Guide for the Perplexed: The Ninth Day of Av

Jewish Holidays’ Guide for the Perplexed by Yoram Ettinger 1. Forgetfulness feeds oblivion; remembrance breeds deliverance. According to a legend, Napoleon was walking one night in the streets of Paris, hearing lamentations emanating from a synagogue. When told that the wailing commemorated the 586 BCE destruction of the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem he stated: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!” The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition/memories to the younger generation.

2. The most calamitous day in Jewish history. The 9th Day of Av (the 11th Jewish month) is first mentioned in the book of Zechariah 7:3. One of four Jewish fast days, it commemorates dramatic national catastrophes (related to the destruction of Jerusalem), in an attempt to benefit from history by avoiding – rather than repeating – critical, moral and strategic missteps. It concludes the 21 days of predicament and lamentation, which began when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and Titus (2nd Temple), launching a seven-week period of consolation, ingathering and renewal.

3. Major Jewish calamities are commemorated on the 9th Day of Av:

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* Unlike Joshua & Caleb, the other “ten spies/tribal presidents” slandered the Land of Israel, preferring immediate convenience and conventional “wisdom” over faith and long term vision, thus prolonging the wandering in the desert for 40 years, before settling the Promised Land; *The destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BCE) resulted in the massacre of 100,000 Jews and a massive national exile; *The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus of Rome (70 CE) triggered the massacre of 1 million Jews and another massive national exile, aiming to annihilate Judaism and the Jewish people; *The Ten Martyrs – ten leading rabbis – executed by the Roman Empire; *The Bar Kokhbah Revolt was crushed with the killing of Bar Kokhbah, the fall of his Beitar headquarters (135 CE) – south of Jerusalem in Judea and Samaria – the plowing of Jerusalem, and the killing of 600,000 Jews by the Roman Empire; *The pogroms of the First Crusade (1096-1099) massacred tens of thousands of Jews in Germany, France, Italy and Britain; *The Jewish expulsion from Britain (1290); *The Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492); *The eruption of the First World War (1914); *The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp.

4. From Auschwitz to the Jewish State, from exile to the ingathering/liberty in the Land of Israel. A key message of the Ninth Day of Av, personally and collectively/nationally: sustain faith and hope, and refrain from forgetfulness, despair, fatalism and pessimism, irrespective of the odds, which may seem – through conventional, short-term lenses – insurmountable.

5. The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the 9th day of Av. It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” According to the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal.”

6. From destruction to deliverance and renewal. The Book of the five Lamentations (The Scroll of Eikhah which was composed by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance) is read during the first nine days of Av. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the traditional number of righteous Jewish persons. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah (איכה) could be interpreted as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as, “Where are you?” or “Why have you strayed away?” The term איכה features in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah, which are studied annually in conjunction with the book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9th day of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah.