Why is Tisha B'Av the Saddest Day of the Year?
Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the communal day of mourning in the Jewish calendar. While it’s most commonly remembered as the day of destruction for the Temples in Jerusalem, the Mishnah in Taanit tells us there were actually a total of five tragic events that occurred on the ninth of Av.
Dr. Joshua Kulp, in Mishnah Yomit, explains the events referred to in the Mishnah.
How Do We Mourn?
The Rabbis of the Talmud discuss Tisha B'Av mourning practices. Most of the customs are the same as those for someone mourning for a relative. The source below presents the prohibitions, which include not studying any Torah. The discussion of this restriction is especially interesting; the rabbis assume that Torah brings joy, and so it's too much fun to be a Tisha B'Av activity.
One of the ways to commemorate Tisha B'Av is to read the book of Lamentations (Eicha). Eicha describes the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. You can read the book of Eicha, along with seven commentaries, on Sefaria.
Another way to mourn is to recite kinnot or poems lamenting the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and other tragedies, recited on the fast of Tisha B’av.
Why were the First and Second Temples destroyed?
A tremendous national tragedy leads us to ask the question: Why did this happen to us?
The discussion in Yoma seeks to find reasons for the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple, at the hands of the Romans, in 70 CE.
Kamtza and Bar Kamtza - A story of baseless hatred
The classic story explaining the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple continues to be relevant today. How do we treat each other? How do we talk to each other? How can we promote unity among the entire Jewish community?
The story, which took place over 2,000 years ago among men whose identity is only speculated about but not certain, is relatable to modern readers. An awkward social situation which leads to embarrassment and stubbornness is timeless.
What began as a misunderstanding, grew into terrible hatred. On an individual level, the host didn’t consider Bar Kamtza’s embarrassment above his own personal hatred. This was followed by the Sages, who publicly sanctioned the hatred by watching the incident without rebuke. Bar Kamtza’s humiliation, which could have been prevented, led him to betray the Jewish community to the Romans.
The second half of the story illustrates another type of decision which led to the destruction. The priest’s choice to be stringent regarding the rules of sacrifice came at the expense of the community. The story teaches that treating all people with respect and focusing on the needs of the community must be hallmarks of Judaism.
Beyond the destruction of the Temple
How do we express our grief while moving forward with our lives? This Talmudic text presents a balance that allowed the Jewish people to continue after the Temple was destroyed and provides a model that can also be emulated when we are faced with personal loss.
This poignant Talmudic story illustrates how difficult it was for the Jews at this time to end their mourning of the destruction of the Temple, and, actually, Judaism as they knew it. How could they eat meat or drink wine as if nothing had happened? Rabbi Joshua, who treats them with compassion and love as he calls them “my children”, says that while it’s impossible to stop mourning altogether, it’s also dangerous to mourn too much. He presents a new paradigm. Continue living your life, but keep little reminders of the loss. This, in fact, is what we do - even today.
For additional ideas about Tisha B'av, browse over 50 source sheets in the Sefaria library.
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