A Night of Weeping, for the Generations

 

Tisha BAvThe book of Numbers describes how after the Israelites left Egypt, received the Torah, and built the Tabernacle, they were set to enter the Promised Land. As a precaution, Moses sent 12 princes “to spy out the Land of Canaan.” But when the spies returned, ten of them “spread an evil report of the land.” The people despaired and wept. As a consequence, God made the Children of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years, so that they would enter the Land of Israel only after the generation of slaves had died out.

According to Jewish tradition, the Israelites received a second punishment that night as well. “You weep for no reason,” the Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 104b) relates God saying, “so I will fix this as a night of weeping for you, for the generations.” The night in question is the ninth of the Hebrew month of Ab, or in Hebrew, Tish’a B’Av. It begins tonight.

The early Rabbis of the Talmud, who lived in the first few centuries CE, explain in tractate Taanit (M 4:6) that Tish’a B’Av is the date of five separate tragedies: “On the Ninth of Ab, it was decreed upon our ancestors that they would not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel; the First and Second Temples were destroyed; Beitar was captured; the city of Jerusalem was plowed over. From when the month of Ab starts, we reduce joy.”

The day’s central observance is a 25-hour fast. As indicated in Taanit, an atmosphere of mourning is achieved through an intensifying sequence of self-denial which starts up to three weeks prior. Weddings are forbidden, as is musical performance; personal grooming is curtailed; cosmetic improvements to home and garden are put on hold; ultimately meat and wine are forbidden. On the day itself, we not only fast, but also refrain from wearing leather shoes, bathing, or engaging in sexual activity. We dim the lights of the synagogue, sit on the floor, read the book of Lamentations — which graphically describes the First Temple’s destruction—and recite liturgical poetry composed to commemorate the day’s tragedies.

Those tragedies have multiplied in the centuries since the Talmud was compiled. In addition to lamenting the lost Temples, the exiles, and the staggering loss of life that accompanied them, the poetical liturgy now includes commemoration of the burning of Talmudic manuscripts by King Louis IX in 1242 and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, both of which happened on or near Tish’a B’Av. Poems mourn historical tragedies that occurred at other times of year too, such as the destruction of the Rhineland Jewish communities in 1096. (The theological logic is that if Jews had still been sovereign in our land, none of these tragedies would have occurred, so there is a direct line between the Temple’s destruction and all subsequent adversity.) When Jewish community leaders discussed the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day, many Orthodox rabbis protested that no new memorial day was needed; on Tish’a B’Av, we recite poems that were written to commemorate that tragedy, too.

I must admit though, that as I get older, I find it increasingly difficult to get into the mourning spirit. Jewish sovereignty has been restored to much of the land of Israel; we have seen the ingathering of exiles from North Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Ethiopia, and Europe. Intellectually, I can see that we still lack the Third Temple. But emotionally, how can I mourn a destroyed land, when today I see a land teeming with Jewish religious and cultural life? What resonates with me more is the collection of poems, composed for later in the day, that recall God’s promises of Jewish restoration. I also think of Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveichik’s observation that the fast was observed during Second Temple times, even though the Temple had been rebuilt. Mourning is not the day’s only theme; also important are commemoration and repentance, a resolve to learn from our past sins and never to repeat them.

An old (though probably apocryphal) story about Napoleon relates that the emperor was once passing through a Jewish village on Tish’a B’Av and heard wailing coming from the synagogue. Entering, he saw a strange sight: The lights were out, and the men were sitting on the floor, wailing and weeping. Napoleon asked for an explanation. He was told they were crying for the Temple, destroyed more than 1700 years before. His reported response: “Certainly a people that continues to mourn their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt.”

The final passage in Taanit describes another observance, one that comes six days later. That day too has no name, and is simply called “The Fifteenth of Ab”, or Tu B’Av. During Talmudic times, it was a sort of Jewish Valentine’s Day:

Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel says, “Never were more joyous festivals in Israel than the 15th of Ab and the Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur], for on them the maidens of Jerusalem used to go out dressed in white garments—borrowed ones, in order not to cause shame to those who had them not of their own… and thus they went out and danced in the vineyards, saying, Young men, look and observe well whom you are about to choose [as a wife]; regard not beauty, but rather look to a virtuous family, for ‘Gracefulness is deceitful, and beauty is a vain thing, but the woman that feareth the Lord, she is worthy of praise’ (Prov. 31:3); and it is also said (Prov. 31:31), ‘Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.’ And thus is it said [in allusion to this custom], ‘Go out, maidens of Jerusalem, and look on King Solomon, and on the crown wherewith his mother has encircled [his head] on the day of his espousals, and on the day of the gladness of his heart’ (Song of Songs 3:11); ‘the day of his espousals,’ alludes to the day of the gift of the law, and ‘the day of the gladness of his heart,’ was that when the building of the Temple was completed.” May it soon be rebuilt in our days. Amen!

I love this image—the borrowed dresses, the dancing in the vineyard in summertime, the arresting modernity of a Sadie Hawkins Day in ancient society, the establishment of customs to harness and elevate the forces of seduction. There is also deep symbolism in it. Throughout the Bible and the Talmud, the relationship between God and the Jewish people is compared to a marriage. The verses cited from Proverbs and Canticles are understood by the Rabbis precisely in that figurative sense. The Prophets—including Jeremiah in Lamentations—make extensive use of the metaphor, attributing Israel’s humiliation and exile to her infidelity. Tu B’Av (which remains a popular day for Jewish weddings) is simultaneously a day of earthly romance, and a renewal of the Jewish people’s marriage to God.

The Rabbis explain Tu B’Av’s origins with a story that bookends their explanation of Tish’a B’Av’s. In accordance with God’s decree that the generation of slaves would die in the wilderness, each year on Tish’a B’Av night, the wandering Israelites dug their own graves and slept in them. In the morning, those who awoke would bury and mourn their loved ones who didn’t. Finally, after 40 years, no one died in the night. The Israelites, fearing they had miscalculated the date, slept in their graves a second night. And a third. And so on, until they saw the full moon. The Jewish calendar is a hybrid lunar-solar calendar, with months following the lunar cycle. The newly waning moon indicated they had reached the 15th day of the month. There was no longer any doubt as to the date, and it was established as a holiday.

There is symbolism in this story too. The moon’s waxing and waning is suggestive of the Jewish people’s cyclical relationship with God. On Tu B’Av, the full moon tells us: The time of dying is over. It is time to arise from the grave—alive—and prepare to enter the Promised Land.

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  1. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Son of Spengler: The day’s central observance is a 25-hour fast. As indicated in Taanit, an atmosphere of mourning is achieved through an intensifying sequence of self-denial which starts up to three weeks prior. Weddings are forbidden, as is musical performance; personal grooming is curtailed; cosmetic improvements to home and garden are put on hold; ultimately meat and wine are forbidden. On the day itself, we not only fast, but also refrain from wearing leather shoes, bathing, or engaging in sexual activity.

    Son of Spengler: The final passage in Taanit describes another observance, one that comes six days later. That day too has no name, and is simply called “The Fifteenth of Ab”, or Tu B’Av. During Talmudic times, it was a sort of Jewish Valentine’s Day:

    I saw that coming. Want to hook a Jewish woman? Tell her she’s pretty while she’s unable to groom or bathe. 

    • #1
  2. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Aaron Miller:

    Son of Spengler: The day’s central observance is a 25-hour fast. As indicated in Taanit, an atmosphere of mourning is achieved through an intensifying sequence of self-denial which starts up to three weeks prior. Weddings are forbidden, as is musical performance; personal grooming is curtailed; cosmetic improvements to home and garden are put on hold; ultimately meat and wine are forbidden. On the day itself, we not only fast, but also refrain from wearing leather shoes, bathing, or engaging in sexual activity.

    Son of Spengler: The final passage in Taanit describes another observance, one that comes six days later. That day too has no name, and is simply called “The Fifteenth of Ab”, or Tu B’Av. During Talmudic times, it was a sort of Jewish Valentine’s Day:

    I saw that coming. Want to hook a Jewish woman? Tell her she’s pretty while she’s unable to groom or bathe.

    One of my college friends used to joke about pickup lines at the Western Wall on 9 Av. “Hey, too bad about that Temple, huh?” “So, what’s your favorite inui [fast-day restriction]?”

    • #2
  3. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Fascinating.

    • #3
  4. user_959530 Member
    user_959530
    @

    Wonderful post, thank you SoS.

    • #4
  5. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    I favor the explanation that the 15th of Av is a happy day because if we were sitting Shiva (the week mourning period) for the Temple on Tisha B’Av, then the 15th would be the day when we get up from mourning, and start life anew. It is a celebration of potential, the time when we put the sadness behind us, and get back to work on the Big Stuff that matters. Like procreation.

    • #5
  6. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Son of Spengler: I find it increasingly difficult to get into the mourning spirit.

     I do as well. I don’t wallow well – I have no patience for an activity that is not productive.

    Instead of moaning about the past, I’d rather understand it, learn the lessons, and then apply that information. I have experienced enough Tisha B’avs to get there.

    On the other hand, the most meaningful Tisha B’av I ever spent was in the Old City overlooking the Temple Mount. I still remember the taste of the ashes.

    • #6
  7. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    So if we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, what is the proper greeting for a night of weeping?

    “May I wish you and yours a very crappy Nineth of Av”?

    • #7
  8. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Vance Richards:

    So if we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, what is the proper greeting for a night of weeping?

    “May I wish you and yours a very crappy Nineth of Av”?

    Someone wished me an easy fast today–that’s serviceable, but really a more appropriate wish for the Yom Kippur fast. Traditionally, one avoids greeting others at night.

    • #8
  9. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    We will be VERY antisocial tonight. No greetings, no chitchat.

    • #9
  10. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Vance Richards:

    So if we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, what is the proper greeting for a night of weeping?

    “May I wish you and yours a very crappy Nineth of Av”?

    Mel Brooks has a proposal

    • #10
  11. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    So here is a question, and hopefully it isn’t too brazen, but why haven’t the Jews rebuilt the Temple? It seems you have the means to do it now.

    • #11
  12. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Valiuth:

    So here is a question, and hopefully it isn’t too brazen, but why haven’t the Jews rebuilt the Temple? It seems you have the means to do it now.

    A few reasons. First, theologically, there are problems with people trying to forcibly bring the messianic age; that is for God to do when the time is right. (There are also some technical obstacles of religious law at this point.) Second, I think the Israeli decision not to bulldoze the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock was an attempt to avoid WWIII.

    An alternative opinion (one I don’t share, but most Israelis probably do) is found here. Short version: Most Israelis are not interested in having the Third Temple.

    • #12
  13. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Valiuth:

    So here is a question, and hopefully it isn’t too brazen, but why haven’t the Jews rebuilt the Temple? It seems you have the means to do it now.

    If Jews held the Temple Mount today, there would be sacrifices every Passover already (every year people try). It would happen, slowly.

    In my opinion there are plenty of valid opinions that we could build it. The reason we have not  done so is nothing more than inertia.   Two thousand years of no temple is a lot of inertia.

    • #13
  14. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Is it required that the Temple be built on the same spot as the previous one? 

    • #14
  15. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    Son of Spengler:

    Vance Richards:

    So if we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, what is the proper greeting for a night of weeping?

    “May I wish you and yours a very crappy Nineth of Av”?

    Someone wished me an easy fast today–that’s serviceable, but really a more appropriate wish for the Yom Kippur fast. Traditionally, one avoids greeting others at night.

     When I was tutoring a Jewish kid and we had to end our session early one spring, the first option that come to my mind was “Have a meaningful Passover.”

    Because really, every holiday (holy day) should be meaningful, or else why remember it?

    • #15
  16. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Vance Richards:

    So if we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, what is the proper greeting for a night of weeping?

    “May I wish you and yours a very crappy Nineth of Av”?

     I’m reminded of the Simpsons episode where Krusty hosts a holiday special. He ends the program by wishing his audience a “merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, tip top Tet, crazy Kwanzaa, and a solemn dignified Ramadan.”

    • #16
  17. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Valiuth:

    Is it required that the Temple be built on the same spot as the previous one?

    The altar must be in its proper place. Other aspects of the Temple can in theory be reconfigured, but logistically need to be close by. The upshot is that the Temple can’t be located elsewhere, and there would not be room on the Temple Mount for both places of worship. (I’m not well-versed in what Judaism has to say about the chronology involved in the end-of-days, but at some point, Judaism expects all nations to recognize our God as the One and True God, and bring sacrifices to the Temple. So simultaneously having a mosque there would be somewhat contradictory.)

    • #17
  18. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Salvatore Padula:

    Vance Richards:

    So if we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah”, what is the proper greeting for a night of weeping?

    “May I wish you and yours a very crappy Nineth of Av”?

    I’m reminded of the Simpsons episode where Krusty hosts a holiday special. He ends the program by wishing his audience a “merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, tip top Tet, crazy Kwanzaa, and a solemn dignified Ramadan.”

    For atonement holidays it is best to say nothing to those who are observing them. Just be mindful of their observances and don’t try to make things awkward by offering them a temptations to break their fast or skip their prayers. 

    • #18
  19. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Son of Spengler:

    Valiuth:

    Is it required that the Temple be built on the same spot as the previous one?

    The altar must be in its proper place. Other aspects of the Temple can in theory be reconfigured, but logistically need to be close by. The upshot is that the Temple can’t be located elsewhere, and there would not be room on the Temple Mount for both places of worship. (I’m not well-versed in what Judaism has to say about the chronology involved in the end-of-days, but at some point, Judaism expects all nations to recognize our God as the One and True God, and bring sacrifices to the Temple. So simultaneously having a mosque there would be somewhat contradictory.)

     Fascinating, I am kind of curious to hear more of Jewish end of the world mythology. Also don’t Muslims and Christians recognize the Jewish God? It was my impression that on this our three religions where in agreement. Obviously neither sacrifices to him at the temple, but then again neither do Jews. 

    • #19
  20. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Valiuth: I am kind of curious to hear more of Jewish end of the world mythology.

     This is very fuzzy stuff, as it is not directly in the Torah itself. This is related to why there are many opinions about whether we can offer sacrifices on the Temple Mount now or not. 

    • #20
  21. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Valiuth: Also don’t Muslims and Christians recognize the Jewish God? It was my impression that on this our three religions where in agreement.

     Jews and Christians, yes.  Muslims, an emphatic NO (though they claim otherwise).

    Short answer, but Christians claim that Jesus fulfilled the law and teaching of the Torah (and he was a practicing Jew).  Both hold to the Abrahamic covenant as their foundation.

    Islam claims, however, that Allah shifted the covenant to Ishmael.  Allah, as depicted in the Koran, is very different than in either the Torah or NT, he is capricious and unjust.  I’d try to explain it all, but Unveiling Islam does it better.  The brothers who authored it are converts from Islam and sons of an Imam, and they go through some detail in Koranic texts.

    Anyway, Christians and Jews can claim to worship the same, but Muslims cannot (or at least should not).

    • #21
  22. user_656019 Coolidge
    user_656019
    @RayKujawa

    Son of Spengler:
    The day’s central observance is a 25-hour fast. . . We dim the lights of the synagogue, sit on the floor, read the book of Lamentations — which graphically describes the First Temple’s destruction—and recite liturgical poetry composed to commemorate the day’s tragedies.

    I must admit though, that as I get older, I find it increasingly difficult to get into the mourning spirit. ..  What resonates with me more is the collection of poems, composed for later in the day, that recall God’s promises of Jewish restoration. I also think of Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveichik’s observation that the fast was observed during Second Temple times, even though the Temple had been rebuilt. Mourning is not the day’s only theme; also important are commemoration and repentance, a resolve to learn from our past sins and never to repeat them.

     We were there on Tisha B’Av in 2007 in Jerusalem and at the Wailing Wall. It was quite an experience. As a non-Jew, I read the Lamentations and tried to make sense of it all.

    I see America as much a promised land to Jews as the land of Israel.

    • #22
  23. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    How wonderful and how sad. Thank you for sharing. I knew nothing about this. 

    I for one, am perfectly OK with the removal of the Mosque and the complete control of the Temple Mount by the Jews. As this shows, in the disapora game, the Jews came first.

    • #23
  24. user_348375 Inactive
    user_348375
    @TrinityWaters

    CE…Bah.

    • #24
  25. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Your title brought to mind the latter half of Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”  The psalm concludes:

    Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me;
    O Lord, be my helper.
    You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
    That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
    • #25
  26. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    Fascinating read!  Thanks.  I’ve wondered why a third Temple has not been built.  Is that something that has been talked about?  Any plans?  Would they have to relocate the Temple site?

    Edit: I posted that before I read some of the other comments.

    • #26
  27. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    Manny: I’ve wondered why a third Temple has not been built.  Is that something that has been talked about?  Any plans?

     Oh, YES!!!

     

    • #27
  28. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    It is well worth noting that the Dome of the Rock is built right over the site of the Holy of Holies.  The Temple could not be properly rebuilt with demolishing the mosque.  Many Christians believe that the rebuilding of the Temple, given both scriptural revelation and the modern political ramifications, would be another sign of the end times.

    • #28
  29. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    iWc:

    Manny: I’ve wondered why a third Temple has not been built. Is that something that has been talked about? Any plans?

    Oh, YES!!!

    Is it required that it be at the same site as the previous Temples?  That would create several problems.  Plus do you actually want to tear down the Wailing Wall?   

    • #29
  30. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Manny:

    iWc:

    Manny: I’ve wondered why a third Temple has not been built. Is that something that has been talked about? Any plans?

    Oh, YES!!!

    Is it required that it be at the same site as the previous Temples? That would create several problems. Plus do you actually want to tear down the Wailing Wall?

     The wall is the remaining foundation of the last iteration of the 2nd Temple, Herod’s construction.  Archaeologists have figured that the 2nd Temple was actually a greater work than the Great Pyramid in terms of scale, masonry, etc.  Only the uppermost works of the Temple complex were removed by the Romans, the rest is the foundation, so you’d not really need to remove the remaining walls.  I’m pretty sure they could be reincorporated.

    As for placement, given that the Holy of Holies was, for both temples, in the same spot, you can’t really rebuild the Temple without removing the mosque.  The Dome’s placement was a deliberate mark of triumph of the Muslims.  

    • #30

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