always in practice.

The rabbis declared that the what happened, unfortunately, is that we descended into baseless hatred (sinat chinam). Hating someone else for being different, looking different or even - wait for it - thinking differently. Sadly, what they warned us caused the Jewish people's greatest calamity until the Holocaust, is still alive and well with us today, and nobody is immune from this plague, Jew and non-Jews alike.

Fortunately, the rabbis also gave a remedy for this ailment. Baseless love (ahavat chinam). Love your fellow as yourself - the Golden Rule - which was first taught in the Temple courtyards by Rabbi Hillel and expounded upon later by Rabbi Akiva who called it the basis of the entire Torah.

May we all take this day to think about how we can love our fellow as ourselves. How we can reach out and listen to and respect someone from a different background. How we consider the needs of those around us. And how we can speak up for those without a voice.

Here is one small, beautiful recent example (regardless if you think the schools should be open or not)... A teacher in Israel brought the entire class for he yearly class photo to the home of a boy in quarantine, so that he would not be left out (he's in the window).

May we have an easy - but meaningful - fast, and spread some more love in the world.

If you' d like to learn more about the rules and customs of Tisha B'Av, click here:

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