Sunday, July 24, 2016
The Seventeenth of Tammuz
The seventeenth day of the Jewish month, Tammuz, is a fast day. On this day, Jews around the world do not eat or drink as part of a remembrance of the events which preceded the destruction of Judaism's two Holy Temples.
Yesterday was the seventeenth of Tammuz. Normally, that would have been our designated day of fasting. But because yesterday was Shabbat, Jewish law says that this fast is to be postponed one day.
Therefore, this year, the fast of the seventeenth day of Tammuz occurs today. Today is the eighteenth day of Tammuz.
The fast began this morning at 4:27 am, Israel time. The fast generally ends today before 8:11 pm Israel time. The exact time for you to end the fast depends upon your location.
On this day, we remember horrific attacks upon our two Holy Temples by the enemies of Israel that took place between the years 586BCE -70CE, over a period of 650+ years. During this time-period, there were three such tragic attacks (see below).
The Talmud tractate, Taanit, tells us (pp. 26a-26b) that five tragic, historic events befell our ancestors on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:
1. When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai on this very day (forty days after having received the 'Ten Commandments'), he saw a portion of the Jewish nation worshiping a golden calf. Outraged by this betrayal of G-d's Second Commandment, Moshe smashed the stone tablets he was carrying from G-d to give to his nation.
2. The tamid (perpetual daily) offering was ordered to be discontinued during a siege placed against the Temple by either the Romans, the Greeks or the Babylonians (the three attacks mentioned above). There's a disagreement in our tradition as to when exactly this cessation happened--during the destruction of the First Temple (the Babylonia attack), during a Greek invasion of Jerusalem app 420 years later, or during the Roman invasion of Jerusalem app 235 years after that. All do agree, however, that this cessation had occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz.
3. During the Roman conquest of Israel, in 70CE, the walls surrounding Jerusalem were breached on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. Three weeks later--on the fast day we call, the ninth of Av--the Romans destroyed Judaism's Second Temple.
4. During the period 168-162BCE, during a Greek invasion of Israel, a Greek general, Apostumos, committed an egregious act of public desecration by burning Judaism's most authoritative sefer Torah (Torah scroll), one used to check the accuracy of all Torah scrolls. This Torah scroll had been written by the prophet Ezra more than 400 years earlier. It was kept in the Second Temple's Courtyard and was considered to be especially precious to the Jewish people. A variant of this episode says that Apostumos didn't just burn this precious Torah scroll, but all Torah scrolls he could find, in an attempt to erase the Torah forever from the Jewish people and cause Torah to be forgotten (Taanit, ArtScroll, the Schottenstein Daf Yomi edition, 2010, p. 26b-1, notes 4-5),
5.The same vile Apostumos further desecrated the Jewish Holy Temple by placing an idol in the Temple. A variant says this idol was placed into the First Temple by the wicked Jewish king, Menashe (ibid, note 5).
These horrible tragedies happened because of our own actions. We had turned against G-d. We refused to follow Him.
For hundreds of years, we refused. G-d gave us multiple opportunities to repent, to return to the righteous path. But, always, we refused.
Repeatedly, we refused. As a consequence of this refusal, G-d had no choice but to punish us.
Today, because of that stubborn refusal, we must now mourn for the destruction we had brought upon ourselves. We must reflect upon what we must do to rebuild our Holy Temple: repentance.
Once, we refused. Today, we fast. Will our fasting and reflection help us change?