A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha B'Av

Early in this blog I established a tradition of noting the major holidays — both religious and secular — of the region. I may have missed an odd Yazidi or Mandaean celebration, but I think I've kept up pretty well with the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian feasts (though I haven't hit every Shi‘ite feast, mostly because the 12 Imams and the birth and death dates of themselves and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts is hard to keep track of).

But today is a major Jewish holiday, Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of the Month of Av. It is, by Jewish tradition, the date of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. And it seems to have been a really bad day in other times too. Here's a Wikipedia quote and the link to the fuller article:

The five calamities

According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6), five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:

  1. The twelve scouts sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, but the others spoke disparagingly about the land which caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the "Promised Land". For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites' lack of faith, God decreed that for all generations this date would become one of crying and misfortune for their descendants, the Jewish people. (See Numbers Ch. 13–14)
  2. The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah 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. Bar Kokhba's revolt against Rome failed in 135 CE. Simon bar Kokhba was killed, and the city of Betar was destroyed.
  5. Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the razing of Jerusalem occurred the next year. A Temple was built in its stead to an idol.

According to the Talmud in tractate Taanit, the destruction of the Second Temple began on the ninth and was finally consumed by the flames the next day on the Tenth of Av.

I'm pretty sure the proper greeting is not "Happy Tisha B'Av," but I hope Jewish readers will understand that I acknowledge the centrality of this holiday in Jewish, and particularly, Zionist, understanding of the present Israeli state.

1 comment:

LJ Marczak said...


In the spirit of Sh. Mahmud Shaltut's 1959 fatwa, I have emailed you a list of the most commonly accepted birth and death dates for the 14 most important personages for those of the Ja'afari mathhab.