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The History of Tisha B’av

Tisha B'av is a time for Jewish people to reflect on the hardships their ancestors faced and remember their history of oppression.

As the holiday of Tisha B’av approaches in the month of July, the Jewish people remember all the tragedies that have befallen their ancestors. The ninth of Av commemorates five biblical calamities that occurred on the same day and brought devastation to the Israelites. There are also modern calamities that all occurred on or near the 9th of Av, which is reflected upon in the one-day fast warranted by the Holiday.

The first of these calamities occurred when the Jewish population under Moses was banned from entering the promised land in their lifetimes. When Moses dispatched 12 slaves to survey Canaan, only Joshua and Caleb returned with a positive report, and the remaining 10 spoke disparagingly of the land. The Children of Israel began to panic in despair at the thought of entering the “promised land,” and for this, God punished them by banning their generation from entering the land. The second biblical calamity in 587 BCE occurred when King Nebachenezzur of the Babylonian Empire ordered the destruction of the First Temple built by King Solomon. The Kingdom of Judah was also displaced and sent to live in Babylonian exile. The third calamity commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 Ce. The fourth and fifth calamities are also the result of the harsh actions of the Romans. In the year 135, legions crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the empire’s oppressive rule, killing 580,000 Jews and destroying the city of Betar. The fifth calamity immediately followed when the Roman commander Turnus Rufus demolished the site of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. These five calamities are cited in Mishnah as the five specific events that occurred on the Ninth of Av to warrant fasting. 

Over time, Tisha B’av has become a day of mourning for all tragedies that occurred on the Ninth of Av, not just those recounted in the bible. The First Crusade was officially commenced on August 15, 1096, which killed 100,000 jews in the first month and destroyed Jewish diasporic communities in France and the Rhineland. The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290, forced out of France on July 22, 1306, and exiled from Spain on July 31, 1492. All of these edicts were passed on the 9th of Av.

Tisha B’av also commemorates drastic turning points in the 20th century that contributed to the Holocaust. On August 2, 1941, SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval for the “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” This entailed the concentration of all Jewish people within labor camps and their widespread extermination through the use of lethal gas supplied by the I.G Farben chemical factory. July 23, 1942, ushered in the mass deportation of Jews within the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to their deaths in Treblinka. The holiday also mourns the death of the 6,000,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

This year, the 9th of Av falls on July 29th. It is a time for Jewish people to reflect on the hardships their ancestors faced and remember their history of oppression. Sadly, this pattern has not stopped, and the Jewish people are still subject to anti-Semitic attacks. Maybe one day, the Jewish people will commemorate this holiday as events that occurred centuries ago.

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Carly Brail is a sophomore at the High School of American Studies in New York. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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