Tenth of Tevet

This fast commemorates the beginning of the end of the First Temple.

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The "Memory Place" creates an encounter between the individual and the collective and the commemorated object, event, or symbol. This encounter disturbs the daily routine, which, because of its nature, encourages forgetfulness. Like a person who encounters the past by passing from time to time by a physical monument in his neighborhood or visiting a memorial, the past is also encountered  when the person faces the temporal "Memory Place" on the calendar. This encounter is cyclic by its nature and with it, the person reflects about the past event, and in a way, even experiences it every year.

minor fasts quizThe Jewish people, deprived of state life or sovereignty over their land for many generations, could not develop a  widespread tradition of physical memory sites. Although we had the Wailing Wall, the tomb of Rachel, Ma'arat  HaMahpela (the burial plot of our Jewish matriarchs and patriarchs located in Hebron), and some other sites associated with events and personalities from the past, the Jewish "memory culture" developed much more extensively through use of temporal places of memory built around the calendar.

In the first layer of these "Memory Places" we find the three holidays of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, which mark historical events and experiences. Later on they were joined by Hanukkah and Purim as well as by the public fasts that commemorate national catastrophes. Scattered around the world, Jews nevertheless gathered "temporally" from time to time in their respective places of residence to mark national memories and to re-experience a piece of their collective past.  

In his discussion on the public fasts which commemorate the Temple's destruction, Maimonides presents the following: 

"There are days in which all the people of Israel fast to repent the misfortunes which befell them. The fasting will serve as a reminder of our bad deeds and the deeds of our fathers which have caused us hard times. Remembering our misguided ways gives us the opportunity to be better people…"  (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Taaniot, Chapter 5, 1).

Historical memory, as it is demonstrated in commemorative days like the Tenth of Tevet, has at least two dimensions: the story and its lesson. The "story" allows us to remember time and again what happened on that day--the beginning of the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, in our case. The "lesson" has to do with the meaning we apply to the story: why it happened, how it relates to us, and what we are bidden to do.

Maimonides draws a link between the deeds of our fathers and our own deeds (i.e., "in every generation"), as well as between our troubles and their misfortunes, thus making the memory of the Temple's destruction an actual one. From this starting point, he reaches the conclusion to be made from our misconduct: Remembering our misguided ways provides the path to self-improvement.

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Dr. Guy Miron

Dr. Guy Miron is Dean of the Graduate School of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He is also a senior lecturer in Jewish history. Miron's research focuses on central European Jews in the first half of the 20th century.