Tisha Be’av: The Jewish people’s 9/11
By MICHAEL FREUND
Say what you will about Jewish holidays never being on time, but Tisha B’av this year couldn’t possibly be falling at a more suitable moment.
With rockets raining down on the north and south of the country, suicide bombers attempting to infiltrate Israel’s cities, Iran developing nuclear technology and much of the world’s wrath unfairly aimed in our direction, the onset of the fast day this evening seems downright fortuitous.
After all, this time of year has always been one of sadness and grief on the Jewish calendar, as we commemorate the numerous disasters that befell our people on Tisha B’av throughout the ages.
Now, with so much terror and bloodshed going on around us, and mounting uncertainty about what the future may hold, Tisha Be’av has never seemed more relevant.
Obviously, a little historical perspective helps, so consider this: Tisha B’av is the ninth day of the 11th month on the Hebrew calendar. In other words, it is the Jewish people’s 9/11, our national day of infamy.
ALL THROUGH our history this day has been one of calamity and disaster, starting with the biblical sin of the spies in the desert who spoke ill of the Promised Land, on through the outbreak of World War I, the outcome of which paved the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
In the medieval period, Tisha Be’av coincided with the banishment of the Jews from various European countries. It was in 1290, on Tisha Be’av, that King Edward I of England signed the edict ordering the expulsion of all Jews from his realm. This dastardly act was replicated by France’s Philip the Fair in 1306, and later by Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
But, of course, the central theme of the day lies in recalling the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, both of which fell, centuries apart, on Tisha B’av.
When the Roman legions of the emperor Vespasian, led by his son Titus, captured the Holy City over 19 centuries ago, it marked a turning point in our people’s fate.
The historian Josephus, in Book 6, Chapter 9 of The Jewish War, asserts that some 1.1 million Jews died at the hands of the Romans during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and another 97,000 were taken captive. Many were either sold into slavery or fed to the lions.
It was akin to a spiritual and demographic Holocaust, one that nearly shattered the people of Israel, marked the end of the commonwealth and initiated a long and painful exile from which most of world Jewry has yet to return.
Indeed, all the tragedies and suffering that have befallen the Jewish people over the past 2,000 years – the Crusades and the Inquisition, the Cossacks and the pogroms, on through the Nazi Holocaust – can be traced back to that fateful day, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, when the flames rose up over Jerusalem and consumed the house of God that lay at its heart.
Had the city not fallen, had the Jews not been defeated, the exile might never have occurred, along with all the death and destruction that have accompanied it throughout the ages.
AND HERE we are, on the eve of Tisha Be’av, nearly 2,000 later, and the Jewish people find themselves once again under siege.
Like the Romans of old, our modern-day enemies have surrounded the Jewish state, diplomatically and militarily, terrorizing the populace and attacking the innocent. Cease-fires are of no interest to them, nor is peace their concern. Their agenda is simple and straightforward, and chillingly extreme: to eliminate the Jewish presence entirely from the region.
It is not a very cheerful thought, I know, given our past track record on Tisha B’av. Even the most jovial of optimists must surely be wondering where this is all headed.
Yet there is precisely one aspect of Tisha B’av that gives me reason to hope that somehow, in some way, this time around things might just be different.
The Talmud tells us that it was senseless hatred among the Jews that brought about the downfall of the ancient Temple. Josephus too notes how the bitterly divided Jewish factions continued to fight and undermine each other, even as the Roman troops advanced forward to slaughter them.
Nowadays, however, one thing has become clear: Amid all the violence directed against us we stand together, united as never before.
How long it will last is anyone’s guess. But even if it does prove fleeting, it nonetheless gives us a glimpse of a better future, when all of Israel will truly come together.
SO WHEN we sit down on the floor this evening and read the prophet Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations while abstaining from food and drink, it is worth recalling that all is truly never lost.
Tisha B’av may have been our 9/11, but out of this painful crucible, we will eventually emerge stronger and more robust than ever before.
For if Jewish suffering was born on Tisha B’av as a result of disunity, at least we can say that this time around, we are entering the fast day forged again into one.
And that thought alone should provide us with comfort. As King David once said (in Psalms, chapter 30): “You have transformed my sadness into a joyful dance, you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy.”
May that be the legacy of this year’s Tisha B’av, and ours as well.
The writer served as an aide in the Prime Minister’s Office to former premier Binyamin Netanyahu. He is currently chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.