By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Tisha B’Av, literally, the Ninth [day of the Hebrew month of] Av, is the Jewish “National Day of Mourning,” so to speak. Tisha B’Av is a day on which, each year, Jews commemorate many of the tragedies which have befell the Jewish People over the centuries.
During Biblical times, those tragedies included:
1. The Biblical account of the Twelve Spies, who reconnoitered Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) before the Jewish People first entered the Land;
2. The destruction, by Nebuchandnezzar during 587 BCE, of First Temple in Jerusalem, which had been built by King Solomon;
3. The destruction, by the Romans during 70 CE, of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which had been built by Ezra and Nehemiah;
4. The defeat of Bar Kokhba (a Jewish leader who led a revolt against the Romans) and his men and the destruction of the Jewish city of Betar, where more than a half million Jews were murdered; and
5. The plowing under, by the Roman commander Turnus Rufus, of the site where the First and Second Temples had previously stood.
During post-Biblical times, other tragedies which are commemorated on Tisha B’Av included:
1. The destruction of Jewish communities in France and Germany during the First Crusade (1096 CE);
2. The expulsion of Jews from England (1290 CE);
3. The expulsion of Jews from France (1306);
4. The expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492 CE);
5. Germany entered World War I (1914 CE), which eventually led to the Holocaust;
6. The Nazi German SS commander Heinrich Himmler received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution” (1941 CE), which ultimately resulted in the murder of some 6 million Jews;
7. The start of mass deportations of Jews from Warsaw to the Nazi death camp at Treblinka (1942 CE);
8. The bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured 300 (1994 CE); and
9. The relinquishment of sovereign control by the State of Israel over Gaza (2005), which, among other things, resulted in the expulsion — by the Israeli military — of 8,000 Jews who lived in Gush Katif (southern Gaza) and which, to this day, has resulted in Arabs firing rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The first word in Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, is “Bereshit” [translated: “In the beginning”] begins with the letter “bet,” the second letter of the Hebrew “alphabet.” From this, the Rabbis derived that this world, the physical world in which we live, is represented by the number 2.
Jewish Sages and other great Rabbis have also taught that G-d gave Moshe Rabbeinu two Torahs on Mount Sinai: the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.
Both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, collectively referred to simply as the “Torah,” contain instructions from G-d concerning the conduct of mankind. One category of instructions found in the Torah, a category which might be called the “Torah for individuals,” sets forth instructions relating to individual conduct (e.g., keeping the Sabbath, honoring one’s parents, etc.). The other category of instructions found in the Torah, a category which might be called the “Torah for the Jewish nation,” sets forth instructions relating to national conduct (e.g., laws relating to Eretz Israel, Jewish kings, the law of war, etc.). Contemporary Jewish religious practice focuses almost exclusively on the former, while almost completely ignoring the latter.
Although the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem have become the quintessential example of Jewish tragedy which is commemorated each year on Tisha B’Av, we might also view Tisha B’Av from a slightly deeper perspective.
The Second Temple was destroyed during the year 70 CE. Intrinsic in that tragedy was the loss of Jewish sovereignty, which was not regained until 1948 — almost 2,000 years later — when the modern-day State of Israel was established.
Thus, because one of the two “Torahs” that G-d gave to the Jewish people — the Torah which provides instructions relating to national conduct — was lost for almost 2,000 years, and which has yet to be fully reacquired or realized, it might be appropriate to view Tisha B’Av in a new light. Rather than being seen as a commemoration of seemingly unrelated tragedies that occurred over the centuries, Tisha B’Av might be better understood as commemorating the singular tragedy of the loss of Jewish sovereignty, a tragedy which encompasses and encapsulates all the discrete Jewish tragedies over the centuries, a tragedy which, at least to some meaningful degree, still persists to this day.
May we merit to speedily and fully implement the “Torah for the Jewish nation.”
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American lawyer who resides in Jerusalem, Israel. Rabbi Sasson received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Haim Ovadia, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Torah VeAhava. Rabbi Ovadia, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, was ordained by Mordechai Eliyhau, Chief Rabbi of Israel (1983 – 1993), and is a descendent of the renowned kabbalist Hakham Yehuda Fetaya Z”L.