Friday, 27 July 2012

On the 9th of Av

The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem - Francesco Hayez

Today, upon hearing of the sad loss of yet more Israelis around the world, this time in Bolivia, I couldn’t help but share some thoughts here. Since I started paying attention to this stuff, it really freaks me out. For any sceptics out there (atheists), this is the kind of thing that makes me believe life isn’t just a series of coincidences and that there is some higher power.

Tomorrow is the 9th of the Jewish month of Av. Many tragedies have befallen the Jewish people on this date, throughout the millennia.

Here are some of the great calamities:

  • 586 BCE (Jewish year: 3338)- The First Temple is destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews are sent into what later became known as the Babylonian Exile.
  • 70 CE (3830)- The Second Temple is destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus.
  • 135 CE (3895) - The Romans defeat Bar Kochba's last fortress, Betar, and destroy his army. Bar Kochba himself is killed along with more than 100,000 other Jews. The Roman Emperor Hadrian turns Jerusalem into a Roman city. [and renames the Holy Land ‘Palestina’]
  • 1290 (5050) - King Edward I of England signs an edict expelling all Jews from England.
  • 1492 (5252) - The Alhambra Decree takes effect, expelling the Jews from Spain and from all Spanish territories.
  • 1940 (5700) - Himmler presents his plan for the "Final Solution" to the Jewish problem to the Nazi Party.
  • 1942 (5702) - Nazis begin deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Add the Hebron massacre in 1929, the expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 and you can see the clear pattern. There are more incidents, and unfortunately this year has been no different. But before we continue, it's important to note that the 9th of Av is primarily to mourn the loss of the Temples. In more recent times, other tragedies have been added on this date, as if these are also to be commemorated, but the destruction of the Temples is the most important.

The period of mourning leading up to the 9th of Av, begins in the previous Jewish month, on the 17th of Tamuz. Historically, the 17th of Tamuz is when the walls of Jerusalem fell in the battle to resist the Babylonians. The battle raged for 3 weeks and on the 9th of Av (586 BCE), the First Jewish Temple was destroyed.

This period is called ‘Ben ha-mey-tsa-rim’ (between two paths), in which a series of laws have been established to commemorate this period. Among them are that nothing new can be done, no weddings, no haircuts, not even buying clothes. But also no holidays.

Purely as commentary, isn’t it interesting that after a series of failed attacks throughout the world, the Iranians finally succeeded in Bulgaria during this period? And today Ynet reports that it has been a particularly bad time for Israelis abroad. At the end of a report about 3 Israelis dying in Bolivia it adds:

July has been a particularly tragic month for young Israeli backpackers as three other Israelis found their death in two separate incidents. On Tuesday, Hadas Ben Shushan [Z”L] died in a rockslide in India after losing large amounts of blood. Two weeks ago, Yamit Linniel [Z”L], 22, and Rotem Tavor [Z”L], 24, died in car crashes in Peru.”

Not only this, but the other week we lost a great Rabbi, who died at the age of 102. The Jewish world was in deep mourning. Israel Today reported:

“The Orthodox population was in deep mourning on Wednesday afternoon when rabbi Josef Shalom Elyashiv [Z”L] died. He was rabbi of the Lithuanian Orthodoxy for decisions in matters of the Jewish law (Halacha) and one of the greatest Torah scholars of the past few generations. A crowd of more than 250,000 people accompanied him on his last way in Jerusalem; among them were rabbis, politicians, his adherents and thousands of ordinary people.”

However, in spite of all this, seeing as this year the 9th of Av falls on a Sabbath (the most Holy day of the week), it is forbidden to mourn and be sad on the Sabbath. So the mourning and fast which would normally be done on the 9th is moved to Sunday the 10th, instead.  

Following the 9th of Av. Joy returns because normal life can resume. Weddings begin to take place, we're allowed to eat meat once more, and we can drink wine (!) again. We are joyful because we have Jerusalem (and we pray for the Temple to be rebuilt on the Temple Mount), we have Israel and above all we have Hashem protecting us. Therefore making one gesture (of course, all of them would be best) on the 9th of Av, is a show of respect and acknowledges the importance of this date.

Shabat Shalom.

Translation: An easy and useful fast to all

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