Tisha B'Av History

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The ancient rabbinic sages held that the ninth of Av was preordained to be a day of tragedy. The Talmud states that God marked this day for tragedy because of the incident in Numbers 13-14 that took place in the wilderness on this day. Moses had sent spies to scout the Promised Land, and based on their frightened report, the people wept at the prospect of entering such a formidable land full of giants. God declared to them, "You wept without cause; I will therefore make this an eternal day of mourning for you." The Talmudic tractate Taanit states that God then decreed that on the ninth of Av the Temple would be destroyed and Israel would go into exile.

tisha b'av historyThere is a prodigious amount of Jewish literature that focuses on the destruction of the respective Temples, including books of the Bible such as Eicha (Lamentations), various prophets, numerous Psalms, and Talmudic and midrashic literature. This sadness plays a huge role in Jewish tradition and consciousness. Conservative and Orthodox liturgy maintains various references to the Temple and its sacrifices. Even the names of our prayer services, like Minchah (the afternoon service) and Musaf (additional service), reflect offerings in the Temple. Traditional views on a future messianic age incorporate visions of a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem and a restored priesthood.

An interesting development in the history of Tisha B'Av relates to the reestablishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Some authorities believe that with restoration of the people to the "holy land," the festival of Tisha B'Av lost its meaning. The biblical prophet Zechariah had articulated the messianic hope that the Eternal One will return to Zion to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, city of truth, and in Jerusalem old men and women will sit with staff in hand, watching the broad places filled with playing children. The prophecy of Zechariah was realized with the birth of Israel, and therefore some Jews believe that the second part of the prophecy--which envisioned a time when fast days would be observed as joyous festivals--should be fulfilled.

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