On Sunday 22 July, Jews around the world quietly observe Tish’ah B’Av (“the ninth of Av”), Av being the fifth month of the Hebrew Calendar, corresponding to July/August. Tish’ah B’Av is a day of fasting and mourning for Jews. It commemorates primarily the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem. But, as we’ll see, the events being remembered can have meaning and significance to the wider world, as well— particularly in places CNEWA serves.
According to the biblical text (2 Kings 25:8 ff.), “in the fifth month on the seventh day of the month (587 BC)…Nebuzaradan, commander of the guard, an officer of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of Yahweh, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem.” It was an unparalleled disaster for the Israelites, bringing the end of the almost 500-year dynasty of David, the end of his city Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Temple which Solomon built.
In Numbers 13:25-14:38 we find the story of the spies sent to reconnoiter Canaan by Moses. Upon their return, all but two spies give a very negative—and false—report on the possibilities of entering the Promised Land. On hearing the negative report, the people revolted against Moses and God and were punished. According to an ancient Jewish commentary on the biblical text, the Israelites wailed and complained against God for no reason. It was—according to the tradition—on the 9th of Av. God the punished them by making that a day on which they would really have something to mourn.
For Jews, the 9th of Av has become a day which commemorates all the tragedies which have come upon them. Although few of these events actually occurred on the 9th of Av, many have occurred during the months of July/August in the calendar. To name just a few:
· July 70 AD: the Romans entered and destroyed Jerusalem and, with it, the Second Temple, built in the time of Ezra and greatly expanded by Herod the Great (d. 4 BC).
· 4 August 135 AD: the Romans at Betar killed almost half a million people who had been part of the rebellion of Bar Kochba.
· 2 August 1941: the Nazi party approved “The Final Solution,” which brought about the extermination of six million Jews in Europe.
On the 9th of Av the biblical book of Lamentations is read in the synagogue. Jews fast for 25 hours, sit on the ground or low stools and avoid any type of entertainment. Although many non-Jews might not be as aware of the observance of Tish?ah B’Av as they are of Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, it is nonetheless an observance with profound meaning for the Jewish people.
But perhaps the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 587 BC and the Second Temple in 70 AD can have meaning for all people of faiths.
Without taking away from the poignancy of the Jewish tragedies observed on Tish?ah B’Av, we are reminded of the violence against sacred places around the world—and more importantly the persons who hold them sacred: the Buddhist statues in Bamyan, in Afghanistan; the bombing of churches in the Middle East; the destruction of Yazidi sacred sites and on and on.
The lands in which CNEWA works are no strangers to violence against places of worship and the worshippers who hold them sacred. Tish?ah B’Av, a sacred and solemn day to Jews, can serve as a reminder to all people of faiths. As long as one group of believers is the object of oppression and violence, no believer can be secure—and none can afford to be indifferent.