The Saddest Jewish Holiday – Tisha B’Av
The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av has come to be known as Tisha BAv. It begins at sunset on the eighth of Av and ends at sunset on the ninth. It has come to be known as the saddest day in the Hebrew calendar.
Throughout Jewish history, the ninth of Av has been recognized as a day of tragedy. Many dreadful events occurred or began on this day in history, including the destruction of the First (586 BC) and Second Temples (516 BC), the razing of Jerusalem by Romans (70 CE), the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition (1492) and the beginning of World War I (1914), which presaged events leading to the Holocaust. During the First Crusade, 10,000 Jews were murdered on Tisha BAv (1095). In 1290, Jews were expelled from England on Tisha BAv. It is also said to be the day that Moses returned from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments and discovered his people worshipping idols. During the Holocaust, deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Nazi Treblinka death camp began on Tisha BAv (1942). More recently, the deadly bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires occurred on Tisha BAv (1994).
In addition to fasting during Tisha BAv, observant Jews refrain from washing, working, drinking, using electricity, shopping and having sexual relations. Jews mark the day as they would during a shiva, the Jewish period of mourning. Torah study is banned and Jews often bury old and damaged prayer books on this day. Many Jews sit on low stools or sleep on the floor. They refrain from greeting visitors and read the scroll of Eicha (Lamentations). During the three weeks before this holiday, Jews are banned to marry. This period of mourning begins with another fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, when the Second Temple walls of Jerusalem were breached in 70 CE.
Orthodox Jews believe that Tisha BAv will keep a day of mourning until the messiah arrives and the temple is rebuilt. At that time, it will turn into a day of celebration forever. Although Reformed Judaism has never stated this kind of significance to the destruction of the temple, Tisha BAv is nevertheless observed as a day to ingemination Jewish tragedies.
While Jews observe Tisha BAv by looking backwards on the calendar, the holiday can have meaningful current meaning. When fasting, Jews can comprehend the pain and experiencing of destitute people around the world. This realization can be turned into compassion and charity. Having been victims of genocide many times in the past, Jews can use this holiday as a time to aid current victims of ethnic, religious, racial and gender persecution. Jews can also realize how fortunate they are compared with their ancestors. Although anti-Semitism is increasing today, Jews are not persecuted to the same extent as they were throughout history.
Coming to terms with disaster is never easy. No race or religion has had more historical experience with disaster than the Hebrew people have. Repeatedly, Jews have been conquered, enslaved, massacred, tortured and expelled. Somehow, despite all efforts to destroy this tiny religion, Jews found a way to survive and already prosper. The Jewish people found a way to turn disaster into survival and survival into a new nation, rebuilt over the crumbling rocks of the ancient Jewish kingdoms of David and Saul.
It has been more than 2,000 years since the destruction of the temples in ancient Israel. During that time millions of Jews have been slaughtered by Greeks, Romans, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust. Despite the indignity of historical perspective, Jews continue to exist. They worship the same God, recite the same prayers, observe the same holidays and perform the same rites and rituals as their courageous ancient ancestors did. This astonishing chronicle of survival may be one of the greatest legends of human history.
Although Tisha BAv is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, it can also be considered, by careful reflection, as a day to be grateful for the survival of the Jewish people. Despite civilizations persistent attempts to destroy Jews, this tiny, persistent religion has found a way to survive, prosper and contribute to the cultures of countless societies. In this regard, Tisha BAv can also be observed as a day to be thankful for the resilient endurance of the chosen people. Always persecuted, never destroyed; the Jewish people march on by history, unabated, undeterred and ever grateful for the influence of their ancestors.