Tisha B’av: The Saddest Day On The Jewish Calendar

Observing Tisha B’av: The Saddest Day On The Jewish Calendar

By David Block


Summer is a joyous time for most people. It is vacation time. no school!

  The International Gazette         Philadelphia, PA  August 2014


 Observing Tisha B’av: The Saddest Day On The Jewish Calendar


By David Block


 Summer is a joyous time for most people. It is vacation time. no school! Two Weeks off from work; it’s a time to go down the shore, bask in the sun, and enjoy barbecues. For some, every day of summer is blissful, but not for the Jewish people. The saddest and most tragic day on the Jewish calendar falls in the summer time, on Tisha B’aV. (Tisha B’aV is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of AV. This day can be in July or August, depending on the lunar calendar.)

 Throughout Jewish history, tragedies struck the Jews on that fateful day, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the Jews’ final expulsion from Spain in 1492, and the start of the massive deportation of Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka Death Camps in 1942.


 The Origins


 According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, Tisha B’aV dates back to when the Children of Israel left Egypt. Before they could seize the Land of Canaan from the Canaanites, Moses sent 12 spies ahead as scouts. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, returned where they informed the Israelites that they could defeat the Canaanites, but the remaining ten spies’ reports smacked of doom and gloom. They insisted that the Canaanites would demolish them. Forgetting that G-d promised to help the Israelites claim Canaan, the Israelites wailed, lamented, and demanded to return to Egypt, but there was no legitimate reason for such a reaction. This happened on the Ninth of AV. Their incessant wailing angered G-d to the point where He decided to make that day a day when the Jewish people would truly have good reason to mourn. (Consult Talmud – Mas. Ta’anith 26b, and Talmud – Mas. Ta’anith 29a for more information about the spies and the origins of Tisha B’aV.)


 G-d forbade that generation of Israelites from entering the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land. Instead, they remained in the wilderness for 40 years, where they eventually died off. G-d allowed the next generation to enter.  G-d rewarded Joshua and Caleb for their favorable reports, so He allowed them to enter Canaan as well.


 Subsequent Tragedies


 On Tisha B’aV in the year 586 BCE (Before the Common Era), the Babylonians destroyed the Jews’ First Holy Temple in Jerusalem, followed by sending them into exile.


 On Tisha B’aV in the year 70 CE (Common Era), the Romans destroyed the Jews’ Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The only part of that Temple which remains today is one wall, known as the Wailing Wall.


 In the year 132 CE, Shimon Bar Kockhba led the Jews in a revolt against the Romans. Three years later, the Romans were on the verge of triumphing. Bar Kockhba’s last stand was in the City of Betar, southwest of Jerusalem. On Tisha B’aV in 135 CE, the Romans ploughed through Betar and killed all the Jews there.


 On Tisha B’aV in 1290 CE, England expelled her Jews.


 On Tisha B’aV in 1492 CE, Spain expelled her Jews.


 World War I erupted on Tisha B’aV in 1914 CE. This war would ultimately lead to the rise of Hitler 19 years later in 1933. Tisha B’aV in 1942, exactly 450 years after the Jews’ expulsion from Spain, there began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka’s death camps.


 Was It Fair For The Jews’ Descendants To Suffer For The Actions Of The 10 Spies?


 Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt said in an interview with this writer: “If there is a spiritual flaw in the nation, it passes on from generation to generation. It’s not a matter of punishment, it’s trying to correct the problem. If one generation does teshuva (repents) and corrects it, there will be no need for the consequence anymore.”


Tisha B’aV Restrictions


 Tisha B’aV is a fast day – no food or drink. Other restrictions include, refraining from bathing and sexual activities. In synagogue, the congregation sits on low stools, just as a Jew sits on low stools for seven days after losing a loved one. Sitting on low stools in synagogue on Tisha B’aV is the act of mourning for the loss of the Temple.


 Signs of Redemption


 Tisha B’aV is also a holiday of hope. There is a tradition that the messiah will be born on Tisha B’aV. Out of misery, pain, desolation, and destruction will come redemption and then the Messiah. (Consult Midrash zuta eicha 1:2 for more information about the Messiah and Tisha B’aV.)


 Why Tisha B’aV Is Special To Me


 From early childhood on, the history of Jews fascinated me. Most of the time I disliked going to synagogue, but Tisha B’aV was one of the few exceptions. I liked how the room would become dark and how the congregation would hold candles and listen to the melancholy, melodic chanting of Eicha (Lamentations). Someone once asked me if I liked the dark room because of my partial blindness. On a conscious level, I dismissed that idea as completely irrelevant, but I wondered if that were true subconsciously.


 When I was a camper and later a staff member of Camp Ramah, a camp for Conservative Jewish children, I had the honor of chanting a few Eicha verses on Tisha B’AV. I found that exciting.


 On Tisha B’aV in 2006, my friend/mentor/benefactor/cousin Stan Tutttleman died. He was very good to me, and to my immediate family. He was philanthropic when it came to giving to charities, both Jewish and non-Jewish.


 After his death, I wrote a rabbi well versed with Jewish mysticism that a great Jewish philanthropist died on Tisha B’aV. I asked him if his death on Tisha B’aV had any significance. He responded via email:


 Anyone who dies on this date, although we don’t know what the Infinite One’s intentions are, is part of that history of negativity. We mourn many things on this day, most significantly the destruction of our holy Temple. Losing a distinguished member of the Jewish people, someone who helped support worthy causes, adds to our mourning. Yet within all mourning, there is a spark of holiness and hope. Nothing is completely bad in God’s world. Even though we mourn the loss of a special individual, we also rest assured that this individual is going to a very special and holy place of spiritual pleasure for eternity.


 When someone dies, it is not a loss for the person who dies as much as it is a loss for those who remain among the living. The one who passes away goes back to God.”


 (Note, I will not release that rabbi’s name because he never gave me permission to print it.)



 I am grateful to Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt and Rabbi David Aaron for their invaluable assistance to this article.

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