Tisha B’ab Memories Include Dispersions, Temples Destroyed

A country lost and a Temple destroyed 2,519 years ago was first responsible for the setting aside of the tragic day of the Ninth of Ab to commemorate Israel’s exile from its homeland. Year in and year out, Jews have for centuries gathered in their houses of worship on this day to read the Book of Lamentations and the Kinoth and to mourn over the loss of statehood. Each year, our people lamented on this day as if the Destruction of the Temple had occurred only yesteryear Israel’s lamenting on this day seemed to give reality to the quotation from the Psalms (Xc. 4):

“For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

But the destruction of the First Temple is not the only tragic event in Jewish history which is marked by the feast of Tisha b’Ab. When Jews gather again in the synagogues tomorrow evening, July 31, to usher in the Fast of Ab, they will be lamenting on an anniversary which has proved a red-letter day for Jewry in the three greatest tragedies in Israel’s history. For on this day occurred also the Destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 of the present era. Almost fifteen centuries later, another tragedy was to be credited to this date—that of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

DAY MARKED WITH BLOOD

Tisha b’Ab was first written down with blood in Jewish history when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, after a siege of Jerusalem, destroyed the First Temple on the Ninth of Ab, in the year 586 B.C. Palestine was devastated and the Jews driven into Babylonian exile. The first Galuth, however, was of short duration, lasting 48 years. For, with the conquest of Babylon by the Persian King Cyrus in 536 B.C., the Jews were permitted to return to {SPAN}###eir{/SPAN} land and to rebuild their Temple.

It was under the leadership of Ezra the Scribe that the Temple was once more rebuilt and rededicated and a Jewish kingdom reestablished offering a homeland for the Jews for another six centuries. But in the year 70 A.D. Tisha b’Ab was once again destined to play an unfortunate role in Jewish independence. It was on the Ninth of Ab of that year that the destruction of the Second Temple and the final Disperson, lasting unto our own day, took place. The end was marked for the Jewish State in Palestine when the Jewish military forces were defeated by the Romans under the leadership of Emperor Titus, to whose name history has added the appellation “The Terrible.”

Thus, twice commemorating the Destruction of the Temple, Tisha b’ Ab is in many ways a day marked by many coincidences. It was on this day that the revolt broke out against Rome in the year 130, exactly 60 years after the Dispersion. Simon Bar Kochba, one of the great heroes in Jewish history, led a handful of Jews against the Roman armies and inflicted defeat upon defeat on the unconquerable Romans. He was finally defeated, however, by the larger forces of his opponents and died a soldier’s death.

Tisha b’Ab in general was destined to be marked as a day of misfortune for Jewry. On this day, in the year 1492, more than 500,000 men, women and children were driven from Spain by the horrible Inquisition. Many were forced to embrace Christianity and thousands who did not, gave up their lives in the auto-da-fe.

Curiously enough, the World War, one of the results of which was the issuing of the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the present foundation for the Jewish National Home, broke out on Tisha b’Ab in 1914. This Tisha b’Ab of nineteen years ago may be said to have marked one of the greatest of all tragedies in all Jewish history in that close to three million Jews are estimated to ha## been sacrificed either on the battlefields or as a result of the famine that followed the war and the horrible series of pogroms in the Ukraine, Poland, Galicia and Roumania.

ANNIVERSARY OF 1929 RIOTS

Another sad coincidence which marked the Ninth of Ab was the outbreak of the bloody riots in Palestine in 1929. At the remaining Western Wall of the Temple, which during the past centuries has come to be known as the Wailing Wall, began a dispute which proved the inefficiency of the British force then in charge of affairs in Palestine. Hundreds of Jewish and Arab lives were lost as a result of these outbreaks, numerous restrictive measures were proclaimed and for a time the picture was most gloomy. But the encouraging aftermath is fairly well known by this time, with Palestine serving as a haven of refuge for Jewish body and spirit.

Tisha b’Ab as a Jewish red-letter day was not altogether one of sorrow and mourning. It was on the Ninth of Ab of 1882 that a group of young Jews once more turned eastward to the Land of Israel, with the idea of re-establishing and rebuilding the Jewish homeland. On that day a number of Russian-Jewish university students, under the leadership of the late Israel Belkind, University of Charkov student, banded together in a society named “Bilu”—formed from the Hebrew words “Beth Yaakov Lechu ve-Nelcho”—House of Jacob, Let Us Go Forth.” The result was the foundation of the colony Rishon Le-Zion and the beginning of the successful Palestine colonization movement.

It is an old tradition among Jewish boys to go to the cemeteries on Tisha b’Ab, there to bury wooden swords. For it was on this day that the Jewish people buried its weapons, although it refused to give up the battle for existence. The Jewish sword is buried bu# the Jewish fighter lives—the fighter for justice, for social ideals, for equality and independence. The unquenchable spirit of Judaism in the face of disaster is evidenced by the old tradition in making the Saturday following Tisha b’Ab a day of consolation—Sabbath Nachamu. Forgetting their sufferings and tragedies, the Jews once more place trust in their old hope and read from the fortieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah: “Nachamu, Nachamu Ama”—Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. Even as in the darkest days and the deepest gloom of exile, the Jew becomes heartened by the promise of the Prophets to be returned again to his land.

Having outlived the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians and the Romans, the Jews congregate every Tisha b’Ab to shed tears over the numerous tragedies of that day, only to rise up again as hopeful as ever that the traditional homeland in Palestine is to be rebuilt again as a Jewish commonwealth. And 2,519 years after the destruction of the First Temple and 1,863 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jew is now more than ever full of hope that the Promise is soon to be fulfilled. The foundation for this fulfillment was laid fifty-one years ago when the first group of colonists—thirteen men and one girl—created the first Palestinian settlement. Palestine’s progress is the best proof of the invincibility of the Jewish spirit.

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