By Dr. Rick Chromey
Some days in history live in infamy.
Like December 7, 1941. The day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403.
Or November 22, 1963. The day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Or September 11, 2001. The day America was attacked by Saudi terrorists, killing 2,996.
These disastrous and destructive dates are unforgettable. Moments wracked with fear, despair, confusion, pain and loss. And yet, none of these horrific American moments compare to a particular day in Jewish history known as Tisha B’Av. According to one Jewish organization, it’s “the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.” 1
Tisha B’Av (ninth day of the month Av) has been a day of continual despair, disaster, destruction and death for the Jew – for thousands of years. Early in the Exodus from Egypt, twelve spies explored the “Promised Land” (Numbers 13) and, on the ninth day of Av, returned to report their findings. Ten scouts feared the land was impossible to conquer, while two spies (Joshua and Caleb) believed otherwise. As a result, God halted their journey and punished the entire nation to wander 40 years in the wilderness.
That’s when Tisha B’Av was born as a day for Jews to remember. Over the centuries, this “holy day” evolved into 25 hours – sunset to sunset – of mourning, fasting from food/drink, a cessation of work, and abstinence from pleasurable activities (including washing/bathing, use of creams/oils and leather shoes, and sexual relations). A Jew cannot study the Torah on Tisha B’Av, unless its “distressing texts” from Lamentations, Job and Jeremiah. During the fasting hours, it’s customary to sit on the floor or a low stool. This food fast begins by consuming a hard-boiled egg and bread, dipped in ashes.
According to the Midrash, God proclaimed about the ninth day of Av (Tisha B’Av): “You cried to me pointlessly, I will fix for you [this day as a day of] crying for generations.” 2
And that prophecy has proven true, time and time again. Tisha B’Av is an historic day for Jewish tragedy:
- 586 BCE: On Tisha B’Av, the first Jewish temple, constructed by Solomon, was burned to the ground by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. It was the day many Jews like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were forcibly removed as captives to Babylon. It announced the end of Israel’s golden age of kings.
- 70 CE: On Tisha B’Av, the Romans destroyed the second Jewish temple. For a bloody three and half years (66-70 A.D.), the Romans slaughtered Jews. During the destruction of Jerusalem, Jews starved to death as Rome cut off supply chains. Others perished of disease, murder and suicide. Thousands of deserters were crucified. The historian Josephus claimed over a million Jews died in the Jewish-Roman War. And, just as Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:1-2, the Jewish temple at Jerusalem was razed to the ground, save a portion of a retaining wall.
- 135 CE: On Tisha B’Av, the Roman emperor Hadrian slaughtered a half million Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt. To squelch further rebellion, the emperor outlawed the Torah and canceled the Hebrew calendar. He murdered Jewish rabbis, incinerated sacred scrolls, and plowed under the Temple Mount. In his attempt to erase Jewish history, Hadrian renamed Judea “Syria Palaestina” or Palestine. According to the historian Eusebius, at that point, all Jews were denied access to Jerusalem (renamed “Aelia Capitolina”) in honor of Aelia Hadrian. Jerusalem was now Hadrian’s capital. On penalty of death, Jews were prevented from dwelling anywhere near Jerusalem. Hadrian then built a temple to Jupiter where the Jewish temple once stood.
At this point, the Jews scattered throughout the world. However, every year – on Tisha B’Av – they stopped to humbly mourn, fast and pray for what they once possessed. Things improved slightly when Constantine rose to power in the early fourth century. This Christian emperor allowed Jews annual access to “Roman” Jerusalem for one day (Tisha B’Av) to “mourn, fast and pray.” The place the Jews chose to pray was the remnant “western wall.” In time it became known as the “Wailing Wall.”
In 638 A.D., Jerusalem was captured by Muslim invaders. Several decades later, the Dome of the Rock mosque was erected where the second Jewish temple once stood. In the long course of time, the land of Israel was invaded, captured, and occupied a dozen times by various nations, including Turks, Mongols, Egyptians, French and Syrians.
Since the Middle Ages, Tisha B’Av continued as a day of pain for the Jew:
- 1096 CE: The First Crusade slaughtered 10,000 Jews in France and western Germany.
- 1290 CE: Jews expelled from England
- 1308 CE: Jews expelled from France
- 1492 CE: Jews expelled from Spain
- 1914 CE: Germany’s entrance into World War I resulted in upheaval and uprooting of Europe’s Jews, creating social chaos.
- 1941 CE: The German Nazi party approved “The Final Solution” to exterminate the Jew. A third of the world’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
- 1942 CE: The mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto
- 2005 CE: Jews forced to evacuate Gaza through a “disengagement deal” led by the U.S.
To this day, on Tisha B’Av, faithful Jews stop to mournfully remember this terrible, sad day and Israel’s past glory that cannot be recaptured. It’s a day of despair, disaster, destruction, and death for the Jew.
Tragedy that left a land flowing with milk and honey in ruins.
Mark Twain visited the Middle East in 1867 and penned: “Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.” 3
He described the terrain and cities as “desolate and unlovely…rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt…Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary.” 4
Tisha B’Av. The ninth of Av. A Jewish day that lives in infamy.
And a testament to nations that reject God.
1 “What is Tisha B’Av?” Chabad.Org:
2 The Midrash is expansive Jewish biblical exegesis using a rabbinic mode of interpretation prominent in the Talmud (a commentary on the Torah). Numbers Rabbah 16:20.
3 The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress by Mark Twain (San Francisco: Bancroft and Co., 1869): 607. Downloadable at Google Books.
4 Ibid., 559-560.
Dr. Rick Chromey in an historian, author and speaker who helps people interpret history, navigate culture, and explore faith. In 2017 he founded MANNA! Educational Services International to serve churches, Christian schools and faith-based organizations with inspirational “edutrainment.” Rick and his wife Linda live in Star, ID.
Subscribe to Rick’s inspirational (history, culture, faith) Morning MANNA! (M-F) email at www.mannasolutions.org