Anniversaries are so often a time of joy and celebration – birthdays, weddings, Independence Days, the start of something that now has longevity being remembered and commemorated. And then there are some anniversaries that are not so joyous – memorial days, the date a loved one died, some days we’d just rather forget and even wish had never happened. Some of us have more of these than others, but few of us have multiple disasters on the same day over different years. And it seems that Israel is at the top of this inglorious list of honour.
You would expect any nation that can trace its history back over thousands of years, to have some calamities in its wake, but disasters that happen on the same day of the year? Surely it’s just coincidence?
The day is called Tisha B'Av (Hebrew: תשעה באב or ט׳ באב = ‘the Ninth of Av’) and is an annual fast day in the Jewish Calendar named for the ninth day of the month of Av, the date this year being remembered on 16th July. Most Jewish people know the fast commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but there are several other Jewish tragedies that occurred on this day, and accordingly, it has been called the “saddest day in Jewish history”.
So what events actually took place on the 9th of Av according to history and tradition? Let’s start at the beginning:
- 1390 BC – Twelve spies were sent by Moses to check out the Promised Land. Ten of them came back with a negative report and convinced the people they would have been better off staying in Egypt. Traditionally it was on the 9th Av that God declared they would not be allowed to enter the Land because of their lack of faith, a tragedy for the nation indeed, considering this day was supposed to be the beginning of their receiving the promise – now, instead, it would be delayed 40 years.
- 586 BC – on the 9th Av, the first Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed and torn down by Nebuchadnezzar after the siege in 587, and the last Hebrews in the Land were exiled into Babylonia (save a small remnant). Around 100,000 Jews were killed during the invasion.
- The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans under Titus on the 9th Av in August of 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing another Jewish exile from the Holy Land. Over 2,500,000 Jews died as a result of the war, famine and disease, over 1,000,000 Jews were exiled to all parts of the Roman Empire, and over 100,000 Jews sold as slaves by the Romans, with others being killed and tortured in gladiatorial ‘games’ and pagan celebrations.
- The Romans crushed the Jewish revolt under Bar Kokhba and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 100,000 Jews, on July 8 (9th Av), 132 CE.
- One year later, to thoroughly eradicate any ideas of Jewish insurrection, Roman commander Turnus Rufus ploughed the site of the Temple and the surrounding area, in 133 CE, 9th Av, after which it became a city dump.
- The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II on 20 July, 1095 (Hebrew Calendar Av 9, 4855), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
- Jews were expelled from England on 25 July, 1290 (Av 9, 5050).
- At the culmination of the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were expelled from Spain on 11 August, 1492 (Av 9, 5252).
- On 1 August, 1914 (Av 9, 5674), World War I broke out, causing unprecedented devastation across Europe and set the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
- On the eve of Tisha B'Av 5702 (23 July, 1942), the mass deportation of Jews began from the Warsaw Ghetto en route to Treblinka, being part of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’. The authorisation for the Final Solution was given just 3 days before 9th Av, one year earlier in 1941.
For Israel it seems to be a particular time of vulnerability, a time where the question of ‘why?’ rings ever clearly, and people look for hope. Poignantly, it is believed that Tisha B’Av will continue to be remembered as a day for fasting and mourning until the arrival of the Messianic Era, when the Messiah returns. Our joy is in knowing that despite the calamities of the past, there are now thousands in Israel who have met their Messiah and live in the hope and expectancy of seeing their nation won to Jesus also! Our hope is in knowing that one day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Please join us as we pray for Israel and the Jewish people particularly at this time, that each one will also have this hope!