Jews are known for their love of food. So it may be surprising to learn that there are a number of fast days in the Jewish calendar. One of the holiest is Tish’a B’Av, an annual fast which takes place on the Hebrew date of the 9thAv and this year occurs today. The lunar calendar is followed in Judaism. ‘Av’ is the Hebrew word for the fifth month, corresponding with the Gregorian months of July and August. Tish’a B’Av commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the subsequent ‘Galut’ (exile) of the Jewish people, as well as other disasters to befall them. Another fast day takes place three weeks before the 9thAv and heralds a period of mourning, called the Three Weeks.
I grew up in an orthodox Jewish home, more traditional than strict. My parents kept kosher, we went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and observed all the main Jewish holidays. Tish’a B’Av was known to me but considered a minor holiday by my parents and was not observed in our house.
But my more religious friends kept this holiday. My birthday usually falls within the three weeks of Tish’a B’Av. As a teenager, when my birthday fell exactly on the 9thAv, I would be irritated if they couldn’t come to my birthday celebrations. If I had a party within the Three Weeks they would be allowed to attend as long as music was not played. As a self-possessed teenager I was resentful of this as I saw it as spoiling the fun and attention I got.
Being so young I didn’t understand the profound spiritual significance of the 9thAv. But as I grew older I began to grasp the astounding fact that the 9thAv historically falls exactly on the days when Jews have experienced their severest suffering. The Kabbalah, a mystical tradition in Judaism, teaches the metaphysical significance of numerology. The interpretation of the 9thAv from this esoteric perspective offers a thoughtful understanding of the pattern of events occurring on this day. The destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians happened on the 9th Av in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE on the 9thAv and led to the expulsion of most Jews from their land into the diaspora.
Jews were expelled on the 9thAv from England (1290) and Spain (1492). World War One, which launched Germany into economic deprivation and subsequently World War Two and the Holocaust, began on the eve of Tish’a B’Av. The deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka also happened on the eve of Tish’a B’Av.
The long years of the spiritual and physical Galut were devastating to Jews. But these harsh lessons sharpened Jewish identity, purpose and meaning. With the modern day miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel and the ensuing in-gathering of the exiles, as foretold in Deuteronomy and the Talmud, we Jews are being led from darkness into light.
This prophecy has been transformed into a practical reality with the necessary immigration to Israel of over a million Jews from more than 100 countries. Over 49,000 Yemenite Jews from were saved from persecution in 1949 when Israel airlifted them to safety via Operation Magic Carpet. Israel also rescued thousands of Ethiopian Jews from starvation and war by airlifting them to Israel in what are known now as Operations Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991).
It is not impossible to think that Europe, including the UK, has another tragedy in store for its Jews. Anti-Semitism, emanating mainly from the Left and Islamists, is rapidly escalating and Europe is yet again becoming an uncomfortable place for Jews. Will Israel have to rescue them as it did the Jews of Yemen and Ethiopia? And will this happen on the 9thAv, given the historical and spiritual significance of this date? Let us heed the lessons that Tish’a B’Av teaches us and avoid another catastrophe for the Jewish people.