The month of Elul is the last of the months in the general Jewish calendar year. It precedes the Days of Awe,
commencing with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Thus the month is characterized by a somber mood reflecting what the rabbis
have called the Days of Reconciliation.
During the month of Elul, it is customary to make a special effort to improve relationships with one's friends
and acquaintances as a token of unbounded love, symbolized in the Hebrew acronym of the first letters of the word ELUL. These
letters spell out the Hebrew verse from the Song of Songs (6:3): "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
Days of Forgiveness
According to tradition, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the day when Moses ascended the mountain with the new Tablets
of stone, having first pleaded for the grave sin of the Israelites who had worshipped a golden calf in the desert. Divine
mercy is offered, and forty days later Moses descends the mount with the Second Tablets as a mark of renewed Divine favor.
These 40 days, from Rosh Chodesh Elul until the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, have thus been fixed for generations
as days of repentance and forgiveness.
Prayers and Supplications.
Thus, not only is an effort made to improve human relationships: With the approaching Days of Awe, it is customary
to set the mood of self-reflection that will culminate in days of prayer and supplication.
This period is marked by the recitation of numerous selichot (penitential prayers) with some people rising
in the middle of the night throughout the month of Elul or, at least, the few days preceding Rosh Hashanah, to pour out their
hearts to Heaven.
The Shofar is Sounded
Like a warning bell, from the second day of the month, the shofar (usually a ram's horn) is customarily sounded
after the morning prayers. This recalls the blasts blown when Moses ascended the mountain for the second time: it was a reminder
to Jews not to fall into temptation again. As it is written: "Shall a shofar blow in the city and the people not tremble?"
A Special Psalm
Also, from the 2nd Elul, Psalm 27 is recited after prayers in the synagogue. The author acclaims: "A psalm
of David - the Lord is my light and my salvation... for he will hide me in his tent."
The Midrash explains the appropriateness of this recitation during this period: "The Lord is my light" - on
Rosh Hashanah; "and my salvation" - on Yom Kippur; "for he will hide me in his tent" - on [the festival of] Sukkot.
Le David Hashem Ori
LeDavid Hashem Ori (Tehilim Kaf Zayin)
LeDavid Hashem ori veyishi mimi ira Hashem ma'oz chayyai mimi efchad. Bikrov alai mereiim le'echol et bsari
tsarai veoyvai li heima kashlu venafalu. Im tachaneh alai machaneh lo yira libi im takum alai milchama bezot ani boteach.
Achat sha'alti me'et Hashem ota avakesh shivti beveit Hashem kol yemei chayyai lachazot benoam Hashem ulevaker beheichalo.
Ki yetsafneini besuko beyom ra'ah yastireini beseter ahalo betzur yeromemeni. Ve'ata yarum roshi al oyvai svivotai ve'ezbecha
be'ahalo zivchei teruah ashira veazamra l' Hashem.
Shma Hashem koli ekra vechaneini veaneini. Lecha amar libi bakshu panai et panecha Hashem avakesh. Al taster
panecha mimeni al tat be'af avdecha ezrati hayita al titsheini ve'al ta'azveini elokei yishi'i. Ki avi ve'imi azavuni ve'Hashem
ya'asfeini. Horeini Hashem derkecha unecheini beorach mishor lema'an shorerai. Al titneini benefesh tsarai ki kamu bi eidei
sheker veyifeiach chamas. Lulei he'emanti lir'ot betuv Hashem be'eretz chayim. Kaveh el Hashem chazak veyaametz libecha vekaeh
The Lord is My Light (Psalms 27)
The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall
I be afraid? When the wicked, my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though a host
should camp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, even then I will be confident. One thing
have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to
behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his Temple. For in the day of evil he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the
convert of his tent he shall hide me; he shall set me up a rock. And now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies round
about me: therefore I will offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, and I will make melody to the Lord.
Hear ,O Lord, when I cry with my voice: be gracious to me, and answer me. Of thee my heart has said, Seek
my face. Thy face, O Lord, I seek. Hide not thy face from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; abandon
me not, nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. For my father and mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up. Teach
me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in an even path, because of my enemies. deliver me not over to the will of my enemies. For
false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out violence. Were it not that I believed I should see the goodness
of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thy heart: and wait on
Shiva Assar Be'Tammuz
This year the Fast of the 17th Tammuz falls on July 8th.
After Bartlett, 1855
Breaching of the Walls
In Jewish tradition, the 17th of the Jewish month of Tammuz is a fast day which commemorates the breaching of the
walls of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) and Titus (70 CE). It should be recalled that these breaches in the walls of
the Holy City came after many months of siege in which the city's residents suffered extreme hardships, sickness and hunger.
More Reasons to Mourn
In addition to the breaching of the City Walls, the Mishnah (Ta'anit 4:6) recounts four other tragedies that occurred
on this day:
Ten Commandments Smashed
After Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah, Moshe went back up Mount Sinai for forty days in order to learn both the
general principles and details of the Law and to receive the 10 Commandments.
But Bnei Yisrael miscalculated the amount of time that Moshe was meant to be on the mount, and on the 39th day of
his absence (17th of Tammuz) fearing that he would not return, they built an idol - the golden calf. When Moshe saw that the
nation, who had just made a covenant with God, had built an idol, he was overcome by anger and he threw the 10 commandments
to the floor, smashing them to pieces.
Daily Offering Ceased
'Deal' with besieging soldiers ended
During the days of the destruction of the first Temple, the walls of Jerusalem was breached on the 9th of Tammuz.
Although the enemies entered the city and spread desolation, they were unable to enter the Sanctuary because the Cohanim (priests)
had fortified themselves and continued to perform the daily offerings.
On the 13th of Tammuz, the Cohanim had no more sheep for the daily offering, so they bribed the besieging soldiers
for gold and silver in return for sheep. On the 17th of Tammuz, the soldiers stopped sending up sheep and for the first time,
the daily offerings ceased.
Sefer Torah Burned
On the 17th of Tammuz, a number of years before the destruction of the Second Temple, during the time of the Roman
Procurator Comenus, there was great tension between the Romans and the Jews. Josephus Flavious tells of the burning of the
Torah Scroll by Comenus and his forces:
"On the royal road, near Beit Horon, robbers befell the cortege of Stephanus, a royal official, and they thoroughly
plundered it. Comenus sent an armed force to the nearby villages and ordered the arrest of their inhabitants, who were then
to be brought before him. It was their sin that they failed to pursue and capture the robbers. One of the soldiers seized
a scroll of the Holy Torah in one of the villages; he tore it and cast it into the fire... From all sides the Jews gathered
in trembling, as if their entire land had been given to the flames..."
Idol Placed In Temple
Some hold that Apustumus, a royal Roman official, placed an idol in the Second Temple on the 17th of Tammuz.
When the Temple stood, Jerusalem was the bustling capital of Jewish activity and the focal point of all Jewish existence.
At least 3 times a year, wherever they were, Jews would come to Jerusalem in honor of the pilgrim festivals. Jerusalem was
also the seat of the Sanhedrin (the High Court) and the center of Jewish learning. The Holy City united the Jewish people
and focused all their physical and spiritual endeavors towards God.
Today, although the Temple no longer stands, Jerusalem is still the focal point of Jewish existence. Numerous customs
reflect the significance of Jerusalem in our lives. At the festive occasion of a Jewish wedding, a glass is shattered in memory
of Jerusalem, and it is customary to leave part of one's house unpainted in honor of the Temple. These customs and many more
permeate our daily existence. During the 3 weeks, the customs of mourning intensify as we commemorate the period when Jerusalem
was besieged and the Temple razed to the ground.
Tears For Jerusalem
A Tale of Two Cities
How can a Jew weep on Tisha B'Av for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdash which took place thousands
of years ago, when he sees how beautifully Jerusalem has been rebuilt in our days?
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from Rabbi Gershon Kitover, brother-in-law of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who arrived in Jerusalem
two and a half centuries ago with the first group of Chassidim to settle in the Holy Land. He looked around at a city which
sported foreign legations and all the signs of a serene community restored, in sharp contrast to the desolation described
by Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban) in his famous letter reporting on his visit to the city some five centuries earlier.
Rabbi Gershon broke into tears. Now, he said, I fully understand the words of the prayer that Jews say at the end
of the final ne'ilah service on Yom Kippur, when the gates of Heaven are about to close. As they stand at this dramatic moment,
weakened in body from a long day of fasting and strengthened in spirit from prayer and repentance, they strive to send one
more prayer heavenward, invoking the 13 attributes of Divine mercy. The opening lines, sounding more like a Tisha B'Av lamentation
than a Yom Kippur prayer, cry out: "I recall, O G-d, and I am overcome by emotion, as I see every city solidly built on its
foundation, while the City of G-d is reduced to the depth of the grave. Nevertheless, we are with G-d and our eyes are turned
Until Rabbi Gershon saw the rebuilt Jerusalem of his day, he assumed - as we all do - that the above lament contrasts
a desolate Holy City with the mighty capitals of the world, Rome, Paris, London and Berlin. But when he saw the beginnings
of a rebuilt Jerusalem and contrasted it with the ruins of the Beis Hamikdash he sensed a deeper meaning in those words:
'Every city' - said Rabbi Gershon - refers to the Jerusalem of Below, the city of brick and mortar; while the 'City
of G-d' refers to the Jerusalem of Above, the heavenly city characterized by the Beis Hamikdash.
It is certainly painful to contrast these ruins with the prosperity of foreign cities. But the pain is indescribably
greater when one sees the contrast between material prosperity and spiritual ruin before his very eyes. Small wonder that
this great man of spirit, who finally realized his lifelong dream of reaching Jerusalem, was moved to tears when he sensed
the awful contrast.
The above account of Rabbi Gershon Kitover's experience and observation is recorded by one of the great halachic authorities,
Rabbi Yosef Tumim, who served as rabbi of Frankfort, Germany two centuries ago. In his classic commentary on Shulchan Aruch
Orach Chaim, "Pri Megadim" (661a Eshel Avraham), he quotes his father as the source for this moving story about Rabbi Gershon
A footnote to this is the sentiment expressed in the last line of the above mentioned prayer - "Nevertheless, we are
with G-d and our eyes are turned to G-d." This sense of hope amidst mourning reminds us of the story of a father who took
his young son to the Western Wall for the first time. It was Tisha B'Av, and the youngster asked his father why grown men
"Here," said the father, "our Beis Hamikdash once stood. The Har Habayis (Temple Mount) on which it stood was surrounded
by four large walls. Now the Beis Hamikdash is destroyed, as well as the walls around the Har Habayis. All we have left of
all our sacred glory is this one wall where you see people praying. Is it any wonder that they cry when they remember what
once stood here?"
"But Father," responded the son, "isn't it true that Mashiach will soon come to redeem us, rebuild the Beis Hamikdash
and the four walls around Har Habayis? We should take comfort in the fact that one of those walls is already standing, and
there are only three more to go!"
In poem, prayer and custom, Jews have recalled the memory of Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat and also wept
When we remembered Zion.
On the willows within it
We hung our lyres,
Playing joyous music:
Sing for us from Zion's song!
How can we sing the Lord's song
Upon alien soil?
Jeremiah mourns the
downfall of JerusalemIf I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill;
Let my tongue adhere to my palate,
If I fail to recall you,
If I fail to elevate Jerusalem
Above my foremost joy.
Yehuda Halevi (11-12th cent.)
My heart is in the East
And I am in the faraway West.
How can I savour food,
How shall I render my vows,
While Zion is still enchained by Edom
And I am in the bonds of Arabia?How little would it mean to me
To abandon all the bounty of Spain.
How precious it would be to behold
Even the dust of the Holy Temple
That was destroyed!
From the Prayer Book
But because of our sins
We have been exiled from our land
And sent far from our soil.
May it be your will, O God ...
That You once more be compassionate
Upon us and upon your Sanctuary
In your abundant mercy,
And rebuild it soon
And magnify its glory.
From the Book of Lamentations
How does the City sit solitary
That was full of people!
How she has become like a widow
She that was great among the nations...
In the days of her affliction
And of her misery,
All the pleasant things
That she had
In the days of old.
Among the customs for recalling Jerusalem can be included:
The breaking of a glass by the groom at his wedding.
The inclusion of an unplastered part of a new house near its entrance.
The attaching of a Mizrach sign on the wall to mark the direction of prayer towards Jerusalem.
The rendering of a garment on seeing the ruins of Jerusalem.
Destruction And Rebirth
Why the Temple Was Destroyed
"By the rivers of Babylon..."
There is no sorrow in the life of Israel like that of the destruction and burning of the Holy Temple. On that day
their national freedom was lost, and the people began to count the new era of exile and suffering.
The First Temple - The Temple was destroyed because of three sins: idolatory, adultery, and the shedding of blood...
The people desecrated Shabbat, kept children away from study, suspended prayers, and had no shame for each other.
The Second Temple The Second Temple was destroyed through the sins of causeless hate. Men of truth ceased among the
people. They did not admonish nor show forbearance with one another, they shamed scholars in public and equalized the small
with the great, and were overly literal with the law.
"Kamtza bar Kamtza" - from the Talmud, Gittin 56
A man wanted to throw a party for all his friends, so he drew up a guest list and instructed his servant to send out
the invitations. One of the men on the guest list was named "Kamtza," but the servant made a mistake and invited "Bar Kamtza"
instead. Oops Bar Kamtza was actually a sworn enemy of the host!
When Bar Kamtza received his invitation, he was very grateful thinking that the host had finally made amends. But
when Bar Kamtza showed up at the party, the host took one look and told his servant to have Bar Kamtza immediately removed
from the premises.
When asked to leave, Bar Kamtza said: "I understand the mistake. But it's embarrassing for me to leave the party.
I'll gladly pay the cost of my meal if you'll allow me to stay."
The host would hear nothing of this, and reiterated his demand to have Bar Kamtza removed.
Bar Kamtza appealed again: "I'd even be willing to pay HALF the cost of the entire party, if only I'd be allowed to
Again the request was denied. At which point, the distraught Bar Kamtza pleaded: "I'll pay for the entire party! Just
please don't embarrass me in this way!"
The host, however, stuck to his guns and threw Bar Kamtza out. The Talmud reports that Bar Kamtza was so hurt and
upset, that he went straight to the Roman authorities and gave slanderous reports of disloyal behavior among the Jews. This
fueled the Romans' anger, and they proceeded to attack and destroy the Holy Temple.
We might think the Second Temple was destroyed because of a combination of complex reasons, a series of events out
of our control. Not so. It is simply due to the sin of unwarranted hatred between Jews.
When we desire and await the rebuilding of the Temple, the key is to focus on fixing what we have ruined. The way
of repair is that everyone must make a maximum effort to love every member of the Jewish People. (see Chafetz Chaim: Maamar
Ahavas Yisroel, Chapter 5)
This is what we are lacking today, so this is what mourn on Tisha B'Av. Every time you get into a fight with someone
and you don't work it out, think long and hard that you are personally responsible for holding back the rebuilding of the
Temple. And every time you love a Jew unconditionally, we bring redemption one giant step closer.
The Scroll of Lamentations (Megilat Eicha 1), composed after the destruction of the second temple, becries of the
Jewish people that "all her pursuers caught her between the fences". The sages tell us that "between the fences" or "Bein
HaMeitzarim" represent the 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av. On these days much affliction and calamity befell
the Jewish people throughout the generations.
From the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, various customs of mourning begin, intensifying on Rosh Chodesh Av, with the
mourning reaching a peak on the fast of Tisha B'Av.
VJ takes a look at some of the events associated with the Three Weeks.
"Can these bones live?"
Because of the gravity of the events that overcame the Jewish people during the period of the Three Weeks, the rabbis
ordained that various acts of grieving should take place. It is important to note that the intensity of these mourning customs
increases as the Fast of the 9th Av (Tisha B'Av) approaches.
Customs of the Three Weeks
According to the the Code of Jewish Law, during the Three weeks:
One does not buy or wear new clothes, listen to music or bathe for pleasure (except for immersion in a ritual bath
or for health reasons);
One does not eat new fruits over which the blessing Shehecheyanu must be said;
One does not shave or cut one's hair;
One does not celebrate weddings;
One does not drink wine or eat meat except on Shabbat;
One tries to avoid litigation or long journeys.
In many communities these customs are restricted to the Nine Days preceding Tisha B'Av. In any event, people follow
the custom of their community and consult a religious authority with questions.
During the Shabbat services preceding Tisha B'Av, it is customary to read the prophetic passages (haftarot) from Jeremiah
(1:1-2:3; 2:4-3:4) and (Isaiah (1:1-27) in which the pending punishments of Israel were predicted:
Hear O heavens
and give ear, O Earth,
for the Lord has spoken:
I have reared and brought up children,
and they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner...
but Israel does not know...
Then the Lord said to me:
Out of the north the evil shall break forth
upon all the inhabitants of the land.
For, lo, I shall call all the families
of the kingdoms of the north,
says the Lord.
And they shall come,
and each [nation] will set his throne
at the gates of Jerusalem...
What are They?
The Nine Days consists of those days leading up to the Fast of Ninth Av (Tisha B'Av). When the month of Av enters,
the sages say, one should reduce one's level of happiness. Mourning customs are observed in deference to the memories of the
two holy temples destroyed and the various other catastrophes that occurred on that day.
The Month of Av
The name of the fifth Hebrew month of Av is of Babylonian origin. It is also called Menachem Av [lit. "The comforting
of Av"], in anticipation of the consolation for which the Jew hopes, after all the misfortunes that happened.
According to the scriptures, Aaron, the High Priest, died on this day. Aaron was known for his love of peace. It is
thus paradoxical that in this month, a tragedy of overwhelming proportions befell the Jewish people, in part, the rabbis tell
us, because of the inability of the Jewish community of Judea to maintain cordial relations with one another.
The Shabbat before Tisha B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon [lit. "Shabbat of Vision"], alluding to the prophetic reading
of the week, from the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah. In this prophecy, the Children of Israel are rebuked, but also
Zion will be redeemed with judgement
And those that return to her with righteousness.
Customs of the Nine Days
From the first of the month (Rosh Chodesh) until the Fast of the Ninth of Av, it is customary (depending on your level
of practice) to take on additional strictures regarding the mourning rites of the Three Weeks. These include the avoidance
of music, merriment, and meat. It is also customary to refrain from drinking wine. A correspondence is thus drawn to the cessation
of the Temple offerings and libations, as the destruction of the Sanctuary approached.
Of course, overriding these restrictions are the special meals associated with a mitzvah (Brit milah; Pidyon Haben),
health problems or severe economic hardship.
More stringent restrictions in this spirit include:
Not planting trees intended for fruit or fragrance
Not sewing, weaving or knitting new clothes
Not buying new clothes
Not bathing for pleasure
An appropriate rabbinical authority can be asked for clarification of these issues.
This year, the fast begins at sundown July 28, and continues till after sundown on July 29th, 2001.
The fast of the Ninth of Av commemorates the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem: The First Temple, built
by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans
in 70 CE.
The destruction signified disastrous events, the end of years of suffering and the breakdown of Jewish independence.
The sacking of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem marked the cessation of ceremony, spiritual discourse and leadership, all of which
had given the people their independent and noble character.
A symbol of national misfortune
The sages point out that the breakdown of civil behavior, as well as a lack of religious sincerity, were the hallmarks
of the social disintegration which allowed Israel's enemies to subject them to siege, misery, and final defeat.
The fast day has become a symbol for all the misfortunes of the Jewish people, for the loss of national independence
and sufferings in exile, including the Crusade massacres and, in our times, pogroms and atrocities suffered under the hands
of tyrants. (A special day for the commemoration of Holocaust victims has been set aside to correspond with the Fast of the
Other tragedies of 9th Av
Other calamities recorded as having occurred on Ninth Av include:
The issue of the decree forbidding the generation of Israelites who left Egypt to enter the Land of Israel.
The capture of Betar, the last stronghold of the leaders of the The Bar Kochba Revolt, in 135 BCE.
The establishment of a heathen temple on the site of the Temple, one year later, by the Roman emperor Hadrian. He
rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city - renamed Aelia Capitolina - which was forbidden to Jews.
The mass suicide of the Jews of York during the anti-Jewish riots in the year 1190.
The expulsion of Jews from Spain, after centuries of Jewish cultural and spiritual growth.
The outbreak of World War I
The initiation of the deportation of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.
On Tisha B'av it is customary to intensify the mourning customs that commenced with the Fast of 17th of Tammuz and
continued through the Three Weeks.
Before the fast.
Before the fast it is customary to eat a final meal (Seuda HaMafseket). At this meal, we eat only one cooked dish.
The meal should not include meat or wine. Drinking any alcoholic beverage is also forbidden. At this last meal, we eat a boiled
egg dipped in ashes as a sign of mourning. (The roundness of the egg is a sign of the cycle of life; its hardness a symbol
of the Jewish people's ability to withstand persecution). The meal is eaten alone, while sitting on a low seat or the floor
We begin the fast just before sundown. While fasting, food and drink are forbidden, as is bathing, washing for pleasure,
the use of oils or perfumes, wearing leather shoes, marital relations, and working (according to custom). Even the study of
Torah is forbidden (since this is a joyful activity); however, learning passages related to the destruction, the trials of
Job, and so on, is permitted.
In the Synagogue.
Generally, the sad and reflective tone of the day is observed, as follows;
The congregants sit on low benches.
The chazan leads the prayers in a low, mournful tone.
The lights are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain of the Ark is removed.
In the evening, the Book of Lamentations is followed by special mournful dirges called Kinnot.
After the main part of the morning service, Kinnot are read recalling many of the tragic events in Jewish history
The Tallis (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (phylacteries), considered as ornaments, are not worn until the afternoon prayer
service (Minchah) is said.
It is not uncommon to visit the graves of relatives or pious people, to pray for the sick and to ask for the speedy
redemption of the people of Israel.
In Israel, crowds visit the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av where the Lamentations and Kinnot are recited by the different
communities according to their rites. Of course, there are different customs depending on ethnic heritage.
From Grief and Catharsis to Hope and Rebirth
An Interpretation of the Customs of Tisha B'Av
(Adapted mainly from R. Irving Greenberg:
The Jewish Way, Summit Books, 1988)
Re-enactment of past tragedy
Rabbi Irving Greenberg has pointed out that the dominant model of the fast is to reenact past tragedy. Reliving and
remembering these sorrows, he notes, is the key to overcoming history's setbacks. By experiencing the tragedy afresh every
year, Jews can never become reconciled either to the destruction of the Temple or the Exile. "Every year it is as if the tragedy
has just occurred and the shock is still fresh. So Jews taste the dregs of defeat and suffering even when they experience
success and peace in their daily lives."
Greenberg adds that this kind of "replay" helps people become more sensitive to those who suffer and need help. "This
is the messianic spirit, the faith that builds on the sands of despair, the faith that knows death and fights it."
Imagery of grief for loved one
While the primary model is reenactment, the halacha also draws upon its imagery of grief for a dead member of the
immediate family. In that case, the seven days of mourning and the outpouring of the heart follow the death of the departed.
However, when reliving historical tragedy, notes Greenberg, one knows the outcome at the outset. Thus the sense of doom and
grief builds up before the day actually arrives and the emphasis switches to the renewal of life.
Tisha B'Av is thus seen as the culmination of a series of minor fasts that began with 10th Tevet, the day on which
the siege of Jerusalem began in 586 BCE.
The Night of Tisha B'Av
For the night service of Tisha B'Av, the curtain of the Ark in the synagogue is removed and the sanctuary is kept
in semi-darkness. This recalls the act of Hester Panim, (lit. the 'hiding of God's face'), suggests Greenberg. In tragedy,
we experience "the eclipse of God" and live in a void and empty universe: it is as if the Divine Presence had abandoned the
The sense of gloom is heightened by the reading of the Book of Lamentations and dirges (Kinnot)), as well as the discomfort
of sitting on the floor or low benches. Rabbi Greenberg calls this the anti-Exodus structure. Rather than celebrating freedom
from slavery with good food and clothes, we mark the move from freedom to slavery.
The Book of Lamentations
The Book of Lamentations is an intricate set of dirges and descriptions of Jerusalem under siege and of the destruction
of Jerusalem. "The elegy bewails Jerusalem once teeming with life and now sitting abandoned... It captures the horror of siege:
children pleading for water, cannibalism of hunger-maddened mothers, priests defiled..." The sinning people are blamed, God
is questioned, and faith is just about restored, as the memory of His kindnesses are recalled.
Mirroring a sense of doom
The book is read softly, mirroring the morbid atmosphere. The prayers abound in the sense of rejection. Thus the request
for one's prayers to be accepted (titkabel) is omitted from the Kadddish prayer, as in the house of the mourner. Some sleep
without a pillow or soft mattress to express further the sense of unease and discomfort.
The next day, maintaining the spirit of abjection, one refrains from greeting friends and neighbors. Worshippers also
desist from wearing the Tallit (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (phylacteries) during the morning service since they symbolize
glory and decoration. Only in the afternoon - "when the finality of of the Destruction has sunk in" - are the Tallit and Tefillin
put on. Also, during the day, while some special prayers of remorse and petition are included in the private and public prayers
(the Amidah), others are omitted as being inappropriate in mood.
Hope not lost
Indeed, changes in mood are critical to the rhythm of the day. This can be observed in the deletion of the traditional
Tachanun or Penitential Prayer (of all prayers!) from center stage in the service, after the Amidah.
With fascinating insight Greenberg notes that just as defeat and despair seem to overwhelm, the balance tilts, and
the Jew makes the countervailing move: In the depths of defeat, he anticipates rebirth and triumph. As such, at this point
in the prayers, Tisha B'Av has adopted a new mode and is now referred to [in the Code of Jewish Law] as an 'assembly day,'
or mo'ed. As such, the drift is now towards hope, and it is now suddenly inappropriate to self-indulge in prayers of desperation.
As the day progresses
The following Torah reading of the day similarly touches on the dual themes of exile and return. This is then followed
by the reading of the Kinnot which usually occupies the bulk of the morning. The Kinnot are a collection of elegies and laments
largely written by the Spanish poets (11th cent.), covering many of the tragedies of Jewish history. "No one generation's
grief," notes Greenberg, "could be the sole focus of this day."
Work and business activity are restricted during the day, at least until the afternoon. Now the new reality grows
and Tallit and Tefillin are adorned, missed prayers are added and a circumcision of a new born child can now take take place.
In line with the fast, the associated festive meal is postponed till the end of the day.
With the passing of the day
When the day is over the ceremony of the new moon is recited. In kabbalah, the ceremony expresses the hope for the
Messiah and that all of nature and history will be restored to wholeness and perfection. The reenactment does not end abruptly,
Rabbi Greenberg notes; it tapers off. Some of the mourning practices - such as eating meat - are carried over till the tenth
Av. The Temple was still burning; our grief lingers.
And one takes time to ponder on the meaning of Tisha B'Av in our times. One looks back to the pogroms and the Holocaust
and considers, too, what ills of humanity still need to be corrected in our day.
We cannot eat, but Tisha B'Av offers much food for thought and group activity.
The Body of Man
From the Midrash
The body of man is a microcosm, the whole world in miniature, and the world in turn is a reflex of man. The hair upon
his head corresponds to the woods of the earth, his tears to a river, his mouth to the ocean. The world resembles the ball
of his eye, the ocean that encircles the earth is like the white of the eye, the dry land is the iris, Jerusalem the pupil,
and the Temple the image mirrored in the pupil of the eye.
It Was Here
By Elie Wiesel
Remember that according to Scriptures we are supposed to be a nation of priests. What does that mean? Remember: once
upon a time the High Priest prepared and purified himself all year long just to pronounce one single word - God's name - just
once, in once place: in the inner sanctum of the Temple, on the Day of Atonement. He who wishes to follow in his footsteps
must learn to say the right word at the right time and in the right place.
The Two Brothers
Two brothers who dearly loved each other lived on neighboring farms, tilled their fields together and shared its harvest.
The one brother was married and had three children; the other was unwed.
When the crop was reaped, the produce was divided equally between the two brothers. But the one bethought himself:
"It is not fair that I share equally with my brother. He has a wife and three children and needs more than I." So he loaded
a donkey in the middle of the night and secretly carried some of his grain to his brother's field. In the meantime the other
said to himself: "My brother is alone. He will have no-one to support him in his old age. He needs a bigger portion of the
harvest than I." So, he loaded a donkey and brought some of his grain to his brother.
In the morning each brother looked at his share and found that it still looked too large. Each decided that he had
not returned enough to his brother. Hence, the following night they again secretly carried grain to each other. But the morning
after found the situation still the same, so each determined to be more generous.
That night, the two brothers with their loaded donkeys met midway. Realizing what had happened, they embraced one
another and wept.
The spot where they met was chosen as the site for the building of the Temple.
This is the City to be Punished
I Kings 9:3-7
(The Lord said to Solomon:) I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you made before Me; I have hallowed
this house, which you have built, to put My name there forever. My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually. And as for
you, if you will walk before Me, as David your father walked, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel
forever; but if you shall turn away from following Me, then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them:
and this house which I have hallowed for My name, will I cast out of my sight.
God Was Moved
From the Midrash
God Himself was deeply moved by the destruction of the Temple, which he had abandoned that the enemy might enter and
destroy it. Accompanied by the angels, he visited the ruins, and gave vent to His sorrow; "Woe is Me on account of My house.
Where are my children, where are My priests, where are My beloved? But what could I do for you? Did I not warn you? Yet you
would not mend your ways."
"Today, " God said to Jeremiah, "I am like a man who has an only son. You seem to feel but little sympathy with Me
and My children. Go summon Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses from their graves. They know how to mourn."
Lord of the world," replied Jeremiah, "I know not where Moses is buried."
"Stand on the banks of the Jordan," said God, "and cry: 'You, son of Amram, arise, see how wolves have devoured your
Carnage on the ninth day of Av:
"One would have thought that the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot from its base, it was so
full of fire on every side; and yet he blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain were more in
number than those that slew them. And the ground was nowhere visible for the dead bodies that lay on it."
The Children Lie
Nelly Sachs. (Translated from German by Ruth and Matthew Mead)
The children lie
On all the roads of earth
Torn by the roots
From mother earth.
The light-extinguished love
Has fallen from their hands.
Wind fills the empty hands.
When evening, father
Of all orphans, bleeds
With them from all the wounds
And their trembling shadows
Mimic the heartbreaking fear
Of their bodies
They plunge suddenly into night
As though into death.
But at dawn in the hills of pain
They see their fathers and mothers
Dying again and again.
Yossel Rakover's Appeal to God
I am happy to belong to the unhappiest of all peoples of the world, whose precepts represent the loftiest and most
beautiful of all morality and laws. These immortal precepts which we possess have now been even more sanctified and immortalized
by the fact that they have been so debased and insulted by the enemies of the Lord.
I believe that to be a Jew is an inborn trait. One is born a Jew exactly as an artist. It is impossible to be released
from being a Jew. That is our Godly attribute that has made us a chosen people. Those who do not understand this will never
understand the higher meaning of our martyrdom. If I ever doubted that God once designated us as the chosen people, I would
believe now that our tribulations have made us the chosen one.
I believe in You, God of Israel, even though you have done everything to stop me from believing in You. I believe
in Your laws even if I cannot excuse your actions. My relationship to You is not the relationship of a slave to his master,
but rather of a pupil to his teacher. I bow my head before your greatness, but I will not kiss the lash with which you strike
Mourning Merits Joy
Mishnah Ta'anit 4:6-7
The rabbis have said:
Everyone who mourns for Jerusalem merits to share in her joy,
And anyone who does not mourn for her will not share in her joy.
Return our Captivity
Psalm 126, in Grace After Meals
Return our Captivity, O Lord
Return our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the dry land.
They who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
"Upon Israel and upon the Rabbis,
And upon their disciples
And upon all the disciples of their disciples,
And upon all who engage in the study of the Torah
In this place and in every place,
Unto them and unto you
Let there be abundant peace, grace, lovingkindness,
Mercy, long life, ample sustenance and salvation,
From their Father who is in Heaven.
And say, Amen."
"Upon Israel and upon their children,
And upon all the children of their children,
In this place and in every place,
To them and to you
If you're flying over Israel on Tuesday night, April 30th
this year, and you look down out of your plane, you will see thousands of bonfires dotting the landscape as far as the eye
can see. That night is Lag Ba'Omer - the 33rd day of the Omer: the 33rd day of counting the seven weeks between Pesach and
According to the Bible (Leviticus ), an offering
consisting of an omer (a specific measure) of barley was brought to the Temple
on the second day of Passover. The omer was, in fact, a yield of a sheaf of barley. Until that offering was made, no grain
from the new year's crop was to be eaten.
From that day onwards, it was necessary to count forty nine days until Shavuot - the Feast of the Wheat Harvest.
After the destruction of the Temple, the practice of bringing
barley was discontinued, but Jews continued to "count the omer period," a custom which has continued throughout the ages.
The Omer period has several interesting angles: In the agricultural world, it represented a period of tremendous
tension for the Judean farmer who was exposed to sudden changes of weather that were typical for the season between the two
Jewish holidays of Pesach and Shavuot. Indeed, the Hebrew word for a hot dry wind, chamsin, derives its source from the Arabic
word for fifty, since this bothersome weather occurred so frequently during this period.The hot dry wind could burn the stalks
of the ripening wheat, thus spoiling the produce and threatening the farmer's sustenance.
Reminder of the Source
In Jewish thought and tradition, the optimal proportions of rains (and wind and sun) were to be a reward for
keeping God's commandments. So, the counting of the days of the Omer reminded the farmer of the source of his success in producing
grain, olives and grapes - the three staple crops recorded in the Bible. The daily omer count consequently encouraged the
landowner to be more faithful to the ongoing demands of his spiritual duties.
The tension increased as the days passed, but so did the anticipation of going up to the Temple on the upcoming festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). Shavuot was the religious climax
of the counting period. Since Shavuot also commemorated the Giving of the Torah on Mt.Sinai, observance of the holiday continued even in the post-Temple period
when the offerings were discontinued. The period of the Omer thus became the natural bridge between Pesach and Shavuot. For
what reason did the Children of Israel
leave Egypt if not to receive the Torah?
Thus the Jew counted the Omer as a bride and groom would count the days to their marriage; as each day passes the anticipation
The Kabbalists had a different interpretation of the Omer based on the various permutations (7 x 7) of the
Sefirot or mystical emanations. These Sefirot denote the ascent from the 49 "gates" of impurity of the Egyptian bondage to
the purity of the revelation at Sinai. In many prayer books and Omer counting charts these combinations are listed at the
side of each day recorded.
A Mourning Period
Over the years, the Omer period has become identified with sad memories for Jewry. Massacres occurred during
the period of the Romans and later during the Crusades. In the days of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the Jews - led by Bar Kokhba
- attemped to drive out the foreign oppressors from Judea. The revolt was unsuccessful and during the fighting thousands of
Jews lost their lives.
According to tradition, numerous students of Rabbi Akiva died as a result of a plague that raged during the
days of the Omer counting. For that reason, it is customary to observe a a period of semi-mourning during this time: weddings
are not held, hair is not cut, and music is not heard. On the 18th of the month of Iyar however - the thirty-third day of
the Omer (in Hebrew: Lag Ba'Omer, after the acronym for the number 33) - this ban is lifted, since the plague is said to have
ceased on that day.
Throughout history, the period of the Omer has been fraught with
German Jews Being Burned tragedy for the Jewish People. It is told that some 1,900 years ago, all 24,000 students
of Rabbi Akiva died during the Omer because they failed to give each other enough respect. Exactly 900 years ago, whole Jewish
communities were obliterated in Germany during the First Crusade.
Men, women and children were slaughtered, and Torah scholars burned alive. 350 years ago, Ukrainian peasants
under the leadership of a petty aristocrat called Bogdan Chmielnicki, aided by Dneiper Cossacks and Tartars from the Crimea,
unleashed a terrible massacre. In the synagogue in Nemirov, the Cossacks used ritual knives to slaughter the inhabitants and
6,000 men, women and children were butchered.
In remembrance of Rabbi Akiva's students and the other tragedies, it is the custom to abstain from certain
things that bring joy to the heart: Weddings are not held during the Omer period and we refrain from cutting our hair as is
the custom of a mourner.
Lag Ba'Omer: From Darkness to Light
On the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag Ba'Omer), it is told, the plague ceased and Rabbi Akiva's students stopped
dying. Therefore, the rabbis lifted the observances of mourning on that day. But how did it become a day of out-and-out rejoicing?
When all 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students had died, the world was desolate. There were no pupils to go out
and teach and disseminate the light of Torah and the Torah had been forgotten. Rabbi Akiva traveled to the rabbis of the South
to teach them. On Lag Ba'Omer, he started instructing these rabbis, his last five disciples. And from that day, the world
began to brighten from these five points of light. To commemorate this event, in the Land of Israel we light bonfires to symbolize
the great light that the Torah represents.
Hidden and Revealed Light
One of those last five disciples of Rabbi Akiva was the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. His departure
from this world also occurred on Lag Ba'Omer. On the day of Rabbi Shimon's passing, a great light was revealed to his students
when he uncovered many of the hidden secrets of the Torah. These were allegedly written down in the Zohar (lit. 'shining').
Why the bonfires? If the Torah is represented by light, the Hidden, or esoteric Torah, may be seen as being
even more intense light.
Fire represents the conversion of the material into energy. This process is analagous to the Kabbalistic concept
of "releasing the sparks of holiness" inherent in the material world. According to Judaism, the material world is full of
spiritual potential, waiting to be released. It is fitting that the holiday which celebrates a revelation of the hidden aspect
of the Torah is marked by fire.
There is even a custom in some circles to burn clothing, which is, in general, something Judaism frowns upon
as needlessly wasteful. On Lag Ba'Omer, the message overrides the "normal" set of values. It tells us that all material objects
are simply reflections of spiritual reality.
The bonfires of Lag Ba'Omer symbolize the light of the hidden wisdom that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed
on that day. Today, the most ecstatic celebrating takes place in Meron, the site at which he is allegedly buried.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
Dispelling the Darkness
Tongues of flame reaching into the darkness, climbing ever higher. The bonfires of Lag Ba'Omer commemorate
the anniversary of the passing of the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The Talmudic sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, was one of five pupils of Rabbi Akiva who ensured that the Torah
was not forgotten among the Jewish people. The story is told that during the time that the Romans sought to destroy any vestige
of Torah in the Land of Israel following the Bar Kochba revolt, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai hid with his son, Rabbi Elazar, in
a cave near Meron. For thirteen years, they survived by eating carob seeds while learning Torah together. Lag Ba'Omer is the
anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's death (hilula, in Hebrew) and the holiday has thus become intimately connected with
Why do we celebrate the death of a great sage? Shouldn't we be saddened by our loss? Rabbi Chaim Rappaport
(Mayim Chaim) explains that the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is indeed cause for rejoicing, for it was different from
the death of other righteous men. Usually, when a righteous man dies, he leaves behind him an irreplaceable void, just cause
for mourning. However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai left in his stead a man who was literally his equal in righteousness, namely
Rabbi Elazar, his son. Of him Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai remarked, "If there are two - it is myself and my son," indicating that
the two were equal. To honor the fact that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai left a suitable replacement, the date of his death was
established as a day of celebration.
Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Blachover (Shem Aryeh) is in principle opposed to designating the date on which a righteous
man died as a day of rejoicing and he censors those who do so. Yet, he draws from primary sources to defend the particular
celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The Talmud (Shabbat 33b) relates that the Roman monarchy sentenced Rabbi Shimon bar
Yochai to death by the sword. Miraculously, he was saved and lived a long life thereafter, until he was taken by Heaven. The
Lag Ba'Omer celebration commemorates his death at the hands of God rather than at the hands of man.
What is the connection between Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and fire? Fire symbolizes a passionate striving to
reach for God. The Mishnah tells us, "Warm yourself by the fire of the Sages" (Avot 2:15). Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai allegedly
spent years of intensive labor developing his masterpiece of Kabbalistic insights into the Torah - the Zohar. Zohar means
light - brilliant light. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was the one who brought the brilliant light of the Torah to the world to
banish the darkness of falsehood. The fires on Lag Ba'omer remind us of this great light and warmth of Torah.
Mystics and Merchants
Meron is a tiny town nestled in the mountains in the North of Israel. Its claim to fame is that several Talmudic
sages are buried there, including Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the alleged author of the Zohar, the central book of Kabbalah (the
Jewish mystical tradition). Throughout the year, people come to pray at the graves in the merit of those buried there, but
on Lag Ba'Omer, the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, tens of thousands crowd into town for the festivities.
Food for the Body and the Soul
Makeshift stands line the roads up to the tombs. Some sell Middle Eastern pastries, others copies of the Zohar,
the book of Kabbalah that was allegedly authored by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
This stand offers several segulot (charms) that are supposed to act as spiritual aids. Although not a central
part of traditional Judaism, the concept of amulets, and other spiritual "first-aid" does exist. However, most rabbinic authorities
maintain that there are no shortcuts to a spiritual life. Hard work both in interpersonal relationships and those between
man and God are necessary. Others maintain about segulot: "It can't hurt!" The packets contain various fragrant herbs used
in religious practice. The red strings and blue glass eyes are supposed to ward against the "Evil Eye" -- a negative spiritual
force, often created by jealousy. The small Sefer Tehillim(psalms) is for reading
because there is believed to be a protective benefit in holy books. This man sells leather pouches for tehillim.
Hotline to God
Even before the "real crowds" arrive, Meron is bustling. Inside the tombs, the men's and women's sections
are filled with people praying. They are NOT -- as could be misconstrued -- praying TO the sages (as Catholics may pray to
a saint), but rather to God, in the hopes that the zechut (merit) of the tzaddik (righteous person) will aid in the reception
of their prayers.
Four times this number of people pack themselves into the tiny room which is the closest accessible point
to the actual burial site.
Mea Sha'arim Meets Woodstock
Meron quickly assumes a festive atmosphere quite unlike any other. In the woods around the town, campsites
are filled with mainly Sephardic Jews. Some tents have televisions, electricity and running water. The frangrance of roasting
shish-kebab wafts upwards toward the tombs. Some have the custom to make a seudat hodayah (thanksgiving meal) and to slaughter
a lamb and roast it. Further up the road, there is a makeshift butcher station that provides kosher slaughter in accordance
with Biblical commandments.
The crowds are mixed. Hassidim and Sephardim (both of which are
more involved with the study of mystical texts than the general population) make up the bulk of the visitors, but there are
Jews of all other types and even curious tourists. For some, this is a deeply spiritual event, where the symbolism of the
bonfires will be seen against the deeper context of Judaism's mystical traditions, which they have been studying. Some come
to experience the unity of thousands of Jews dancing, singing and praying together. And for others, Lag Ba'Omer is just a
fun place to hang out and drink in the energy.
The Main Event
Hours before sunset, people line up along the edge of roof to get a good view of the lighting of the pyre.
These boys are Boyaner Hassidim, one of the Hassidic groups in good attendance in Meron on Lag B'Omer. Some people save their
leftover olive oil from Chanukah to burn the pyre at Meron. The bags on this pyre are full of clothing which will be burned.
It is now nightfall and the pyre has been lit. The music is loud and the crowd sings along. These people are
looking at their Rebbe, the Rebbe of Boyan, who watches the flames from the rooftop above them. It is almost impossible to
move except as one body. The floodlights and loudspeakers run through the night and the people dance until dawn.
Many return to their hometowns the next day. Others remain in Meron, resting from their exertions and breathing
the clean mountain air. Within a few days after the event, the crowds are gone, the stands have been taken down, and even
most of the refuse left behind has been cleaned up. Just a lingering smell of smoke remains as a witness that another Lag
B'Omer has gone by.
From Artscroll's Children's Book of Jewish Holidays:
Beginning with the second night of Pesach we count days from the holiday celebrating leaving slavery in Egypt
to the holiday celebrating receiving the Torah. The seven weeks of counting are called Sefirah which is Hebrew for counting.
Since this counting begins on the second day of Pesach, the same day the Omer (barley offering) was brought
to the Temple, the counting is called "counting the Omer".
We count, "Today is one day in the Omer."
"Today is two days in the Omer."
We continue counting until we reach the forty-ninth day, the end of seven weeks. The day after the forty-ninth
day in the Omer is the holiday of Shavuot.
These seven weeks later became a time of mourning, because of the tragedies which occurred during these days.
Twenty-four thousand students of RabbiAkiva died in a plague during the days
between Pesach and Shavuot. They were punished because they did not treat each other with proper respect. This should be an
important lesson to us. We must always act kindly and respectfully to others.
A thousand years later, during the Crusades in France and Germany, whole communities of Jews were killed during
this Omer period. And in the years 1648 and 1649 Bogdan Chmielnicki led Russian Cossacks in the attack and murder of three
hundred thousand Jews.
But on the thirty-third day of the Omer there is no mourning. The plague which was killing so many of Rabbi
Akiva's students stopped on that day. The number thirty-three in Hebrew is written L"G, which is pronounced Lag, and so the
day is called Lag Ba'Omer.
Another famous event happened on the eighteenth of Iyar, the thirty-third day of the Omer. On that day Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai died. He was a great rabbi and teacher. On the day of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's death, he taught his students
many of the Torah's hidden lessons. On that day the sun did not set and the day did not end, until he had taught them all
that God allowed him to reveal.
Usually the death of a great man is a day of mourning. But Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wanted it to be a day of
celebration, not mourning. He made this wish because of all the Torah he had been able to teach on that day.
Another Lag Ba'Omer custom is that children play with toy bows and arrows. The bows and arrows remind us of
when the Romans ruled over the Land of Israel. The Romans did not allow Torah study. Anyone caught studying the Torah was
killed. Rabbi Akiva did not stop teaching Torah. He said, "Jews without Torah are like fish without water! We must continue
studying the Torah!" He and his students disguised themselves as hunters. They carried bows and arrows deep into the woods.
There they would study Torah, sometimes while hiding in caves.
In many communities, very young boys whose hair has never been cut and who have reached the age of three get
their first haircuts on Lag Ba'Omer. In the Land of Israel, many people bring their children to Meron, the place where Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai is buried, and there cut their children's hair for the first time. Many thousands of people come to Meron
to celebrate Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's day.
What Is The Tenth of Tevet?
The fast of Tevet falls in the tenth month starting from the Hebrew month of Nissan, hence its biblical name "the
Tenth Month." This year, the fast falls on Tuesday December 25, 2001. The name Tevet is Babylonian and can be found in the
Book of Esther.
The month of Tevet usually has 29 days. It's zodiac sign is the kid, signifying the time when sheep go to pasture
in the Land of Israel.
It was said that if the winter rains were timely (in the two previous months) and did not fall in Tevet, the sheep would find
sufficient grass to graze upon: this was considered a virtuous sign for the rest of the year.
Two major events are landmarks this month:
The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet
On this day, the siege of Jerusalem began during the
reign of Nebuchadnezzar, prior to the destruction of the FirstTemple. The citizens of Jerusalem
knew hunger as never before...
This sad day was proclaimed a fast by the rabbis to commemorate the Destruction of the Temple and the consequent dispersion. The sages pointed out that the day should be devoted
to contemplation of the events leading up to the siege.
In our day: The 10th Tevet has been established in Israel by the Chief Rabbinate as the day of mourning for all those
who perished in the Holocaust and whose day of departure from this world (yahrzeit) is unknown. The day is marked by special
educational programs in the schools.
During Shacharit, morning prayers, the congregation does not say Aneinu ("Answer Us") in the silent Amidah. In the
Chazan's repetition, however, he adds Aneinu with its concluding Bracha (Blessing) before Refaenu. A special Torah reading
for fast days is read from Shemot 32:11-14.
During Mincha, afternoon prayers, some men have the custom to wear their Tallit and Tefillin (prayer shawl and phylacteries)
so as to complete the 100 required blessings that it is good to say each day. The congregation does not say the special concluding
blessing of Aneinu, but this is instead said by the Chazan during the repetition of the Amidah.
There is also another significant event that took place during the month of Tevet:
The writing of the Septuagint
During the month of Tevet, according to the account in the Talmud, there occurred a strange but miraculous event.
The Greek king and tyrant Talmi (3rd cent. BCE) requested of the Jewish scribes who lived under his dominion in Judea to translate
the Pentateuch into Greek. The aim of the exercise was, of course, to discredit both the sages and the Torah.
72 scribes were dispersed in different locations, each being given his instructions independently of the other without
any of the scribes having conferred previously. The Talmud describes how each scribe was endowed with unusual insight and
how, consequently, there were absolutely no discrepancies between the translations. The term Septuagint, ascribed to Greek
translations of the Bible, is based on this story.
Mourning Holocaust Victims
The 10th Tevet is a Day of National Mourning for Holocaust Victims whose Actual Day of Death is Unknown. Why was the
10th Tevet chosen as a Day of Mourning?
So massive was the scale of the Holocaust killing that for most of the dead that there was no firm knowledge of the
Yahrzeit, the actual day of death. And for many, there were no living survivors to say the memorial prayer, Kaddish. So how
were these victims to be remembered?
In 1948, the newly appointed Israeli rabbinate proposed a General Day of Kaddish to be said for all those who fell
into the above two categories. They chose the 10th Tevet which traditionally marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem
which led to the destruction of the Temple.
The selection of the day clearly reflects the incorporation of a contemporary tragedy into the chain of tradition.
One of the issues was, of course, the danger of trampling on Halachah, i.e., of introducing new forms of ritual into the Jewish
traditional forms of commemoration.
By choosing this day, the rabbis were clearly making a statement: the tragedy of the Holocaust must be seen within
the context of those catastrophes associated with the destruction of the Temple and Jewish independence. But why, it could
be asked, was 9th Av not chosen? This 24-hour fast day is by far the strongest in its representation of these notions. In
contrast, the 10th Tevet is by far the least significant insofar as the calendar date was far removed from the precipitous
events that led to the final climax of Jerusalems destruction.
Indeed, the actual national day of remembrance for all the victims of the Holocaust - Yom Hashoa Vehagvurah - was
designated as 27th Nissan, after the happy days of Pesach and close to Israels Independence Day, denoting clearly that the
momentous and indefinable Holocaust clearly needed its own commemoration day.
The Holocaust did not just "happen"
The choice of the 10th Tevet as the memorial day for those whose yahrzeit is unknown is more than just a concession
to the rabbis: The fast of the 10th Tevet is significant because it represents the seeds of Destruction. The Holocaust, like
the destruction of the Jewish Temples of old, did not just happen. Both events were planned systematically. Both incorporated
an element of siege on the Jewish psyche, on the Jewish covenant and on the Jewish body politic.
The 10th of Tevet
It has also been suggested that the approximation of the this fast day to the happy events of Chanukah, in which the
Temple service was restored after the oppressive measures of the Greek tyrants, and in which Jewish independence was renewed,
also serves to teach an important lesson: In practice, the gains of the Hasmoneans were relatively short-lived. Within a hundred
years of Judahs military and spiritual success, Jew was to be pitted against Jew, and foreign influences were once again to
impinge on Jewish tradition.
The fast of the 10th of Tevet thus surely begs every Jew to consider not only events as they were but also the antecedents
that preceded them and the consequences that followed. There is surely much food for thought, in our days, in the juxtaposition
of this fast and the not-so-insignificant recall of the Holocaust victims.
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Cong. - Amen.) in the world that he created as He willed. May he give
reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and
soon. Now respond: Amen.
(Cong. - Amen. May his great Name be blessed forever and ever.)
May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed
is He (Cong. - Blessed is He) - beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now respond:
Amen. (Cong. - Amen.)
May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen. (Cong. - Amen.)
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us, and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen. (Cong. - Amen.)
v'chayim awleinu v'al kol yisroel, v'imru: Amen (Cong. - Amen).
Oseh shawlom bim'ro'mawv, hu ya'aseh shawlom awleinu, v'al kol yisroel v'imru: Amen (Cong. - Amen).
Then and now
The Tenth of Tevet today.
The fast of Tevet commemorates a significant stage in the destruction of the Temples and also serves as an opportunity
for us to evaluate our actions on a personal and moral level. But what lessons do we learn from the very fact of the destruction
of the two Temples? What is the message conveyed by God's visible distancing of His Shechina (Divine Presence) from us, and
what have we lost as a result?
"The essence of the fasts to commemorate the destruction of the Temples is not sadness or mourning, which was the
response of the time; the essence is rather to open up the gates of repentance, and to remind ourselves of our bad deeds and
those of our forefathers that had such terrible repercussions for us all...These thoughts should bring us to a recognition
of our own shortcomings and an acknowledgement of our need to engage in a Teshuva (repentance) of our own."
The Rabbis said in the Talmud (Jerusalem, Yoma 1),
"Any generation that fails to witness the rebuilding of the Temple in its lifetime can be considered to have brought
about its destruction."
Despite the striking force of this statement, its meaning is clear: every generation has the power to repent for its
misdeeds and to turn to God in mercy, pleading for redemption from oppression in the Jewish homeland and for the rebuilding
of the Temple. The mere fact of the continuing absence of the Temple and our continued oppression within our homeland must
therefore imply a continuing abundance of sins in our generation, which have prevented God from turning to us in mercy.
In Chapter 18 of Leviticus, the following is written:
"And the land shall not spew you out when you defile it, as it spewed out the nations before you..." The author of
"The Book of our Heritage", Eliyahu Kitov, explains this verse as an assurance by God that the Jewish People will never be
"spewed out" of the Land of Israel as a result of their sins in the same way as other nations have been and will be, but will
rather be only temporarily exiled from it and enabled to return after a certain amount of time.
It is possible, however, to read this verse in an entirely different way, as a warning to the Jewish People not to
allow themselves to be "spewed out" in the same way as God has spewed out other nations. It is in the light of this interpretation
that the centrality of the essential link that continues to exist between the Land of Israel, the People of Israel and the
God of Israel is heightened and renewed every day that we are privileged to enjoy in the Land of Israel.
The ongoing struggle we continue to encounter with a dubious partner in peace is rendered greater meaning by our acknowledgement
of this teaching: as long as the only issue is understood to be one of peace talks with our Arab partners, the Jewish People
cannot hope to achieve true peace. The true peace is one more abstract, yet to be found within the heart of every individual
Jew who chooses to acknowledge his role within a process of individual self-analysis which may rouse God to mercy for him
on an individual level, and for the Jewish People as a national whole.
The question is not only of politics, but also of a crucial need for the unifying of all who are privileged to live
in the Land of Israel. We must remember that we are partners in another pact of peace which unites God, the People of Israel
and the Land of Israel, but that the continuation of this legacy is only to be guaranteed through the unifying of the Jewish
People in the Holy Land, not as a result of their undermining or degrading through religious bigotry, prejudice or any of
the other forms of intolerance that are sadly often such striking features of Israeli life.
The fast of the Tenth of Tevet, along with the other fasts commemorating the destruction of the two Temples, illustrates
the breaking of this link as a result of the failure of the Jewish People to cherish and maintain it. It is in our reaction
to this reminder that we are bound to excel or to fail, yet it is tragically by the very different perceptions of the way
in which to maintain the link , that the modern State of Israel fails so critically today. We must remember that the Temple
guaranteed a closeness with God that we have been unable to recapture in its absence, and that it is through certain actions
and not others that we will be able to re-establish a semblance of the closeness we have lost.
Tu B'Av (Fifteenth Av) is a minor festival that is eclipsed by the intensity of Tisha B'av. Without any special commandments,
prohibitions or rituals, it seems to pale next to the other holidays.
Tu B'Av may be a minor festival, yet it has been blessed with several scintillating names that belie its relative
insignificance. These names give us a clue as to the positive thrust of the day:
The Holiday of the Grape Harvest
The Holiday of Unity
The Holiday of Love
The Festival of the Lord
The "Day of the Breaking of the
This year, Tu B'Av falls on August 3rd.
It is, in fact, Tu B'Av that gently removes us from the sadness of the preceding days of the Three Weeks and changes
our mood to one of optimism. Let us learn more about what really makes this little holiday so special. Find out:
* Why the Sages said "There were no greater holidays than Yom Kippur and Tu B'Av"
* What special events occurred on Fifteenth Av.
* Why a groom is forgiven his sins before marriage.
* What are the virtues of a good Jewish wife.
* How much wood would a wood-cutter cut... on Tu B'Av.
The Tu B'Av Dance
The Mishna (Ta'anit 4:8), surprisingly enough, proclaims, "There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel
than Tu B'av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses ... and dance in
the vineyards. What would they say? 'Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself ...' "
In earlier times Tu B'av was a festival dedicated to young Jewish men and women finding their mates. Even today, the
wall posters of Jerusalem announce special Tu B'av prayers for finding a match.
Why choose the fifteenth of Av for such a celebration? Surely there is ample opportunity on the intermediate days
of Pesach or Sukkot to have the Jewish singles meet? Why pick a week after Tisha B'av?
Why Tu B'Av?
The Talmud (Taanit 30b-31a) quotes six reasons why Tu B'av was made a holiday:
Marriage between different tribes of Israel was permitted that day. In the desert, a ban on inter-tribal marriage
insured that land would not pass out of the hands of the tribe it originally belonged to. [See Numbers 36]
Intermarriage with the tribe of Benjamin was once again permitted after the Pilegesh B'giva civil war. [See Judges
21] (R. Yosef in the name of R. Nachman)
The generation that left Egypt ceased to die in the wilderness. Consequently, Moses returned to his previous high
level of prophecy. (Rabba bar bar Channa in the name of R. Yochanan)
King Hosea permitted residents of the Northern Kingdom to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, once again. (Ulla)
The dead of the great fallen city of Betar were granted burial by the Roman government.
Starting on the fifteenth of Av the sharp heat of the sun begins to wane. Wood cut after that date was thus unfit
for use on the Altar -- it was feared to be wormy.
The Worst is Behind Us
Reasons 3 and 5 are reminiscent of two of the events that Tisha B'av commemorates: It was on Tisha B'av night that
God decreed that the generation of the wilderness would not enter the Land of Israel; and it was on the same day about fifteen
hundred years later that Betar fell to the Romans and its dead were left unburied.
Tu B'av, in contrast, marks the end of the death of the desert generation and the end of the disgrace brought on by
the exposed bodies of Betar. Tu B'av comes when things are at least starting to move in a positive direction. No Temple has
been rebuilt, and the people of Israel have not yet entered the land - but the worst is over. Perhaps this is even reflected
in the weather -- from Tu B'av on, the fierce heat of the sun subsides; the days are becoming shorter.
Reasons 1, 2, and 4 express a common theme that must surface soon after Tisha B'av -- Jewish unity. Marriage only
within one's own tribe, though crucial for establishing tribal identity in that first generation, would have left Israel a
loose confederation of states and not a unified nation.
A cease-fire that would have left Benjamin politically associated with the rest of the tribes but still forbade marrying
them would have, in effect, still cut off one tribe from the rest of Israel.
The ability for all of the tribes to marry each other - necessary to facilitate a deep, fundamental sense of Jewish
oneness - is worth celebrating. Likewise, Hoshea ben Elah, the last of the kings of the Northern Kingdom, took a step away
from a total break-off by allowing the pilgrimages that Jereboam, his predecessor, forbade. He thereby tacitly recognized
Jerusalem as the spiritual center of a unified Israel.
The Tisha B'Av - Tu B'Av Relationship
Tu B'av allows us to breath easy after Tisha B'av - the worst has passed and it starts to get better. It comes with
a message, though - we must counteract the national fragmentation that brought about the destruction of our Temple by celebrating
the unity of the Jewish people.
The Day Death Ceased
According to our tradition, every Tisha B'Av (9th Av) following the sin of the Golden Calf found another 15,000 Jews
dying in the wilderness. The last 15,000 gained a reprieve and awoke in the morning uncertain of their fate: perhaps they
had erred in their calculation of the date.
However, when these unfortunate individuals saw the moon in its fullness on the 15th Av, they knew that their calculations
were correct and that they had been spared the harsh decree. They therefore observed the 15th Av as a Yom Tov.
Like Yom Kippur
Just as Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness, so is Tu B'Av. Just as the Jewish people are delivered from sin on Yom
Kippur and the Second Tablets of Law given on that date, so were the people forgiven on Tu B'Av for the sin of the Golden
Consequently, these days were also regarded as days of festivity during which the daughters of the city would go out
to dance in the vineyards without any fear of their breaching the fences of modesty. The day was known also as the "Festival
of the Lord," a day on which all was done solely for the sake of Heaven.
Breaking the Hatchets
Rebuilding the Temple:
Stones - yes; Altar wood - No!
The contribution of wood for the Temple Altar in the time of the return from exile was a particularly exemplary deed.
The land was desolate and Israel's enemies were notorious for preventing any found wood from arriving in Jerusalem. Among
other things they would set up road blocks on the way to Jerusalem. And without wood, the Temple service could not proceed.
So, anyone bringing wood to the Temple performed a courageous and righteous deed. Those that did were known to sing
and play as they did.
The last day for cutting the wood for the Altar was 15th Av each year, since only dry wood not attacked by worms was
suitable. After this date, the waning strength of the sun's rays failed to dry the wood quickly enough before the worms entered
and rendered the wood unfit for the Altar.
The last day of the summer, when preparation of altar wood was completed, was therefore a festive day. It came to
be called "the day of the hatchets," since, after that day, there was no need for the hatchets that year.
End of Planting
The 15th Av is the last day of planting for the year with reference to the Sabbatical Year and orlah, the status of
trees during their first three years.
Trees are not planted within the 44 days preceding Rosh Hashanah of the seventh year, in order to allow the tree to
take root before the New Year. Regarding orlah, if a tree is planted before 16th Av, then the remaining days before Rosh Hashanah
are considered as one of the three years. The fruit is thus prohibited for only two more years.
A Good Inscription
In Jewish ethical writing, the 15th Av is considered as a precursor of the upcoming month of Elul, the month of preparation
for judgement. Some people, therefore, when writing letters to friends, add the phrase ketivah vechatimah tova - 'May you
be inscribed and sealed for a good year," from this day, even though the custom is to do so from the beginning of Elul.
Judaism stresses the importance of modesty.
Tu B'Av illustrates some cardinal principles.
The Joy of Marriage
From time immemorial, the essential strength of Jewish holiness found expression in the restrictions regarding modesty.
The joy of marriage is therefore paramount. For when marriage is performed according to the spirit of the Torah, it is a sign
that the entire life of Israel is sacred. For this reason the Sages said that a groom is forgiven his sins on his wedding
day; he starts his new life in sanctity without a 'basket of sins hanging behind him.'
Another reason given for forgiving the groom is that should some unhappy event occur in the new home, the husband
or wife would be unable to cast the blame upon each other's misdeeds before marriage. Thus days when God forgave sins, such
as Yom Kippur and Tu B'Av, became highly appropriate days for weddings or events that would lead to a successful match.
No Days as Festive...
Thus did the Sages say:
"No days were as festive to Israel as the Fifteenth Av and Yom Kippur. On those days, the daughters of Jerusalem used
to go out dressed in white, wearing borrowed garments (so that all might be equal).... And all Israel borrowed from one another,
in order not to shame the poor.
... And the daughters of Jerusalem went out and danced in the vineyards (outside the city). Whoever had no wife went
And what did they say? 'O youth! Lift up your eyes and see what you choose. Do not set your eyes on beauty. Set your
eyes on family. False is charm and vain is beauty; a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised."
And the Sages added:
"Come and learn how great was the sanctity of these two festival days! For on all other holidays emissaries of the
Bet Din (religious court) went out to places of gathering and set up a separation between men and women to prevent a spirit
of levity. On these festival days, however, there was no need for such separation, since all Israel erected about themselves
fences of ... holiness."
What is Tu Be-av?
The final mishna of Massekhet Ta'anit (26b) concludes with a famous discussion concerning Tu Be-av and Yom Kippur:
"Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, 'There were no better days for Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, when the maidens
of Jerusalem would go out ... and dance in the vineyards." The gemara (30b) elaborates: "The reason for Yom Kippur is clear,
since on this day we achieve forgiveness and atonement; it was the day on which the second set of tablets were given. But
what about Tu Be-av..."
Further on in the sugya, six different possibilities are suggested as to the reason for rejoicing on Tu Be-av: 1)
It was the day on which members of different tribes were first permitted to marry each other. 2) It was the day on which the
tribe of Binyamin was permitted to rejoin and marry into the nation. 3) This day marked the end of the deaths of the generation
which wandered in the desert. 4) On this day Hoshea ben Elah removed the road-blocks which Yerav'am ben Nevat had placed on
the roads to prevent the people from going to Jerusalem. 5) On this day the Romans allowed those who fell defending Betar
to be buried. 6) This was the day when the cutting of wood for the mizbe'ach (altar) was completed.
These suggestions are varied and give rise to completely different understandings of the nature of Tu Be-av. Some
focus on the theme of the unity of the nation, while others indicate the cancellation of evil decrees. The last suggestion,
which is the only one which has its source in a beraita, involves environmental issues. We will attempt to find some common
thread which joins these varied reasons and creates a unified and defined characteristic of Tu Be-av. In addition, we shall
try to understand the connection between Yom Kippur and Tu Be-av. Let us begin by widening our perspective in order to understand
the fundamentals of these questions within a broader context.
Tisha Be-av Differs from the Other Fasts
The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (18b), addressing the subject of the four fasts, turns its attention to Zekharia's prophecy:
"'So says the Lord of Hosts: the fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of
the tenth will be unto the house of Yehuda [days of] gladness and rejoicing...' (Zekharia 8:19) - they are called fasts, and
they will be called gladness and rejoicing... At a time when there is peace, they will be days of gladness and rejoicing.
At a time when there is an [evil] decree, they will be days of fasting. At a time when there is neither an evil decree nor
peace, then if people wish, they may fast, and if they do not wish to, they need not." (The halakhic ruling is that even at
a time when there is neither peace nor any decree, "all are obligated to fast on these four days, and no one may make himself
an exception" - Orach Chaim 550:1.) The Gemara concludes that during a time when there is no peace but also no evil decree,
even though the other fast days are voluntary, there remains an obligation to fast on Tisha Be-av: "Tisha Be-av is different,
for on this day many sorrows befell us."
The Rishonim point out that on the 17th of Tammuz, as well, many sorrows befell us, as we learn from the Gemara (Ta'anit
26a), "Five calamities happened to our forefathers on the seventeenth of Tammuz, and five took place on Tisha Be-av." What
then makes Tisha Be-av unique?
Some of the Rishonim explain that Tisha Be-av is nevertheless in its own category because the same calamity, the destruction
of the Temple, took place on this date twice (see Tosafot). But we cannot accept this explanation if we adopt the contention
of the Yerushalmi (Ta'anit 4:5) that in the case of the First Temple, the walls of the city were breached on the seventeenth
of Tammuz (as was the case once again with the Second Temple). Also, if we follow the Rambam, who defines the Second Temple
period as a time when there was neither peace nor any evil decree, and Tisha Be-av was nonetheless obligatory, then likewise
we cannot accept this explanation - since while the Second Temple stood, the calamity had not yet repeated itself. (See Rambam's
Commentary on the Mishna, Rosh Hashana.)
Other Rishonim explain that the special nature of Tisha Be-av is derived from the dimension of the tragedy of the
destruction, rather than from the number or repetition of events which took place on that day (Tosafot). Clearly, a tragedy
on the scale of the destruction of the Temple is far more serious than the breaching of the walls of the city.
Calamity vs. Decree
Apart from the mitzva to pray every day, there is a special commandment to pray in times of national calamity. According
to the Rambam (beginning of Hilkhot Ta'aniyot), the verse "And if war should come upon your land, the enemy who troubles you,
you shall blow on the trumpets" (Bemidbar 10:9) is not a commandment simply to blow the trumpets, but rather includes prayer
and petition. Even the Ramban, who rules (in opposition to the Rambam) that daily prayer is only a rabbinic commandment, admits
at least partially that there is a biblical commandment to pray in times of calamity. He declares, "And if perhaps they interpret
prayer as a biblically-derived principle... then this is a mitzva for times of calamity..." (Ramban's glosses to Sefer Hamitzvot,
positive mitzva no. 5).
The foundation for the obligation to cry out to God in times of calamity is the obligation of teshuva. And so the
Rambam continues, "And this is part of teshuva..." There is a special obligation of teshuva in times of calamity, as it is
written, "When you are in distress and all these things befall you... you shall return to the Lord your God" (Devarim 4:30;
see also "Kol Dodi Dofek" by Rav Soloveitchik, note 3). The Rambam explains, "At a time when calamity strikes and they cry
out and they blow on the trumpets, all will know that calamity has come upon them because of their evil deeds... and this
is what will cause the calamity to be lifted from upon them. But if they do not cry out and do not blow [trumpets] but rather
say, 'This has happened to us since this is the way of the world, and this calamity is coincidental,' this is the way of gross
insensitivity, and will cause them to hold fast to their evil deeds, and other calamities will be added. This is what the
Torah means when it says, 'And if you walk crookedly (in Hebrew: "keri," from the root of the word meaning "coincidence")
with Me then I will likewise walk crookedly with you' - in other words, I shall bring calamity upon you in order that you
return. If you maintain that your calamities are coincidental then I will increase those 'coincidental' calamities."
The biblical obligation of prayer and teshuva at a time of calamity is extended by our Sages to obligate fasting:
"And the Rabbis instructed that there should be fasting for every calamity which comes upon the community, until Divine mercy
is achieved" (Rambam, ibid.). And what stands at the center of these obligations is the Divine Providence which watches over
Knesset Yisrael and entreats them, calling: "Shuvu banim shovavim - Return, O backsliding children!" Obviously, the very obligation
to pray and fast at a time of calamity is based on the assumption that by means of sincere and genuine teshuva the calamity
will be removed.
As opposed to "calamity" (tzara) an "evil decree" (gezera) cannot be removed. It expresses not Divine Providence but
rather the distancing of the Divine Presence, and God "hiding His face," as it were. "Rabbi Elazar said: Since the day on
which the Temple was destroyed, there is a wall of iron that stands between Israel and their Father in Heaven" (Berakhot 32b).
The reaction to an evil decree is not prayer brather mourning and surrender tGod's inscrutable will. "And Rabbi Elazar said:
Since the day on which the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer are locked" (ibid.).
The seventeenth of Tammuz, despite the five tragic events which took place on this day, is defined as a day of calamity.
It is true that on this date the first set of tablets were shattered, but following prayer on the part of Moshe Rabbeinu and
teshuva on the part of the nation, we merited to receive a second set of tablets. Likewise, on this date the walls of Jerusalem
were indeed breached, the enemies stood ready to enter, and, therefore, it was a time of calamity for the Jewish nation. But
it was only on Tisha Be-av that a tragic decree was issued: "On Tisha Be-av it was decreed upon our forefathers that they
would not enter the land," and despite Moshe's entreaties, the attempts to mitigate the sharpness of the decree reached its
tragic conclusion at Chorma (Bemidbar 14:45).
On the other fasts there is a special obligation of prayer and entreaties. The selichot and Torah portions read on
these fasts focus on Moshe Rabbeinu's prayer following the sin of the golden calf - the declaration of the Thirteen Attributes
of Mercy. On the other hand, on Tisha Be-av - the day established for weeping for all generations - we sit on the floor, read
Eikha and recite lamentations, and the Torah reading and haftara on this day speak of the destruction. This distinction between
Tisha Be-av and the other fasts was already formulated by Rabbenu David (Pesachim 54b): "On Tisha Be-av there is no 'Ne'ila'
prayer, nor are twenty-four blessings recited, because [this day] is set aside not for prayer but rather for mourning." (The
source for this is to be found in the Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashana 3:4.) Likewise, on Tisha Be-av the "titkabel" clause is not
included in the recitation of Kaddish (OC 559:4; see the commentary of the Vilna Gaon), and the sheliach tzibbur (prayer leader)
does not recite "Aneinu" in his repetition of the Amida of Shacharit (Taz, OC 557:2; see commentary of Dagul Me-revava). Rav
Soloveitchik, zt"l, explained that only on the other fasts does one fulfill the special obligation of prayer at a time of
calamity, as explained above. But on Tisha Be-av, "Even though I cry out and call for help, He has blocked my prayer" (Eikha
3:8; see Berakhot 32b). Thus, even though Tisha Be-av has the status of a fast day, it is still entirely different in its
nature and purpose from any other public fast.
In terms of the other prohibitions of the day, Tisha Be-av is again different from the other fasts. On one hand, there
are prohibitions which are similar to those of Yom Kippur (see Pesachim 54b, "There is no difference between Tisha Be-av and
Yom Kippur except..."). On the other hand, these prohibitions reflect the mourning of Tisha Be-av, rather than the positive
obligations of prayer and teshuva. The gemara (Ta'anit 30a) states, "The Rabbis taught, all the laws pertaining to mourning
apply on Tisha Be-av as well; a person is forbidden to eat and drink (these are not forbidden to a regular mourner; see Rashi
and the Rif, as well as Rav Soloveitchik's essay in "Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mari" regarding public fasts), to anoint his body,
to wear leather shoes and to engage in sexual intercourse..." (Rav Soloveitchik deals at length with the similarity to mourning
In light of the above, let us return to the sugya in Rosh Hashana: "Tisha Be-av is different since on this day many
sorrows befell us." According to the fundamental distinction which we have drawn between a calamity and a decree, we can explain
that what we are referring to here is not a quantitative addition of calamities on Tisha Be-av over and above those of any
other fast. We are dealing not with a calamity but rather with a decree. Therefore, we do not fast within the framework of
the obligations of prayer and teshuva in order that the calamity will pass, but rather as part of our expression of sorrow
and mourning over the bitter decree.
The Day on which the Deaths Ceased in the Desert
With regard to the prohibitions associated with mourning on Tisha Be-av, we find certain leniencies from mid-day onwards.
The laws concerning prayer on this day, too, are different after midday. In the afternoon, "titkabel" is included in the Kaddish,
and "Aneinu" is also included in the Shemoneh Esrei. In the afternoon, the regular Torah portion set for fast days is read
- "Vayechal," including the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and the haftara we read is "Seek out God when He may be found" (Yishayahu
55). Let us turn our attention to this transition. How is it that we dare to pray "as usual" on Tisha Be-av? Is the theme
of the day not an expression of "He has blocked my prayer"? How can we soften our mourning - since the decree has been issued
and still stands? How can we progress beyond the complete and terrible despair of God's "hiding His face"?
It seems that these questions disturbed our forefathers in the desert. After the decree following the episode of the
spies, they had no idea how it would be possible to continue. During the next thirty-eight years Bnei Yisrael wandered in
the desert with a feeling of utter despair, with no hope and no future. Chazal describe their tragic and hopeless situation
(Yerushalmi, end of Massekhet Ta'anit): "Rabbi Levi said: On every Tisha Be-av eve Moshe would issue a proclamation throughout
the camp, saying, 'Go out to dig, go out to dig.' They would go out and dig themselves graves and sleep in them. In the morning
they would awaken and find that 15,000 had died during the night. In the last year they did likewise, and they got up [in
the morning] and found themselves complete [in number]. They said, 'Perhaps we erred in our calculations [of the date],' and
so it was on the tenth and the eleventh, the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth. Seeing that they were still all
alive, they said, 'It seems that God has canceled this harsh decree from upon us,' and they decreed a holiday." In this typically
anecdotal manner, Chazal describe Bnei Yisrael in the desert as living under the shadow of the decree of the spies. The entire
nation used to dig themselves graves and wait for their appointed time to die. Even in the fortieth year, after all those
who had been included in the census of Moshe and Aharon had already perished, they again dug themselves graves (see Tosafot,
Bava Batra 121a). And even after everyone got up the next morning, they lay again in their graves the next night. (Rav Soloveitchik
taught that the position of the parasha of Para Aduma, which deals with the subject of impurity as a result of contact with
the dead, hints at this spiritual-psychological state of the Children of Israel in the desert.)
It was only on the fifteenth of Av, when they saw the full moon (and it became clear that their calculation of the
date had indeed been correct), that they realized that for Am Yisrael even decrees can pass. Despite the decree, there is
a future; despite the tragedy there is hope. It would seem, therefore, that Tu Be-av symbolizes the power of regeneration
which lies hidden in Knesset Yisrael. On Tu Be-av we discovered the ability to get up in the morning out of the grave dug
by the decree, and to continue our historic journey. Indeed, there was a decree. And every night from the ninth of Av until
the fifteenth of Av the nation continued to sleep in their graves. On Tu Be-av they discovered that the decree had only been
temporary, and had now passed. On Tu Be-av they gathered strength to renew themselves and continue. (It should be noted that
on Tisha Be-av itself the decree had already ended and no more were going to die. However, this became apparent to Knesset
Yisrael only when they beheld the full moon on Tu Be-av.)
According to the Bavli, the significance of the "day upon which the deaths in the desert ceased" lay not in the discovery
of the nullification of the decree, but rather in the fact that Moshe's prophetic powers returned. The sin of the spies brought
in its wake a distancing of the Shekhina and a hiding of God's face. During the thirty-eightyears in the desert therewas no
Divine communication with Moshe. On Tu Be-av God returned the situation to its original state, by means of a renewed expression
of Divine Providence and covenant. On Tu Be-av, Knesset Yisrael understood that its power to rejuvenate itself was connected
with the eternity of the covenant with God.
According to both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi, the "day upon which the deaths in the desert ceased" signifies the
end of the decree of Tisha Be-av. The same is true for those who hold that Tu Be-av is the day upon which those who died at
Betar were permitted to be buried. Following the decree of the destruction of the Temple, and despite the fact that there
was no possibility during the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt of nullifying the decree, nevertheless God's mercy to his Chosen
People did not vanish; the bodies of the dead of Betar did not decompose, and they were eventually permitted to be buried.
Even in the gloom of exile, the nation saw and understood that the Eternal God of Israel had not failed them.
Israel's power of rejuvenation facilitated the healing of deep rifts which divided the nation after bitter conflicts.
Following the terrible war against the tribe of Binyamin at Giv'ah, it was specifically on Tu Be-av that the stormy spirits
were calmed. It was specifically on Tu Be-av that Am Yisrael found the power to become unified once again, and the tribe of
Binyamin was allowed once again to rejoin the community. It was specifically on Tu Be-av that Hoshea ben Elah canceled the
divisive decree of Yerav'am ben Nevat, and on that date all of Am Yisrael was once again permitted to ascend to the Temple
The unifying aspect of all the events which took place on Tu Be-av is rejoicing over the eternity of Knesset Yisrael.
This eternity is rooted in the covenant and finds particularly sharp expression following harsh decrees which threaten the
future of Knesset Yisrael. Tu Be-av embodies the facility of renewal, the ability to return to normal life in those situations
in which normal historic causality could easily have led to the exit of a nation from the historic arena. It was on Tu Be-av
that the generation which merited to enter the land was permitted inter-tribal marriages and allowed to return to a normal
life-style, signaling the growth and development of Knesset Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.
The very season in which Tu Be-av falls reflects the same idea. The summer is hot and dry, and the sun beats mercilessly
on the ground. The rainy season, when God's Providence is felt with full force, is long gone; now one heat wave follows the
next - "the harvest is dried out, the plants are withered" (Yeshayahu 40). There is no wind and no rain, no voice and no one
to answer; the Shekhina is distant and God's face is hidden. Is there any hope? Will this decree ever pass? Suddenly Tu Be-av
arrives, and there is moisture in the air. The fields will be green again. The sun's power is decreasing; the heat of summer
has been broken. "Rabbi Eliezer the elder said: From the fifteenth of Av onwards the power of the sun is broken, and they
would no longer cut down trees for the altar because they are no longer dry" (Ta'anit 30a).
The message of Tu Be-av is turning a decree into a (temporary) calamity; transforming mourning into prayer. The hiding
of God's face is only what is apparent; it is not genuine. The eyes of God are always upon the land, from the beginning of
the year until the end of the year. After midday of Tisha Be-av, from the depths of terrible, tragic despair, sparks of hope
begin to glitter. The decree is indeed awful, but it will pass, and the Eternal God of Israel will not desert us. Once again
we permit ourselves to plead, "Aneinu - Answer us, O God, answer us!" and "Even before they call out, I shall answer." "Titkabel
- accept the prayers and supplications of Your nation, the house of Israel." Once again we proclaim the Thirteen Attributes
of Mercy and the covenant that was made, which will never be revoked. Once again we can proclaim, "Seek out God when He may
be found, call to Him when He is close by."
This idea is what connects Tu Be-av to Yom Kippur. The joy of Yom Kippur, as described in the Mishna, is not the rejoicing
of accepting the Torah, but rather "a day of forgiveness and atonement; the day on which the second set of tablets were given."
The calamity of the shattering of the first tablets on the seventeenth of Tammuz was overturned on Yom Kippur. Following Moshe's
prayers and the repentance of the nation, the covenant was not dissolved and Am Yisrael received the second set of tablets.
Similarly, Tu Be-av - the day on which the deaths in the desert ceased - signifies Knesset Yisrael's power of renewal, allowing
continuation even after the decree of the spies.
From the perspective of Tu Be-av and Yom Kippur, we may take a broader and more authentic view of the nature of Knesset
Yisrael and its destiny. It is possible to rise above the present reality, to catch a glimpse of the covenant which determines
the destiny and eternity of the nation. On these festivals Am Yisrael acts accordingly: "There were no better days for Israel
than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, when the maidens of Jerusalem would go out wearing white clothes ... and dance in
the vineyards... 'Daughters of Tzion, go out and see King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the
day of his wedding and on the day of his rejoicing' (Shir Ha-shirim 3) - the 'day of his wedding' refers to the day on which
the Torah was given, and the 'day of his rejoicing' refers to the building of the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our
Tu B'Av literally means the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av which this year falls on July 28, 1999. The day was
marked as an ancient holiday of nature and agriculture in the land of Israel, celebrated all over Israel at the same time.
From this day onward, the sun's strength decreases and hours of darkness increase, as the rainyseason approaches. Thoughout
Israel, Tu B'Av is marked primarily by an increasein dew and moisture, which induces the flowering of the white squill and
stimulates the olives to begin to fill with oil.
More on this holiday's history can be found in the book "Nature in Our Biblical Heritage" by Neot Kedumim's founder,
Nogah Hareuveni. Available thru our gift shop.
Why do we dance in the olive groves?
"Said Rabban Shimon Ben-Gamliel: there were no better festive days in
Israel than the fifteenth day of the month of Av and Yom Kippur, on which the daughters of Jerusalem would dress in borrowed
white clothes...and go out to dance in the groves"
[Ta'anit 4, 8]
This ancient tradition tells of dancing in the groves for the purpose of meeting and matchmaking among young people
in the days of the Temple. White dresses were worn to symbolize the while squill that appeared all over Israel's landscape
at this time. White is the color of Israel's fall season.
But what made these days so joyous? Yom Kippur - because it is the day of forgiveness - the day the second set of
Tablets were given. For Tu B'Av, many reasons have been found:
1.The law that restricted women with inherited property to marry within her tribe (in order to keep the property within
the tribe) was lifted on that day only.
2.This was the day that the guard that blocked the road to Jerusalem from the Kingdom of Israel was removed, so that
all the tribes could go up for the festivals.
3.This was the day that wood stopped being cut for the altar. Since from Tu B'Av onward the sun's strength weakens,
the cut logs would not dry quickly enough to prevent smoking when burnt.
4.This was the day the olives started filling with oil, hence the day was also called "Olive day".
The lessening of work in the fields, preliminary to the ingathering and plowing, served as an opportune time for "whoever
did not have a wife" to take off from his usual activities and go visiting another tribes to seek a wife from among the girls
dancing in the olive groves.