Lost and Found on Tisha B'Av

For two millennia, Jews have mourned the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, but do we really want it back?

On August 14 this year, observant Jews gather in synagogues and homes around the world in observance of the saddest day of the religious calendar: the ninth of Av or Tisha B'Av. Much like Yom Kippur, to which it is often compared, Tisha B'Av requires a lengthy period of somber preparation: in this case, three weeks (often called the "Three Weeks") in which many of the laws of mourning are followed. No weddings or parties are scheduled, no new clothes are purchased. During the period's concluding nine days (or "Nine Days") the list of prohibitions grows, as the consumption of meat and wine then become prohibited.

This period, with Tisha B'Av at its apex, is meant to mark a host of catastrophes customarily believed to have taken place at this time of year. According to tradition, the 17th of Tammuz, the date marking the beginning of the Three Weeks, marks the day Moses found the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf and broke the tablets of the Ten Commandments; the interruption of the Temple service by the invading Babylonians, and the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in the Second Temple era. The ninth of Av, meanwhile, is the day on which the first and second Temples are said to have been destroyed. It is also a sort of all-purpose commemoration, serving as a day for remembering a number of Jewish history's catastrophes from the Chmielnitzki Massacre of 1648-9 to the Holocaust (the first deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto took place on Tisha B'Av).


The primary focus of Tisha B'Av, though, is on the destruction of the Temple, both by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. While the loss of the first Temple was a disaster, leading to a half-century's exile in Babylon before the return to Israel and the building of a new Temple, the destruction of the second Temple was incomparably worse-and more permanent. The Roman invaders demolished the Temple, salted the land to prevent any future growth, and precipitated what would become an almost-2,000-year exile of the Jewish people from Israel. The hope that the Temple will be rebuilt remains a fixation of the Jewish imagination, and an object of daily prayer.

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