Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 17th of Tamuz in context

This coming Tuesday, July 15th, we will commemorate the 17th of Tamuz, a fast-day.  The 17th of Tamuz is one of the four fasting days in which we remember the events that lead to the destruction of our first Bet haMiqdash (=Temple of Jerusalem) in 586 BCE and the consequent exile.

1. We fast on the 10th of Tebet, when the enemy began the siege of Jerusalem, which provoked untold starvation, epidemics, etc.

2. We observe a day of fast on the 17th of Tamuz because this is when the Babylonians made the first breach in the walls of the city, that is, when they came into the city.

3. After three weeks of battle and agonizing resistance, the enemy finally prevailed. That is why three weeks after the 17th of Tamuz we observe the 9th of Ab, the National day of mourning for the Jewish people. On this tragic day the first Bet haMiqdash was destroyed and burned (the Second Bet HaMiqdash was also destroyed on a 9th of Ab, in the year 68 of the Common Era). Thousands of Jews were killed or died from starvation and the rest were taken captives to Babylonia. A small Jewish population remained in Israel as vassals of the Babylonians.

4. A few years later, a group of Jews killed the Babylonian appointee, Gedaliah ben Ahiqam on the 3rd of Tishri. The consequences were devastating. The Babylonian emperor interpreted this murder as a rebellion against his kingdom and he ordered that the the small Jewish population that had remained in Israel after the destruction of the Temple be also killed or exiled.

These four dates 10 of Tebet, 17 of Tamuz, 9 of Ab and 3 of Tishri were established by our Prophets as days of fasting. In order to remember the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash and our of responsibility, encouraging us to introspect and repent.

It is interesting to notice that around the year 516 BCE, 70 years after the exile, around 40,000 Jews came back to Israel and built the Second Bet-haMiqdash. At that point, the prophet Zekharia and Anshe Keneset haGedola (The first Jewish Congress) canceled these fasting days and declared them  days of joy and celebration.

"Thus says HaShem, lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall [now end and] be to the house of Yehuda seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts..." (Zekharia 8:19)

When the second bet haMiqdash was destroyed, in the year 68 of the CE we started fasting again.

BH, When the Third Bet Hamiqdash will be built, במהרה בימינו, these fast days will be turned again into days of celebration. .