SHIVA ASAR B’TAMUZ
The 17th Day Tamuz
The Zohar states that the months of Tamuz and Av are times of grave danger for the Jewish nation. These months are times when evil has an opportunity to reign in the world. Harmful forces gain the upper hand and can roam the world and cause damage. The 17th day of Tamuz is one of several communal fast days set forth by the sages. This was the day when Noach sent the dove out of the ark for the first time and the poor bird found no place to rest. We are told that the Jewish nation is compared to a dove. Symbolically, the bird lacking rest is echoed in our nation’s current state of affairs. From Shiva Asar B’Tamuz through Tisha B’Av, throughout the generations, we find our nation facing all kinds of tragedies time and again. These three weeks are called “Bayn Hamitzarim”, the space between two rocks, a place where one can get harmed and trapped.
Another event that occurred on the 17th day of Tamuz was when Moshe broke the Luchos. He had ascended to Heaven after the giving of the Torah to study and fully absorb all the details to the laws of the Torah. Moshe was to remain in heaven for forty days and nights and then descend with the written Tablets in hand. At that time, bad elements among our nation gained the upper hand and began worshipping a Golden Calf that they had fashioned with their own hands. As Moshe descended from the mountain, he saw a nation that had so recently reached the highest spiritual heights now depraved. Now they worshiped a golden creature. At that time, Moshe hurled the Luchos – the miraculous sapphire tablets inscribed with the “writing” of G-d – shattering them at the side of the mountain. More troubles were to befall our nation. It was on this day that the sacrifices stopped being brought on the altar, shortly before the destruction of the First Temple. Up until the 17th of Tamuz, the Kohanim who were holed up in the Temple still had animals for Karbanos. However, on the 17th day of Tamuz, the altar went cold. There were no more animals available for the holy service. Yet again, during the time leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple, tragedy befell our people. Once again, our enemies laid siege to the Holy City of Jerusalem. And finally, on the 17th day of Tamuz, Titus and his Roman hordes breached the city walls and overran the city.
Reasons For Fasting On Shiva Asar B’Tamuz Five tragedies befell our people on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, as recorded in Tractate Taanis. It was due to these events that our sages instituted the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz. They were, 1) Moshe smashed the first set of Tablets when he descended from Mount Sinai after observing some of the people serving a golden calf. 2) During the siege of the First Temple, the enemies halted the daily offering of the Korban Tamid. This offering was discontinued until the rebuilding of the Second Temple. 3) Three weeks before the destruction of the Second Temple the walls of Jerusalem were breached. 4) A Greek general named Apostumos publicly burned a Torah scroll. 5) A graven image was placed inside the Temple.
The first Nine Days of the month
This is a time of heavy mourning, even though thousands of years have passed since the destruction of both Temples. If this seems remote, then it is time to relate the story of Napoleon. One day, Napoleon was out and about exploring his vast kingdom. Suddenly, he heard lamenting and wailing. The great conqueror followed the sounds of the sobbing, and soon enough he found himself in the Jewish ghetto in front of a Jewish synagogue. From the windows of the Shul, he could hear the anguished cry of so many people. Napoleon peered in, and the whole situation looked very wrong to him. There were grown men sitting on the ground. They sported overgrown hair, they clutched little books and they were crying fiercely. Napoleon fancied himself a fair ruler, one with compassion, and he now wanted to display that trait. Here were some of his own citizens, and they seemed awfully upset.
And so, the French ruler began to ask them questions. “What tragedy happened to this community?” he wondered. The answer he received was that their great Temple had been destroyed. “Who destroyed it?” he inquired. “Why, the Romans!” was the rejoinder. “When did they do this injustice?” asked Napoleon. He thought the pain must have been recent, as the mourning was so great. The answer, when given, floored him. More than a thousand years had passed, Napoleon learned, and still, the Jewish nation mourned their Temple! Legend has it that Napoleon concluded, “A nation that mourns with such angst so many years after their Temple was destroyed is a nation that will surely never disappear…and will certainly rebuild their Temple one day.” Twelve days into the three weeks, we begin a separate set of even sadder days, known as “the Nine Days”. Aaron the Priest died on this day. Mshenichnas Av, Mima’atim B’simcha. When the month of Av enters, we lessen our happiness.
Restricted Activities During The Nine Days The final nine days of the three-week period is when the mourning becomes intensified. This period begins on Rosh Chodesh Av and concludes on the Ninth of Av. All prior restricted activities remain, and a few more are put in place. While these restrictions are in force through Tisha B’Av, some are removed for Shabbos, as well as for Erev Shabbos. Although we do not eat meat or drink wine during the Nine Days, on Shabbos we may. And while we do not bathe during the Nine Days, we may bathe on Erev Shabbos, however it is governed by various customs and limitations.
Laws Of Erev Tishah B’Av The laws of Tisha B’Av are the most severe of all. Some of these rules go into effect after midday on the day preceding Tishah B’Av. Some authorities prohibit the study of Torah now, save for the parts that center around mourning and the destruction of the Temple. After midday, strolling for pleasure is prohibited. Toward the end of this day, a meal is served called the Seudah Hamafsekes. It is a sorrowful meal, to demonstrate our profound sadness for the loss of the Temple. At this meal, we sit on the floor, sitting apart from one another. Many have the custom to eat plain bread and a hard-boiled egg, and they dip their bread in ashes. One may not eat more than one cooked dish at this meal, which is why those who eat a boiled egg may not eat any other cooked dish.
We are told that “mishenichnas Av, Mima’atim B’simcha”. We tone down our joyousness during this month. During the Nine Days:
- We do not plant anything that brings pleasure.
- We do not purchase new clothing, art or expensive items.
- We do not build homes.
- We do not beautify our existing homes.
- We do not wear freshly laundered clothing.
- We do not launder soiled garments.
- We do not eat meat or drink wine.
- We do not bathe or go swimming.
The Day of Mourning
The 9th of Av is the anniversary of the most horrific episodes in Jewish history. Both Temples were burned on this day. The expulsion of the Jews of Spain occurred on this day. Germany began WWI on August 1, 1914 – which fell out on Tisha B’av. The Final Solution (ideas of for killing Jews during WWII) was formulated two days before Tisha B’av (the 7th of Av). In short, history demonstrates that this is a most pain-laden time for our people. Why is this so? Way back, after our people had been forged into the nation of G-d, and when we were to go from the revelation at Sinai directly to the Promised Land, we transgressed. In the desert, we cried for no reason when the spies terrified us into not wanting to enter the Promised Land. At that time, G-d said, “this day when you cried for no valid reason, which is the ninth of Av, will be slated as the day for you to cry when you will have good cause to cry.” Punishments are often slated for our nation during this period.
In the synagogue, Megillas Eichah, the Book of Lamentations is read. The scroll tells of the destruction of the temple, the Jewish people, and the Holy Land. CLICK HERE FOR DOWNLOAD We adhere to all the various laws of mourning for at least the first half of the day of Tisha B’av (until Chatzos which is the midway point of the day, at around 1 p.m.). Like someone who is sitting Shiva, we do not study Torah (except for the parts of Torah that are associated with the destruction of the temple). We do not sit on chairs or couches, work or do anything leisurely. We do not shower or bathe, and men do not put on Tefillin. Unlike someone sitting Shiva, as soon as Chatzos has passed, right after the midway point of Tisha B’Av day, there is a strange custom. We begin to clean our homes. We demonstrate that even though we are going through a period of mourning, we still anticipate the arrival of Moshiach. That out of the darkest of places, we know with all our hearts that one day we will be everlasting joy. In fact, we refer to this month, from hereon after, as Menachem Av. That is, a comforted month of Av. We express our prayer that all bad experiences will be transformed into good ones in the coming times of Moshiach. May we all be comforted speedily in our time!
Reasons For Fasting On Tishah B’Av On this day five tragedies befell our nation. 1) During the time of Moshe Rabeinu, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering Eretz Yisrael. 2) The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. 3) The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. 4) The Romans captured the city of Beitar and slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews 5) Turnus Rufus – an exceptionally wicked man – plowed over the site of the Temple.
Laws Of Tishah B’Av On Tisha B’Av all prohibitions associated with the Three Weeks and the Nine Days are in full force. Well-known customs unique to this day include the prohibition against studying Torah, sitting on a chair (until midday), working, and greeting others.
Five prohibitions govern this day. On Tisha B’Av adults do not:
- Eat or drink.
- Wash or Bathe.
- Anoint themselves.
- Wear leather shoes.
- Engage in marital relations.