Why is Tishah B’ Av one of the darkest days of the Jewish calendar?

Construction_du_Temple_de_Jérusalem

From The Jewish Home, A Guide for Jewish Living by Rabbi Daniel B. Syme

Tishah B’Av means “ninth of Av” and refers to a traditional Jewish day of fasting and mourning. Av corresponds to July or August of the secular year.

For traditional Jews, Tishah B’Av is the darkest of all days, a time set aside for mourning the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem.

The first Temple in Jerusalem was constructed during the reign of King Solomon (965- 925 BCE). Solomon’s father, King David, had wished to build the Temple, but was not allowed to do so. The Bible relate that God disqualified David because of his many military campaigns. The Temple was to be a holy place, a place of peace. Therefore, only a king who had not shed blood could bring it into being. Thus, Solomon, whose Hebrew name was Shlomo (from shalom, “peace”), inherited this sacred task

Solomon built the First Temple with the assistance of King Hiram of Tyre. Hiram sent his Phoenician artists and builders, magnificent stone from the nation’s quarries, and the beautiful cedars of Lebanon to aid in the task. The bible tells us that no iron tools were used in the work, as iron was a material of weapons and war. In an attempt to explain how work proceeded without these iron implements, a legend arose of a shamir worm that had the capacity to split rocks!

The finished Temple was an awesome structure. Situated on a mountain 2,500 feet high, it had courtyards, a sanctuary, and a small room called the Holy of Holies, entered only once a year by the High Priest. It was in the Temple that the Kohanim (High Priests) offered the ancient sacrifices on behalf of the people, assisted by the Levites.

In 586 BCE, the Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem. Led by their general, Nebuchadnezzar, they broke into the city and conquered it. Then, on the ninth of Av, they destroyed the Temple. The Jews were sent into exile, crushed and despondent. According to some scholars, the prophet Jeremiah, grieving for the Temple, composed Psalm 13, in which he wrote: “By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept for thee Zion.” A people who had grounded their entire religious system in a priestly Temple structure suddenly had it torn away from them.

Even as he mourned, Jeremiah still had hope. He told the people that they would one day return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. He was correct. Some sixty years later, Persia conquered Babylonia, and the Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home. They rebuilt the Temple, but it was not nearly as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple had been.

Still, the Jews rejoiced, for once again they had an opportunity to be led by their priests and to offer sacrifices in their holiest site.

It was this rebuilt Temple that King Antiochus defiled in 168 BCE, and which the Maccabees reconsecrated three years later. But the building of the Second Temple was yet to come.

The Second Temple was enhanced and expanded during the first century BCE by King Herod, one of the cruelest rulers in Jewish history. Herod was a tyrant, a paranoid personality, with an ego of enormous proportion. The ancient Israeli fortress at Masada was created by Herod in order to protect him from any enemy, real or imagined.

Deciding that the rebuilt Temple was not to his liking, Herod decided to expand it. He partially leveled the previous site, then oversaw the construction of a Temple that rivaled that of Solomon in grandeur.

Herod had intended to add new structures continually to the Temple grounds, but the work was never completed. IN 70 CE, Roman legions, led by the General Titus, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. It was the ninth of Av. Once again the Jews were sent into exile, this time to Rome. There in shame, many were led through the Arch of Titus, built to honor the great conqueror. To this day, most Jews will not walk through the arch, and many will spit on it as they pass by.

Jean Fouquet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons