The Saddest Day in the Jewish Calendar - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Saddest Day in the Jewish Calendar
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Man prays at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, August 18, 2004 (Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock)

Nearly three weeks ago, I wrote of the saddest period in the annual Jewish calendar. This Saturday night and Sunday will mark the apex of tragedy. It is the Ninth Day of the Hebrew month of Av — better known as “Tisha B’av.” (Technically, this year Tisha B’av falls on Friday night and Saturday, but we do not mourn or fast on the Sabbath, so we defer it a day.)

In the Bible (Numbers 13–14), Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) sent 12 men as an advance party to spy out the Promised Land, report back on its denizens and their military capabilities, and recommend strategies for conquering and liberating it. Unexpectedly, 10 of the spies returned with an evil report, not only exaggerating the power and military preparedness of the local Canaanites but, more tragically, speaking evil of the Land itself. The Jews had been promised a land “flowing with milk and honey,” but the 10 evil spies instead described the land as one that “eats its inhabitants.” Only two of the spies stood faithful — Yehoshua bin Nun (Joshua) and Calev ben Y’funeh (Caleb). They insisted that the land was fabulous and that the locals could be overcome easily. (Later, at the start of the Book of Joshua, the minority report would be proven true.)

When the Jews heard the vile majority report, the Jewish male population spent the night weeping bitterly, demanding that Moshe Rabbeinu lead them back to bondage in Egypt. For G-d, this national response, rejecting the freedom that emerged from G-d’s Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and refusing His gift of the Land, was too much. Therefore, G-d punished the entire generation who had wept that night with the adjuration that, with the exceptions of Yehoshua and Calev, none of those 603,550 men who wept ever would enter the Promised Land. Rather, they would wander in the Sinai Desert for the next 40 years until all of them had died. And that night of unacceptable and indefensible weeping — the Ninth Day of Av or “Tisha B’Av” — would stand out singularly forevermore as the day of worst tragedy in the annual Jewish calendar in years when catastrophic tragedy would unfold.

Thus, for example:

  1. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians burned the First Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) on Mount Zion, also called Mount Moriah, in eastern Jerusalem. This tragedy also marked the end of the First Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel. More than 100,000 Jews fell. It happened on Tisha B’av.
  2. Titus and the Romans, under Emperor Vespasian, burned the Second Beit HaMikdash in 70 C.E. This tragedy also set in motion the end of the Second Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel. More than one million Jews fell. It happened on Tisha B’av.
  3. The Commonwealth would end completely with the fall of the Mount Beitar fortress in 135 CE under Julius Severus and Hadrian. Along with their military leader, Shimon Bar Kochba, more than 600,000 Jews fell. It fell on Tisha B’av.
  4. The pogroms of the First Crusade (1096–1099), marked by the massacres of tens of thousands of Jews in Germany, France, Italy, and Britain and the destruction of Jewish communities along the Rhine, began on August 15, 1096 — Tisha B’av.
  5. The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 — Tisha B’av.
  6. The Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 — Tisha B’av.
  7. The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 — 7th of Av to Tisha B’av.
  8. Germany entered World War I on August 1–2, 1914, which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust. Tisha B’av.
  9. On August 2, 1941 — Tisha B’av — SS Commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for the “Final Solution.” The Holocaust officially had begun.
  10. On July 23, 1942 — Tisha B’av — the Nazis began mass-deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
  11. The bombing of Jewish community-center Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires killed 85 and injured over 300 on July 18, 1994 — 10th of Av.
  12. The 2005 tragic unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza, leading to the rise of Hamas and their perpetual terror enveloping Southern Israel and to several wars, was decreed on Tisha B’av and implemented the next day.
  13. On July 27, 2004, the Democrat National Convention heard a keynote speech by Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama, a speech that catapulted him into the national spotlight. Nightfall occurred at 8:37 p.m. It was Tisha B’Av. Obama would become Israel’s first hater in the White House, marked by his refusal to veto U.N. Security Council resolution 2334, which denied Israel’s rights to Jerusalem.

Despite all, Jews have never forgotten or waived our claim to all of Jerusalem. Through 2,000 years of Exile, our thrice-daily prayers have included prayers — and still do — for the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple on Mount Zion. For 2,000 years, we have included in our grace after meals prayers for a return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. At Jewish weddings, the groom breaks a glass so that, even during the time of his greatest joy, he and everyone else in attendance pause to remember the fall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

In remembering Jerusalem, we recite these words from Psalm 137:5–6: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my palate if I do not remember thee, if I do not elevate Jerusalem above my greatest happiness.”

Towards that end, for two millennia we have practiced these observances of Tisha B’Av:

  • No eating at all
  • No drinking (not even water)
  • No washing beyond the first knuckle of the hands (except as required by COVID-conscious protocols)
  • No applying ointments, creams, etc. (except as medically required)
  • No physical contact between spouses (and obviously none between other males and females)
  • No wearing of leather shoes (We permit wearing shoes that have incidental leather logo insignias, like sneakers/athletic shoes that have company logos on the shoe. It also is permitted to wear leather belts and other leather garments. Only shoes with leather soles or leather uppers are forbidden.)
  • For people whose health and physical circumstances can tolerate it, no sitting on comfortable chairs until midday the day after Tisha B’Av because the Temples burned into the next day.
  • All other rules mentioned in “The Three Saddest Weeks” apply (e.g., no music, no outdoor entertainment, etc.)
  • On Tisha B’Av night, congregations gather for the annual reciting of the Book of “Eichah” (Lamentations). Good examples of the chanting may be found here (between 7:21–15:20) and here.

The 25-hour fast and Tisha B’Av mourning observance ends this year on Sunday, August 7, at 8:28 p.m. PDT. The exact minute depends on location. As Tisha B’av ends, we say, “May we live to behold the continued rebuilding of Jerusalem and the ultimate restoration of Zion speedily in our days.” This why Jews, sooner or later, are going to return to a united Jerusalem and why there never ever will be a “Two-State Solution” other than giving the kingdom of Jordan to Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, the terrorist in a jacket) and his Fatah.

It is recounted, perhaps apocryphally, that Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris one sweltering summer day. As he passed by a synagogue, he heard the sound of people weeping. He turned to his assistant and asked, “What’s going on inside there?”

“Today is Tisha B’Av,” came the reply, “and the Jews are mourning the loss of their Temple.”

Napoleon looked toward the synagogue and said, “If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt.”

And it will be.

Dov Fischer
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Rabbi Dov Fischer, Esq., a high-stakes litigation attorney of more than twenty-five years and an adjunct professor of law of more than fifteen years, is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California. His legal career has included serving as Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerking for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and then litigating at three of America’s most prominent law firms: JonesDay, Akin Gump, and Baker & Hostetler. In his rabbinical career, Rabbi Fischer has served several terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, is Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, has been Vice President of Zionist Organization of America, and has served on regional boards of the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith Hillel, and several others. His writings on contemporary political issues have appeared over the years in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Jerusalem Post, National Review, American Greatness, The Weekly Standard, and in Jewish media in American and in Israel. A winner of an American Jurisprudence Award in Professional Legal Ethics, Rabbi Fischer also is the author of two books, including General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine, which covered the Israeli General’s 1980s landmark libel suit.
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