The Jewish culture has a unique relationship with mourning. The Jewish experience is often defined with solemn days of remembrance. Twice a year a siren sounds across Israel and society halts. This is done once to remember the Holocaust, and again on Memorial Day to honor the soldiers who fell in the defense of Israel as well as victims of terror.
This month, we also observe another day of mourning, which is considered the saddest on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av “The Ninth of Av”.
This day is not as widely observed and may not be as familiar as other Jewish holidays. On this day, abstaining from food, water, and anything deemed pleasurable is encouraged. Only passages of scripture that deal with experiences of grief such as Lamentations or Job are permitted to be read and studied in Orthodox communities.
The central focus of the mourning is the long-lasting grief of the Jewish people over the loss of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. A central aspect of the identity of the Chosen People is that God had chosen to place His Divine Presence among them, dwelling in the Holy of Holies as a testimony of the One True God who rules over all the earth. This belief led the Jewish people to believe they were invincible, and that God would never let Jerusalem fall to an enemy attack because such an event would bring shame to His Name and Glory.
This is why, when the Babylonian army swept into the Land of Judah in the year 586 BCE, many Jews believed that God would defend Jerusalem as He had in the past. The warnings of prophets like Jeremiah fell on deaf ears as he warned defense was futile and the city would fall.
This great disaster which would follow, forever changed how the Jewish people understood their relationship with God. On the 9th day of the Hebrew month Av, Nebuchadnezzar’s forces destroyed Solomon’s temple and carried the people of Israel into exile.
This judgement had come upon Israel for their rebellion, yet it was not the first time God had punished Israel for their disobedience.
It is traditionally believed that the first example of catastrophe associated with the 9th of Av was when the twelve spies returned after scouting the Promised Land. Their report (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) convinced the people that the enemy was too strong for them.
Due to this lack of faith, God forbid them from entering the Promised Land. According to Mishnah Taanit 4:6, this event took place on the 9th of Av.
This rebellious and faithless generation perished in the wilderness, unable to enter the Promised Land. After centuries enjoying the blessings of obedience in the Promised Land, another generation of Jews chose to rebel against God and this generation was the one who witnessed the destruction of the temple and the exile to Babylon.
After 70 years, God brought the Jewish people back and Ezra rebuilt the temple. This restoration was short-lived as factions soon rose up competing for power and seeking to establish a messianic kingdom by force of arms (something Yeshua warned against). A revolt let by the zealots soon brought Roman legions to the gates of Jerusalem and for the second time, the temple would fall. This destruction also took place on the 9th of Av.
After the destruction of the temple, many Jews placed their hope in the figure of Simon Ben Kosevah (Bar Kokhba), who led a rebellion against Rome with the goal of restoring the temple. This revolt ended in failure at the bloody battle of Batar, as Roman legions smashed Bar Kokhba’s forces and ended any hope for a free Jewish state. The Romans massacred the people of Batar on the 9th of Av, 135 CE. The next year, Hadrian would erect a pagan temple on the Temple Mount and ban Jews from entering Jerusalem.
Outside their homeland, the Jewish people continued to experience exiles within exile as they were expelled from kingdoms across Europe. The greatest Medieval Jewish culture in Spain ended suddenly on the 9th of Av, 1492 as all Jews were expelled by order of the king.
Other events that took place on this dark day include: Germany entering WWI, an event which set the stage for the rise of Hitler, Himmler received official approval to begin the Final Solution and began to murder the Jews of Europe in 1941. The mass deportations from the Warsaw ghetto to the death camp of Treblinka began on the 9th of Av, 1942.
The words of the Prophet Jeremiah, written in the aftermath of the fall of the First Temple have only become more applicable and powerful throughout history as the tragic events the Jews experienced multiplied.
“My eyes are spent with tears, my heart is in tumult. My being melts away over the ruin of my poor people” -Lam. 2:11
However, even in the midst of the grief of this day, hope was promised in the powerful 8th chapter of Zechariah. Here is the only mention of the 9th of Av in scripture and it is linked to the restoration of Israel.
“Thus, said the Lord of Hosts: …and the fast of the fifth month (Av)…., shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah…” –Zechariah 8:19
Yeshua wept over Jerusalem foreseeing what would take place on the 9th of Av, 70 CE “when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it… The day will come upon you when your enemies will set up a barricade around you… and tear you to the ground.” Luke 19:41,43-44.
We can join the mourning of the Jewish people as Yeshua over such horrible destruction.
However, as we observe this day of mourning, Zechariah 8 gives us a beautiful picture of the future joy that God has in store for His people and Jerusalem. He promises “I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.”–Zechariah 8:7.
This promise depicts the amazing physical restoration of Israel, something we are witnessing unfold today. However, God continued His promise to Zechariah “And they shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness” –Zechariah 8:8.
We can be motivated during this season to not only mourn the destruction as Yeshua did, but also to pray in expectation for this great spiritual restoration where all Israel will worship God in spirit and truth in the Kingdom of the Messiah!
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