What is it? Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av (this year celebrated on July 17-18, 2021), is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On that day, Jews fast, pray, and read from the book of Lamentations and poetic dirges.
Why? Historically, on this day, a number of Jewish calamities occurred:
- The spies returned from the Promised Land with frightening reports, and as a result, the Israelites balked at the prospect of entering the land. Consequently, God decreed that they would therefore wander in the desert for 40 years. (Numbers, 13-14).
- The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, and the population of the Kingdom of Judah was sent into the Babylonian exile.
- The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
- The Romans crushed the Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Beitar, butchering over 500,000 Jewish civilians in 135 CE.
- Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE.
- Many more tragedies happened on this day, including:
- 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews
- 1492 banishment of all Jews from Spain
- 1941 – Formal approval for the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution” resulting in almost 1/3 of the world’s Jewish population perished.
Where’s the Hope? While the suffering from the calamities on Tisha b’Av was grievous and horrific, the day also contained an important element of God’s loving kindness: He chose to express His wrath against the corruption and insensitivity of Israel by destroying the stones of the Holy Temple, but He allowed His nation Israel to live.
In the book of Deuteronomy 4:25, it states that because of Israel’s perverseness and idolatry she “will be destroyed, yes destroyed.” But the very next verse lightens the punishment to exile and dispersion. It contains a promise that Israel will seek out God and repentance and declares that our God of compassion will never forsake or destroy us, He will never forget the covenant He swore to our fathers. (Ibid 4:29-32)
The book of Lamentations, read each year on the 9th of Av, concludes with the hopeful verse “Restore us to You, O L‑rd, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.” This is a reminder that all that suffering was a necessary prelude to happiness and goodness, with the coming of the Messiah.