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Burning of the Holy Temple by Francesco Hayez

Despite Tisha B’Av’s religious appearance, it is not a religious day of atonement (this is what Yom Kippur is for), but rather a national memorial day, similar to Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron. The destruction of the Holy Temple in the year 70 A.D. was the peak of a process that brought the destruction of the land of Israel and Jerusalem and the loss of the last of our independence for the next nearly 2000 years.

Here is an eyewitness testimony of what happened on this day 1953 years ago in Jerusalem, by Yosef Ben Matityahu (a.k.a. Flavius Josephus): “As the Holy Temple was burning, (the soldiers) plundered everything they got their hands on and killed whomever they caught en masse. They took no pity on the elderly or the infants and showed no respect for respectable people, rather killing elders and children, priests and commoners alike. The war chased and surrounded all levels of society and overwhelmed everyone, regardless of whether they defended themselves or begged for their lives.”


He further wrote: “The noise of the flames spreading out over a great distance echoed in answer to the cries of distress of the fallen. Due to the height of the hill (the Temple Mount) and the vastness of the burning structure, it seemed as if the entire city was ablaze… The sounds of battle cries of the Roman legions were heard… The screams of the rebels were surrounded by fire and sword, and the shouts of the people left on top of the hill met their deaths at the hands of the enemy during their terrified flight. The shouts of the people who were still left on the hill were joined by the masses in the city; many who were weakened by hunger, lacking the strength to speak, found renewed vigor to lament and cry out upon seeing the Temple in flames… the flood of blood surpassed the flow of fire…”

This is not a description of a religious event but rather what happened to all our ancestors,  those of the supporters and opponents of the judicial reform alike. The process of our destruction did not end then; instead, it reached its peak almost eighty years ago, at the end of the other edge of the history of losing our independence. The Holocaust was able to happen first and foremost because we lacked a national home and were left at the mercy of any enemy who wanted to annihilate us out of their anger and frustrations.

The Jewish tradition found a biblical root for the days of destruction. It linked the seventeenth day of Tammuz with the Sin of the Golden Calf. It was a religious sin, idol worship: “…And (he) fashioned it into a molten calf. They said: This is your God, O Israel…”. In contrast, our sages connected Tisha B’Av with the Sin of the Spies. The leaders of the people were sent to gather intelligence on the land of Israel, and when they returned, they slandered it: “The Land through which we have passed, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants.”  In the recollections of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, it is recounted: “Our brothers have melted our hearts, saying, ‘A people greater and taller than we, the cities great and fortified up to the heavens, and even children of giants have we seen there!'” In the twelfth century, the Rambam (Maimonides) described the mental state of the generation that left Egypt in his book “Guide for the Perplexed”: “It is not natural for a person to engage in the work of a slave with mortar and bricks and the like and then suddenly wash his hands of them and do battle with the children of the giants.” Hence, a new fearless generation was required to rise in the desert, a generation that would eventually conquer Canaan.

The root of the terrible destruction is, therefore, found in what the author of Psalms called “the despise of the desirable land,” the attachment of some of our people (until today!) to exile, insisting on living in places plagued with anti-Semitism instead of returning home to Zion. The fear of national life, which is not just a spiritual life of learning but also requires dealing with the needs of the state and politics, wielding power, and development. The rejection of national life is also an escape from reconciliation between different groups in our nation, just like in a family; in exile, one can live in small, homogeneous communities.

The constant mourning over the destruction of the land on Tisha B’Av, year after year, promised hope for a better future. When the Zionist movement arose towards the end of the 19th century, there was no need to explain what the return to Zion meant. Throughout history, on this national day of mourning, we reminded ourselves, in all our places of exile, where we were deported from and where we dream of returning. In any event, it is worthwhile mourning the destruction of our people and our land (that happened twice!) once a year to remind the rebellious children not to repeat our mistakes. And in the building of Zion, we will find comfort.

{Reposted from IsraelHayom}

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