Wednesday, July 16, 2014


As we have explained (see this), on the 17th of Tamuz of the year 68 of the CE, after many months of siege, the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were destroyed by the Roman legions.  
Once inside, the invading army pillaged the Holy City and thousands of Jews were killed, tortured or taken as slaves.   The Bet haMiqdash was destroyed and burned three weeks after the Romans enter the city, on the 9th of Ab. Six hundred years earlier, in 586 BCE, the first Bet haMiqdash was destroyed also on the 9th of Ab.

As we approach the 9th of Ab, considered the National day of Mourning of the Jewish People, we observe certain restrictions associated with mourning.

These restrictions become stricter as we get closer to the 9th of Ab.

These customs differ significantly from community to community. 

We present here a few illustrations:

WEDDINGS: The Rabbis of the Talmud, Maimonides, Mara"n etc. did not mention any restrictions for celebrating weddings before the beginning of the month of Ab.  For Sephardim, therefore, it is technically not forbidden to have a wedding ceremony between the 17 of Tamuz and the beginning of the month of Ab. The Ashkenazi custom, however, is to avoid wedding ceremonies from the 17th of Tamuz.   In our days,  maintaining a level of uniformity in this sensitive matter, Sephardic Jews also abstain from celebrating weddings during the three weeks.

SHEHEHEYANU: The Shulhan Arukh mentions that it is good to avoid eating a fruit of a new season, which will require the recitation of the blessing Sheheheyanu, during the three weeks. The custom for Sephardim (Rab Obadaia Yosef) and Ashkenazim (Penine Halakha) is to reserve this recitation of Sheheheyanu for Shabbat.

HAIRCUT: The custom for most Sephardim is to permit getting a haircut or shave until the week of Tish'a beAb. The Ashkenazi tradition (Ram"a 551:4) and the custom of some Moroccan and Algerian Jews as well, is different: haircut or shaving is forbidden from the 17 of Tamuz until after Tish'a beAb. (Haircut restrictions do not apply to women).

לע"נ דרור חנין ז"ל, הי"ד

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Monday, July 14, 2014

What happened on the 17th of Tamuz?

This coming Tuesday, July 15th, we will commemorate the 17th of Tamuz, a fast-day.

Five tragedies happened to the Jewish people on this day.

1. The 17th of Tamuz occurs forty days after Shabu'ot. Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on Shabu'ot and remained there for forty days. The people of Israel made the golden calf on the afternoon of the 16th of Tamuz, when they thought that Moshe was not coming down. When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jews worshiping the golden calf, he smashed the tablets which carried the Ten Commandments.

2. Menashe --a Jewish King, the worst sovereign of the Kingdom of Yehuda-- placed on that day an idol in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem, around the year 700 BCE.

3. In the time of the First Temple, in 587 BCE, the Kohanim (priests) were forced to discontinue the offering of the daily sacrifice. This sacrifice (qorban hatamid) had been offered by the Jews since the time of the exodus of Egypt.  On the 17th of Tamuz of that year this sacrifice could not be offered anymore due to the shortage of animals caused by the siege of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army.

4. Around the year 50 of the Common Era, Apostomus, a Roman captain, seized a Tora scroll and with abusive and mocking language burned the Tora in public. (According to Maimonides it was Apostomus, not Menashe, who besides burning the Tora placed an idol in the Holy Temple as well).

5. In the year 68 CE the walls of Jerusalem were breached after many months of siege by the Roman army. Three weeks after the breach of the wall, the Bet haMiqdash was destroyed on the 9th of Ab.

Because of these five tragedies we fast on the 17th of Tamuz. We also recite special prayers (tahanunim) which inspire us to mourn and repent for our transgressions and the transgressions of our ancestors.

The fast begins at dawn and ends with the appearance of the three stars.

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. .