Rabbi Dov Fischer in The American Spectator: Judaism’s Saddest Season: The Nine Days and Tisha B’Av
July 26, 2023

by Rabbi Dov Fischer in The American Spectator

Eighty percent of American Jews have absolutely no idea what Judaism is. You see them on TV. You read them in some publications. Aside from the despicable George Soros and communist Bernie Sanders, these “Lost Jews” likewise are bereft of heritage and identity. Sometimes they say they are motivated by their “Jewish values.” That is like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Sonia Sotomayor saying they support homosexual marriage, transgender education in schools, and abortion on demand because they are Catholics. In reality, the vast majority of these Lost Jews would not know real Judaism if it were placed on their laps, served on their plates, sung to them on their iPods, or tweeted or TikTok’d to them. They do not know how to read a sentence in the Talmud. They have no clue what happens in most of the Jewish calendar year. Yet, these hopelessly ignorant sorts even head “Jewish” organizations that utterly have lost their way, like the ADL, that are headed by Democrat Party politicians, like the American Jewish Committee, or that even stand against Israel, like the Soros-funded “J Street.” Indeed, a large chunk of those “Jews” who tell pollsters that they are Jewish, in fact, are not even Jewish altogetherAnd they don’t even know it.

The Roman Empire destroyed the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the Year 70 during this very late-July/early-August season, the Hebrew month of Av. Masada, the mountain fortress of the final Jewish resistance fell three years later. Jews still were permitted to remain in Israel until the mountain fortress of Beitar fell in 135. That began the two millennia Roman Exile.

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It is during this season, Judaism’s “Nine Days of Mourning,” that the full impact of the Roman Exile is felt. The Roman Exile and the persecutions that followed are at the root of how so many Jews managed to lose touch with their heritage.

This year 2023, “The Nine Days” began on Wednesday, July 19, and will end on Thursday, July 27, at nightfall. Thursday the 27th, the last day of the mourning period, is called “Tisha B’Av” (literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av). The Talmud explains that the day is star-crossed by G-d’s order because that night saw the Jewish men in the Sinai Wilderness cry and lament after hearing the evil report of the 10 spies whom Moses had sent as an advance party to plan the march into the Promised Land (Numbers 13–14). Only Joshua and Caleb, among the 12, enthusiastically advocated marching forward. The 10 spies among the majority reported slanderously that “the Land consumes her inhabitants,” and the people lamented that night, wanting to return to Egypt (Numbers 14:1–2). From that night forward, this would be the date on the Jewish calendar for tragedy.

On Tisha B’Av in 586 B.C.E., the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar and his butcher Nebuzaradan burned down the First Holy Temple after a vicious three weeks of fighting within the city of Jerusalem after they had breached the city’s walls. On Tisha B’Av in 70, the Romans, under Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, burned down the Second Holy Temple, likewise after a vicious three weeks of fighting within the city of Jerusalem after they had breached the city’s walls. On Tisha B’Av 135, the fortress of Beitar fell to Julius Severus at the time of Emperor Hadrian, marking the beginning of the long Exile that extended more than 1,800 years until the rise of modern-day Israel, the Third Jewish Commonwealth.

On Tisha B’Av 1290, England expelled her Jews. On Tisha B’Av 1306, France expelled her Jews. On Tisha B’Av 1492, Spain expelled her Jews. Germany entered the Great War on Tisha B’Av 1914. That was the day when Germany invaded Luxembourg and declared war on Russia, transforming the European conflict from a regional crisis between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Serbians backed by Russia into a world war between opposing alliances. That fateful German decision led directly to the Holocaust, as Germany’s subsequent losses in World War I impelled the Allies to impose the terribly punitive postwar sanctions that gave rise to Hitler.

On Tisha B’Av 1941, SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.” On Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began en route to Treblinka. The Iran-sponsored bombing of the Jewish community center Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires killed 85 and injured 300 on Tisha B’Av 1994. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza began with Ariel Sharon expelling 8,500 Jews who lived in Gush Katif on the day after Tisha B’Av in 2005, setting in motion the rise of Hamas. That Israeli government’s colossal misjudgment saw 20 synagogues handed over and, within minutes, go up in flames. The area, along with the rest of Gaza, soon became a terrorist-controlled launching pad for thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, leading to three wars.

So that is Tisha B’Av. It is fascinating that these events unfolded by actions of perpetrators who had no idea what day it was in the Jewish calendar when they acted.

During these nine days, Judaically observant Jews:

  1. Do not eat meat because, upon the destruction of each Holy Temple, animal sacrifices no longer could be offered.
  2. Do not drink wine or grape juice because, upon the destruction of each Holy Temple, wine libations on the sacrifices no longer could be offered.
  3. Do not listen to music.
  4. Do not get haircuts. (And observant men avoid shaving unless the appearance of stubble or a beard will cause them problems at work.)
  5. Do not attend public entertainment events, like movies and theater performances.
  6. Do not wash or launder clothes during the Nine Days, do not go into a dry cleaner during that period even to pick up clothes previously laundered, and do not wear clothes on the Nine Days that are freshly laundered from before the Nine Days. Thus, one plans in advance (and dry cleaners in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods take the week off).

(These prohibitions are suspended on the Sabbath that falls within the Nine Days because the L-rd’s Day is for rest and enjoyment.)

The destruction of the First Holy Temple and the Babylonian Exile are memorialized in Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and also wept as we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung up our lyres,
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors [asked us to provide them with] amusement:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing a song of the L-rd on alien soil?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning;
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my palate if I do not remember thee [always], if I do not extol Jerusalem above my greatest joy.
Remember, O L-rd, against the Edomites [Babylonians] the day of Jerusalem’s fall; how they cried out “Strip her, strip her to her very foundations!”

The famous references to the “right hand forget[ting] her cunning” and the “tongue cleav[ing] to the roof of my palate” were stated in the context of the Babylonians mocking the Jewish Exiles during their Bataan-like forced march. To rub in the Jewish desolation and realization that it all was over, the Babylonians charged their captives to play their lyres and harps and to “sing songs of Zion,” knowing they would never see Zion again. The Psalmist writes that, in such anguish, their right hands could not play the lyre strings, nor could their tongues articulate the lyrics of such songs of Zion. And the Psalmist adds that, despite the hopelessness then — with no conceivable prospect ever to return to Zion and Jerusalem again — Jews yet would never forget Zion and Jerusalem, lest their right hands never again be able to play music nor tongues ever again be able to sing.

Zionism is the expression of the Jewish yearning to restore their indigenous presence in the Land of Israel and reverse the forced Exile.

The Napoleon Legend

This fierce devotion to Zion and Jerusalem, against all odds, is why there is a country of Israel today, after nearly 2,000 years of Exile, and why the City of Jerusalem is reunited today as the capital of Israel despite world opposition from the European Union to the Kremlin to the United Nations and to the intersectionalist woke at home. But Jerusalem withstood the hate, the ubiquitous hostile and threatening United Nations resolutions, the unhelpful “advice” from Israel’s Arabist “friends” in the European Union and American State Department, and the resistance to Jerusalem reunification by American presidents and secretaries of state until Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo actualized past promises made by predecessors.

It was famously reported that Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height of his power in France, one day was promenading past a great synagogue in Paris. It was August, and there was not yet air conditioning, so the shul’s windows were open. As he passed, he heard loud crying and wailing. Things were going pretty well in France, he thought, and he actually was reasonably kind to the Jews of France, so he asked what they were crying and wailing about. According to the legend, he was told that today was the Ninth Day of the Hebrew month of Av — Tisha B’Av — and the Jews were mourning the fall of their Holy Temples in Jerusalem — one, 1,700 years earlier; and the prior, 2,350 years earlier. Napoleon is reported to have commented in response, “A nation that cries and fasts for 2,000 years for their land and Temple surely will see their land and Temple restored.”

A Despicable Monument That Must Never Be Torn Down

When Titus destroyed the Second Holy Temple, he marched thousands of enslaved Jews back to Rome, forcing them to carry ritual holy items he and his legions sacked from the Temple. A huge monument to Titus’ victory was erected in Rome: the Arch of Titus. The Arch is 50 feet high, 44 feet wide, and 15 feet deep. Its sculpted depictions most famously include the Menorah candelabrum, reportedly brought from the Holy Temple and carried by the Jewish slaves.

While a great national debate ensues in the United States today over whether and which American monuments should stand or be toppled or be shifted from public thoroughfares to museums or melted, the Jewish attitude toward the Arch of Titus has evolved. For example, the Rabbinate in Rome that ultimately arose after the demise of the Roman Empire formally banned any Jew from walking under the Arch. But that ban was lifted in 1948 with the founding of Israel. That is, during the nearly 2,000 years of Exile, the Arch was a particularly bitter sore point for Jews, an in-the-face reminder that Israel had been destroyed and the Jews exiled. But since 1948, its impact has reversed. The Arch now is seen as a reminder that, every time Israel’s enemies have arisen to destroy her and believed they actually succeeded — including but not limited to the Babylonian Empire, the Median Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union — Israel has come back and arisen in even greater glory, even as its enemies ultimately have disappeared. So today, the great empire that erected the Arch is a figment of history, while Israel has arisen like a phoenix with much, though not yet all, of its splendor restored. And mindful of the mocking and contemptuous depiction of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus, Israel’s leaders made that Judaic ritual object the national symbol of the country, standing in front of the Knesset.

The Fast of Tisha B’av will be marked this year from sunset on Wednesday, July 26, through nightfall on Thursday. During those 25 hours, observant Jews do not eat anything and do not drink even water, do not wear leather footwear, and observe other traditional manifestations of mourning. On those same days, expect the likes of Bernie, Soros, Schumer, and the Jews one sees in the media to spend their days as they usually do. And for that, too, we deeply mourn.

Originally published in The American Spectator

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