Summer begins a downward slide from the joys Pesah and Shavuot into the depths of despair that is Tisha B’Av and rebounds to hope and love with the Jewish Valentine’s day, T’u B’Av. And all of this in preparation for the High and Holy Days when we unburden ourselves and seek that inner balance for the year ahead.
We begin with the traditional times of sorrow and lament.
The 17th of Tammuz
1) Jewish tradition attaches the tragic time of our impatience to the 17th of Tammuz. When Moshe went up for the 2 Tablets, he was there for 40 days. The people felt that Moshe was late and demanded of Aharon that he build them a god. This did not work out well for them. Moshe broke the tablets of Torah and the people suffered for their impatience. (Shemot 32:19, Mishna Taanit 28b). As my father (zt’l) used to say: “there are shortcuts but they usually take longer.”
2) During Nebuchadnezzer’s siege on Jerusalem, the priests in the First Temple having run out of sheep for the sacred bar-b-que stopped offering the daily sacrifice on this day (Taanit 28b). And the next year on this date (in 586 BCE), the walls of Jerusalem were breached.
3) Another incident that is attached to the 17th of Tammuz is found in Melachim (Kings II 21:7). King Menashe placed an idol in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple.
4) Tradition points also to Titus of Rome breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE
5) Pope Gregory IX ordered the confiscation of all manuscripts of the Talmud in 1239.
6) In 1391, more than 4,000 Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain and in 1559 the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted. Both events attached to Tammuz 17.
7) On Tammuz 17 the Kovno ghetto was liquidated 1944 and 1970 Libya ordered the confiscation of Jewish property.
We commemorate these tragic events with a half fast (say that carefully) from dawn until nightfall. This day marks the beginning of the Three Weeks, an annual period of mourning over the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.
Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av falls on the eve of July 20th this year. This full fast day is associated with the destruction of both Temples and has become a magnate for many other remembrances in Jewish history.
According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6), five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:
1) Moshe sent twelve spies on a ‘tour’ of Israel. 10 give a bad report which results in the Jewish people spending 38 more years in the desert. (Numbers Ch. 13–14)
2) The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE and the Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile.
3) The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
4) Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the razing of Jerusalem occurred the next year. A Temple was built to an idol on the ruins of the Temple.
5) Bar Kokhba’s revolt against Rome failed in 135 CE. Simon bar Kokhba was killed and the city of Betar was destroyed.
Other events in Jewish history have been attached to this date.
1) Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
2) The Alhambra Decree of 1492, expelling the Jews from Spain, took effect on the 7th of Av, just two days before Tisha B’Av
3) 1914 Tisha B’Av Germany declared war on Russia and the Swiss army mobilized. World War I caused unprecedented devastation across Europe and set the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
4) On the eve of Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
6 days after the dark time of mourning we lift our spirits with love.
Tu B’Av, the Jewish day of love, is a most unusual Jewish holiday.
Tu B’Av in the Talmud
The Talmud refers to Tu B’Av, as one of the two most joyful days of the Jewish year. This leap from pain to pleasure, from weeping to weddings holds deeper meanings than might first be seen.
Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel in Taanit is the first to mention this festive day. The restrictions on men and women associating with each other were relaxed. Love is in the air and hope is held high.
“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards,” explains the Mishnah. “What were they saying? Young men, look up and consider whom you will choose (as wife).”
“The girls would all wear the same white simple dress so that rich girl, and poor girl, would all look alike, none adorned with jewelry or make up, so that the males would get to know them for their intelligence and Hesed, and not for their external attributes,” explains Rabbi Arthur Waskow in his explanation of Tu B’Av on the website TheShalomCenter.org.
A Jewish Holiday of Romance
With time Tu B’Av has stood out as a time of love and stood up as a time of hope in the face of adversity. And of course we attach certain joyous hope-filled events to this holiday.
On this date the new generation that had not known the slavery of Egypt is celebrated. New Beginnings: The prohibition of marrying outside of one’s particular tribe was dropped. On this date according to our tradition the Romans finally permitted the survivors of the Bar Kochba revolt to bury their dead.
Tu B’Av has also become a powerfully popular date for weddings, the date being a good omen.
In recent years, the 15 of Av has been elevated in Israel by religious and secular Jews alike. Dances and celebrations abound. As with Valentine’s Day here, people give flowers, gifts and cards as tokens of love.
The summer witnesses our spirit’s descent as we mourn loss and ruin followed by our soul’s ascent marrying love to hope.