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The Fast of Tisha be-Av, which is the 9th day of the month Av according to the Jewish calendar (starting this year on July 21 and lasting until sunset on July 22, 2018 – postponed because of Shabbat ) is one of the largest and at the same time one of the most tragic Jewish holidays. It is a day of penance, fasting and prayer, in which the Jews mourn the destruction of both the first and the second Temple of Jerusalem. It is also a day when the Jewish people mourn other disasters and catastrophes, including the Shoah.

However, its origin derives from the Torah and the story of when the sons of Israel were still in the desert, wandering after they left the captivity of Egypt. Then sent 12 scouts to the Land of Canaan, which God promised the Israelites, in order to check what she is, what are its fruits and who lives in it. Of these scouts, only two, Joshua and Caleb, confirmed that it is good and that it can be conquered.  Although God promised the Land of Canaan to the sons of Israel, it was not uninhabited and it was necessary to fight for it with the help of God to get it. The day when the people of Israel mourned the bad news brought by the scouts, according to tradition, was the 9th day of the month Av. God decided to punish the lack of self-confidence in the sons of Israel, whom he brought from the land of Egypt, a further wandering in the desert for the next 40 years, until this generation of little faith would die, and only the new generation entered the land of Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb could enter it, and Joshua became the leader of the nation – crossed the Jordan River, conquered Jericho and other cities.


Destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E.

The first temple, built by King Solomon was built in the years 966 – 959 B.C.E. on the hill of Moria, below which the city of David was located. The Jerusalem Temple became the central place of worship and spiritual life of the Israelites. The Ark of the Covenant was moved there. Until then The Ark of the Covenant was in various places and was moved from place to place and placed in the Meeting Tent. The Ark was also taken to the battlefields of the Philistines, and for a time the Ark was in their hands, then returned to the permanent place to the temple in Shiloh. It was from there that it was moved to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

In 598, Nebuchadnezzar II, the ruler of Babylonia, continued his conquests in Syria, Phenicia and Palestine. Earlier, he defeated the Egyptian army at the Battle of Karkemish in 605 B.C.E. In 598 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar II conquered the kingdom of Judea and Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. The king of Judea was taken into captivity and a new one was appointed. However, because outbreak of the rebellion that Egypt and neighboring countries encouraged, Nebuchadnezzar II returned to Jerusalem ten years later and began to siege the city in 588 B.C.E. Because Jerusalem was well fortified, strategically located on the hills surrounded by deep valleys and had a water source inside the city, it could withstand even a long-lasting siege. However, in 586, Nebuchadnezzar II conquered the city and this time he destroyed and burned it completely. He also razed the Jerusalem Temple to the ground. Thousands of Judeans were taken prisoners and taken to Babylon.

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Fig. Image depicting the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and exile her inhabitants to Babylon in captivity.


After returning from Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C.E. the Jerusalem Temple was rebuilt in the years 520-515 B.C.E. There was no Ark of the Covenant in the rebuilt temple, but there was a hall called the Holy of Holies, to which only the High Priest could enter once a year, on the feast of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.

During its existence, the Jerusalem Temple was desecrated several times. First, by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which caused the Maccabees to rise in 167-164 B.C.E., and after their victory the Jerusalem Temple was cleansed. To commemorate this event, the Hanukkah festival is celebrated. In the year 63 B.C.E., as a result of the conquest of Judea, Pompey invaded the Jerusalem temple.

During the reign of Herod the Great, who was one of the greatest builders of this period, the Temple of Jerusalem was extended. It was Herod the Great that gave the Temple Mount its present shape, and today’s remnants, both walls, arches and other fragments, originate from this period.


Fig. David Roberts. Siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Picture from 1850.


The destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem took place in 70 C.E.

In 66 C.E. broke out a revolt against the Roman authorities, initially because of haevy taxes, but it quickly turned into an universal uprising. Roman governor Gessius Florus plundered the temple, taking coins and valuables, counting them as unpaid taxes. As a result of the uprising, a small Roman garrison was quickly defeated. Meals were brought from Syria – the Roman XII Legion of Fulminata – to suppress the uprising. However, at the Battle of Beit Horon, the legion was massacred, more than 6,000 legionnaires were killed. Such a defeat could not remain without revenge on the part of the Romans. In 67 C.E. to Galilee troops were introduced in the strength of four legions led by Vespasian, along with auxiliary troops of King Agrippas II. The defense of the city of Galilee was commanded by a later chronicler, the author of the “Jewish War”, Józef Flavius ​​(Josef ben Matatiahu). Together with Vespasian, as his deputy, he commanded the troops of Titus. After taking Vespasian the Roman emperor, Titus continued commanding Roman troops. In 70 e.e. he began the siege of Jerusalem. He waded through two bands of defensive walls, but the strongest, third range of walls could withstand a siege for a long time. After seven months of siege, internal conflicts broke out in the city, as a result of which the Zealots burned grain supplies to provoke the defenders of the city to continue fighting. Eventually, the Romans stopped the defense, destroyed and burned the city and the Temple of Jerusalem on the 9th month of Av.


Fig. Francesco Hayez, Destruction of Jerusalem. Picture from 1867.


Arch of Titus

To commemorate the capture of Jerusalem, a triumphal arch was built in Rome, called the Arch of Titus. It was inaugurated in 82 C.E. by Emperor Domitian, shortly after the death of his brother Titus. This arch has survived to our times and constitutes an existing proof of importance for the Romans of the victory of Vespasian and Titus over the Jewish people. Few other nations deserve such a commemoration of victories over them. This is also proof of the bravery of the Jews, who for seven years, from 66-73 C.E. they resisted the greatest power of the then world – the Roman Imperium. On the inside of the Arch of Titus, there is a bas-relief depicting the spoils of war that the Romans raise from the Temple of Jerusalem: the golden seven-branched candlestick – the menorah, the trumpets, and the pallets for sacrifice. The Arch of Titus was incorporated into the complex of the Roman city walls in medieval times, later restored several times.


Fig. Arch of Titus in Rome

The conquest and desecration of the Temple of Jerusalem had grave consequences for Judaism. As a result, not only was the religious and spiritual center of the Jews destroyed, but the capital of the country was destroyed, and Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem. It was after the destruction of the temple that the then spiritual leader of the Jewish people, Yochanan ben Zakkai, with the permission of the Romans, gathered rabbis around them and created a new center of spiritual life in the small town of Yavne. It is located in the strip of coastal lowlands. To give valid decisions regarding religious transformation, Jochanan ben Zakkai also recreated the Sanhedrin. Yavne was only for a short time the capital of the Jewish nation. In the following decades, the center moved to other towns, including Zippori, Beit Shearim, and later to Tiberias.


Photo: Fragment of a bas-relief from the Arch of Titus depicting the Romans carrying out loot from the Temple of Jerusalem, including a seven-armed golden candlestick – a menorah, trumpets and other objects of worship.


After the conquest, desecration and destruction of the temple, the burnt offerings of animals ceased. Judaism has undergone a great transformation. The worship of animal sacrifices in one central place – Jerusalem – has been replaced by prayer. There was also a decentralization of religious life. From then on, the Jews prayed concentrated in communities, and the minyan became important, meaning a group of at least ten adult men, indispensable for celebrating prayers and reading the Torah. However, the same days of holidays and the same names of individual burnt offerings were left, replaced by prayers – morning prayer (Shacharit), afternoon prayer (Mincha) and evening prayer (Ma’ariv). During this period, the elements of prayers and traditions present in today’s Judaism were composed, the main element of which became the Eighteen Blesses, the so-called Amidah.

This process of the transformation of worship connected with one central place in Jerusalem into rabbinic Judaism, was more adapted to small Jewish communities scattered in various small towns in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora. It is significant that the Romans changed the name of the Judea province to Palestine – a name from the Philistines that previously inhabited the coastal area of present-day Israel. It was the desire to erase not only the fact of the existence of the Jewish people, but also the geographical name of this place, which proved to be effective. This name has been adopted by other nations, except the Jewish one, and it still exists today. The local Arabs, who have no relation to the old Philistines, who are immigrants, call themselves Palestinians. At the same time, they make historical falsifications and attributed themselves tha cultural heritage of this land.

It is worth adding that after the Roman period, Byzantines ruled over the land of Israel until the Arab conquests and the rule of Islam in the region in 638 C.E. After a brief conquest of the Holy Land by the crusaders, the authorities in this area until the year 1918 were Muslims – first Mamluks, then Turks. After the conquest of the Israeli land by the British, a new administrative unit was established – Palestine of the British Mandate, existing in 1918 – 1948. As a result of the creation of the State of Israel and the Arab-Israeli war, the city of Jerusalem was divided until the Six-Day War in 1967, when Jerusalem  was again under the control of Israel.

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Fig. The western wall of the wall surrounding the former Jerusalem Temple, or the so-called “Wailing Wall”.


Other defeats of the Jewish nation, which according to tradition took place on the 9th month of Av

According to tradition, the suppression of Bar Kokhba’s revolt took place on August 9, 135 C.E., in 3895 according to the Jewish calendar. The city of Beitar, which was the main center of the revolt, was destroyed. To this day, not far from today’s Beitar, in Beit Guvrin, there is a system of numerous underground passages that served as a refuge for fighters during the Barch Kokhba uprising. Currently, Beit Guvrin is a National Park in which there are numerous objects from the time of the Second Temple, such as water cisterns, colombaria, numerous olive oil shops and underground passages, which they were made in order to suddenly hide and leave in completely unknown places, hidden from the eyes of the enemy.

The first crusade – began on the 9th month of Av, August 15, 1096. Knights following the Rhine Valley made numerous massacres of the Jewish population, despite the fact that the crusades were to be the liberation of the Holy Land from Muslim hands. The expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 and France in 1306 was also to take place on 9 months Av. Also, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 took place on the 9th day of Av.

The beginning of the great action in the Warsaw ghetto took place on 9 Av 5702, on July 22, 1942. Therefore, many religious Jews on 9th month Av mourn 6,000,000 of the Jewish people who died in Shoa.

On Tisha be-Av day, special elegies, called kinnot, are composed. During fasting and prayers on 9th month Av they read Lamentations (the so-called Jeremiah Lamentations), called the Hebrew Megillat Eikhah. Also on this occasion, the book of Job is read, in which the story of a righteous but rich man was presented, Job, who had been subjected to heavy trials by Satan, he lost everything he had: family, possessions, health, yet he did not lose faith in God. As it is said in this book:

” Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord  gave and the Lord  has taken away; may the name of the Lord  be praised.”(Job, 1: 21).

Perhaps this is the greatest message of the Tisha be-Av feast that all temporal goods can be destroyed, temples can be demolished and desecrated, nation enslaved, humiliated and murdered, but faith and strength of spirit is the most important. This is how it is and is the case of the Jewish nation, which, despite great misfortunes, wars and catastrophes, still exists.

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Fig. Prayer at the Wailing Wall (author’s photo).