16 November 2016 - 15 Heshvan 5777 - ט"ו חשון ה' אלפים תשע"ז
Three Weeks of mourning – understanding the significance Print E-mail

The three weeks between 17 Tammuz and Tisha B’Av have historically been days of misfortune and calamity for the Jewish nation and a period of mourning is observed.

Seventeenth of Tammuz
A fast day commemorating the fall of Jerusalem, prior to the destruction of the Holy Temple. No eating or drinking is permitted from the break of dawn until dusk. (Should the day coincide with Shabbat, the fast is delayed until Sunday.)Catastrophes that occured:

• Moses broke the tablets at Mount Sinai — in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
• The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, after the Kohanim could no longer obtain animals.
• Jerusalem’s walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
• Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.
• An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple – a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.

Ninth of Av
The intensity of mourning reaches a peak on Tisha B’Av, the Ninth day of the month of Av. On this day five national calamities occurred:
• During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 12 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
• The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar. (586 BCE)
• The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. (70 CE)
• The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. (135 CE)
• The Temple Mount was plowed under, and Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city Other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history coincided with the Ninth of Av, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the outbreak of World War One in 1914, and the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

During the three week period, various aspects of mourning are observed by the entire nation. We minimize joy and celebration– no weddings are held, we do not listen to music, nor are there haircuts or shaving. The expressions of mourning take on greater intensity as we approach the day of Tisha B’Av.

Sundown marks the commencement of Tisha B’Av, where no eating or drinking is permitted until nightfall the following evening. It is also forbidden to bathe or wash, wear leather shoes, or engage in marital relations.

We also refrain from Torah study except for texts relevant to Tisha B’Av and mourning such as the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) and Job, and certain sections of the Talmud. In the Book of Eicha we read Jeremiah’s poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple. It is read in the synagogue as part of the evening service.

Special Kinot (elegies) are also recited, both at night and during the day. We also minimize business and leisure activities. Through the process of teshuva – self-introspection and a commitment to improve – we have the power to transform tragedy into joy. In fact, the Talmud says that after the future redemption of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple, these days will be re-dedicated as days of rejoicing and festivity.

(Issue July / August 2012)

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