Tisha B’Av: Causes of Destruction, Seeds of Hope

Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, is not mentioned in the Torah. It is hinted at in Zechariah 8:19 (Source 1 and Qs). The Mishna tells that five disasters occurred on this date, including the destructions (churban) of the First and Second Temples (Source 2 and Qs).

The Rabbis, living in the centuries after churban Bayit Sheni (the destruction of the Second Temple), were preoccupied with the causes of these calamities. In one well-known source they tell us that the First Temple fell, in 586 BCE at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, because of the high rate of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed. The Jews of the Second Temple time behaved much better, they say, but nonetheless the Romans were still able to capture Jerusalem and destroy the Temple, in 70 CE, because of sinat chinam (causeless hatred) (Source 3 and Qs).

The Rabbis illustrate the sin of sinat chinam in the famous story about Kamza and Bar Kamza, who lived just before the Second Temple was destroyed. An innocent “secretarial” error initiated a series of events (a “scene” at a party, the uninvited guest expelled) which ultimately lead to the destruction of the Temple (Source 4 and Qs). While these explanations sound simplistic, historians confirm that disputes within the Jewish community inside the besieged Jerusalem, including violence and the destruction of property, were major factors in the city’s downfall.

This is not the only explanation the rabbis give for the destruction of the Second Temple. Rabbi Yochanan, an important Amora (Talmudic rabbi) in Eretz Yisrael in the early third century, makes a radical statement: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments there in accordance with the laws of the Torah,” suggesting that the destruction was not rooted in sin or serious behavioral lapses. His colleagues are shocked – what do you want, they ask, “that they should have judged like amateurs?” To which Rabbi Yochanan (or the Talmud itself, on his behalf) responds: “because they based their judgments [strictly] on the Torah law and did not go beyond the strict requirements of the law” (they didn’t take equitable [broader, non-legal] considerations into account) (Source 5 and Qs).

“Lo charva Yerushalayim ela bishvil…Jerusalem was destroyed only on account of…” The Talmud in Shabbat 119b gives a remarkable list of additional causes of the fall of Jerusalem, from eight rabbis spanning several centuries in both Eretz Yisrael and Bavel. The reasons are very diverse, reflecting the social reality and particular crisis that each rabbi felt in his time and place. They include the desecration of Shabbat; neglect of the recitation of Kriat Shma; deterioration of the school system; that people no longer felt shame for sinning; failure to pay respect to those of position or achievement; people failed to rebuke each other; scholars were treated with contempt; and, last but not least, the presence of people of integrity was no longer felt (Source 6 and Qs).

Two things should be noted. Firstly, the rabbis analyze the destruction of Jerusalem not only as a historical episode but as a paradigm, of the Jewish people as a whole and indeed of each subgroup and community, as applicable today as it was in 70 CE. We do not always have control over the circumstances and values in the greater society/world, but we should try to influence those within the Jewish community, as these can play a critical role in its ultimate strength or weakness. Alongside the importance of religious observance and education, these sources emphasize that the society must be based on respect, integrity and a willingness to compromise personal interest for the welfare of the community (Source 7 and Qs).

Secondly, amongst the many causes the rabbis found to explain the churbans, there is one they never mention – that perhaps the Babylonian or Roman armies were simply stronger than our forces. In the rabbinic view even these misfortunes were the work of the one and only God, and the Babylonians and Romans were, unwittingly of course, instruments of His purpose, an idea already expressed in Isaiah (ch 10) and Jeremiah (chs. 50-51). While on the surface it seems cruel, it contains within it the seeds of hope. If our deficiencies are a significant factor in our tsarot (problems), then hopefully their correction can improve our situation.

Thus the fast of Tisha B’Av moves from mourning to hope; the mood by mincha time is less bleak, and the liturgy reflects that. Zechariah’s prophecy (Source 1) that the days of fasting will become days of gladness includes Tisha B’Av as well, and it is commonly stated that the Messiah will be born on this date. The texts underlying this statement are a bit challenging, but they provide a basis for the optimism that has accompanied the Jewish people through many dark moments in its history (Source 8 and Qs). May Tisha B’Av be an inspiration for tikun, improvement, in the lives of all of us and the Jewish People as a whole.


(יט) כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֗וֹת צ֣וֹם הָרְבִיעִ֡י וְצ֣וֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי֩ וְצ֨וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֜י וְצ֣וֹם הָעֲשִׂירִ֗י יִהְיֶ֤ה לְבֵית־יְהוּדָה֙ לְשָׂשׂ֣וֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּֽלְמֹעֲדִ֖ים טוֹבִ֑ים וְהָאֱמֶ֥ת וְהַשָּׁל֖וֹם אֱהָֽבוּ׃ (פ)

(19) Thus said the LORD of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity.

Zechariah lived in the century following the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). Which two fasts in the Jewish calendar does he not mentioned (see Lev. 16:29 and Esther 4:16)? Why not?


(ו) חֲמִשָּׁה דְבָרִים אֵרְעוּ אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּשִׁבְעָה עָשָׂר בְּתַמּוּז וַחֲמִשָּׁה בְּתִשְׁעָה בְאָב. בְּשִׁבְעָה עָשָׂר בְּתַמּוּז נִשְׁתַּבְּרוּ הַלּוּחוֹת, וּבָטַל הַתָּמִיד, וְהֻבְקְעָה הָעִיר, וְשָׂרַף אַפּוֹסְטֹמוֹס אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, וְהֶעֱמִיד צֶלֶם בַּהֵיכָל. בְּתִשְׁעָה בְאָב נִגְזַר עַל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁלֹּא יִכָּנְסוּ לָאָרֶץ, וְחָרַב הַבַּיִת בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה וּבַשְּׁנִיָּה, וְנִלְכְּדָה בֵיתָר, וְנֶחְרְשָׁה הָעִיר. מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב, מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה:

(6) Five [calamitous] events happened to our ancestors on the 17th of Tamuz, and five on the 9th of Ab. On the 17th of Tamuz, the tables of the Holy Law were broken; on that day the continual sacrifice ceased, and the city of Jerusalem was stormed; on it Opostamos burned the Holy Law, and placed an idol in the Temple; on the 9th of Ab, it was decreed that our ancestors should not enter the Holy Land; on the same day the first and second Temples were destroyed the city of Bethar was taken, 12 and the site of [Jerusalem] was ploughed [like a field 13]. From the 1st of Ab a person is bound to lessen his participation in joyous occasions [till after the fast on the 9th].

How many of these events are from the Bible?

What were the Rabbis telling us by putting these events together on this date?


מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב מפני ג' דברים שהיו בו ע"ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים ע"ז דכתיב (ישעיהו כח, כ) כי קצר המצע מהשתרע
אבל מקדש שני שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות ע"ז גלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים

§ The Tosefta continues with a discussion of the sins of the Jewish people over the generations: Due to what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there were three matters that existed in the First Temple: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed. Idol worship, as it is written: “The bed is too short for stretching [mehistare’a], and the cover is too narrow for gathering” (Isaiah 28:20).
However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness, and that they did not perform the sinful acts that were performed in the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.

Do you note anything special about the sins mentioned in First Temple times? See TB Sanhedrin 74a - Rabbi Yonatan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon son of Yehozadak what they discussed and voted on in Nitza's attic, in Lod: "For all the transgressions in the Torah, if a person is told "transgress or be killed", he should transgress and not be killed, with the exception of idolatry, incest/adultery and bloodshed. Why are these sins considered so serious?

How does the text compare Jewish society in the First and Second Temple periods?

Do you think the punishment fits the crime? Equally in both cases?

How do you think the Talmud is explaining the cause of the Second Temple's destruction?


אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעל דבביה בר קמצא עבד סעודתא אמר ליה לשמעיה זיל אייתי לי קמצא אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא אמר ליה לא אמר ליה יהיבנא לך דמי פלגא דסעודתיך אמר ליה לא אמר ליה יהיבנא לך דמי כולה סעודתיך א"ל לא נקטיה בידיה ואוקמיה ואפקיה אמר הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מחו ביה ש"מ קא ניחא להו איזיל איכול בהו קורצא בי מלכא אזל אמר ליה לקיסר מרדו בך יהודאי א"ל מי יימר א"ל שדר להו קורבנא חזית אי מקרבין ליה אזל שדר בידיה עגלא תלתא בהדי דקאתי שדא ביה מומא בניב שפתים ואמרי לה בדוקין שבעין דוכתא דלדידן הוה מומא ולדידהו לאו מומא הוא סבור רבנן לקרוביה משום שלום מלכות אמר להו רבי זכריה בן אבקולס יאמרו בעלי מומין קריבין לגבי מזבח סבור למיקטליה דלא ליזיל ולימא אמר להו רבי זכריה יאמרו מטיל מום בקדשים יהרג אמר רבי יוחנן ענוותנותו של רבי זכריה בן אבקולס החריבה את ביתנו ושרפה את היכלנו והגליתנו מארצנו

The Gemara explains: Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. This is as there was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. He once made a large feast and said to his servant: Go bring me my friend Kamtza. The servant went and mistakenly brought him his enemy bar Kamtza. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza said to him: I will give you money for half of the feast; just do not send me away. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Bar Kamtza then said to him: I will give you money for the entire feast; just let me stay. The host said to him: No, you must leave. Finally, the host took bar Kamtza by his hand, stood him up, and took him out. After having been cast out from the feast, bar Kamtza said to himself: Since the Sages were sitting there and did not protest the actions of the host, although they saw how he humiliated me, learn from it that they were content with what he did. I will therefore go and inform [eikhul kurtza] against them to the king. He went and said to the emperor: The Jews have rebelled against you. The emperor said to him: Who says that this is the case? Bar Kamtza said to him: Go and test them; send them an offering to be brought in honor of the government, and see whether they will sacrifice it. The emperor went and sent with him a choice three-year-old calf. While bar Kamtza was coming with the calf to the Temple, he made a blemish on the calf’s upper lip. And some say he made the blemish on its eyelids, a place where according to us, i.e., halakha, it is a blemish, but according to them, gentile rules for their offerings, it is not a blemish. Therefore, when bar Kamtza brought the animal to the Temple, the priests would not sacrifice it on the altar since it was blemished, but they also could not explain this satisfactorily to the gentile authorities, who did not consider it to be blemished. The blemish notwithstanding, the Sages thought to sacrifice the animal as an offering due to the imperative to maintain peace with the government. Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas said to them: If the priests do that, people will say that blemished animals may be sacrificed as offerings on the altar. The Sages said: If we do not sacrifice it, then we must prevent bar Kamtza from reporting this to the emperor. The Sages thought to kill him so that he would not go and speak against them. Rabbi Zekharya said to them: If you kill him, people will say that one who makes a blemish on sacrificial animals is to be killed. As a result, they did nothing, bar Kamtza’s slander was accepted by the authorities, and consequently the war between the Jews and the Romans began. Rabbi Yoḥanan says: The excessive humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land.

Read the story carefully.

Who are the parties who contributed to the result?

What was the fault of each?

What was "the straw that broke the camel's back"?

Do the "behaviors" and social tensions in this story arise in modern contexts?


אשר יעשון זו לפנים משורת הדין דאמר ר' יוחנן לא חרבה ירושלים אלא על שדנו בה דין תורה אלא דיני דמגיזתא לדיינו אלא אימא שהעמידו דיניהם על דין תורה ולא עבדו לפנים משורת הדין:
It was taught in the baraita: “That they must perform”; that is referring to acting beyond the letter of the law, as Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Jerusalem was destroyed only for the fact that they adjudicated cases on the basis of Torah law in the city. The Gemara asks: Rather, what else should they have done? Should they rather have adjudicated cases on the basis of arbitrary decisions [demagizeta]? Rather, say: That they established their rulings on the basis of Torah law and did not go beyond the letter of the law.

What do you think it means "not to go beyond the strict requirements of the law"?

What is problematic about basing judgments strictly on the letter of the law?

Is this an attribute that can be applied to people as well as courts?

What are the positive and negative contributions of such people to the society (or family or organization)?


אמר אביי לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שחללו בה את השבת שנאמר ומשבתותי העלימו עיניהם ואחל בתוכם אמר

רבי אבהו לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביטלו קריאת שמע שחרית וערבית שנאמר הוי משכימי בבקר שכר ירדפו וגו׳ וכתיב והיה כנור ונבל תוף וחליל ויין משתיהם ואת פועל ה׳ לא יביטו וכתיב לכן גלה עמי מבלי דעת

אמר רב המנונא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביטלו בה תינוקות של בית רבן שנאמר שפוך על עולל בחוץ וגו׳ מה טעם שפוך משום דעולל בחוץ

אמר עולא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא מפני שלא היה להם בושת פנים זה מזה שנאמר הובישו כי תועבה עשו גם בוש לא יבושו וגו׳

אמר רבי יצחק לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שהושוו קטן וגדול שנאמר והיה כעם ככהן וכתיב בתריה הבוק תבוק הארץ

אמר רב עמרם בריה דרבי שמעון בר אבא אמר רבי שמעון בר אבא אמר רבי חנינא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שלא הוכיחו זה את זה שנאמר היו שריה כאילים לא מצאו מרעה מה איל זה ראשו של זה בצד זנבו של זה אף ישראל שבאותו הדור כבשו פניהם בקרקע ולא הוכיחו זה את זה

אמר רבי יהודה לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביזו בה תלמידי חכמים שנאמר ויהיו מלעיבים במלאכי האלהים ובוזים דבריו ומתעתעים בנביאיו עד עלות חמת ה׳ בעמו עד [ל]אין מרפא

ואמר רבא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שפסקו ממנה אנשי אמנה שנאמר שוטטו בחוצות ירושלים וראו נא [ודעו ובקשו ברחובותיה אם תמצאו איש] (אם יש איש) עושה משפט מבקש אמונה ואסלח לה

Abaye said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people desecrated the Shabbat in it, as it is stated: “And from My Shabbatot they averted their eyes, and I was profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:26). Several punishments were decreed to befall Jerusalem as punishment for this transgression. The Gemara suggests additional reasons for the destruction of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Abbahu said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because its citizens intentionally omitted recitation of Shema morning and evening, as it is stated: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning and pursue the drink and are aflame from wine until late in the evening” (Isaiah 5:11). And it is written in the continuation of that passage: “And their drinking parties have lyre and lute, drum and flute and wine, and they do not look upon the actions of God, and they do not see His hands’ creations” (Isaiah 5:12). This means that in the morning and evening, when the Jews should have been reciting Shema, they were drinking wine and liquor. And it is written in that passage: “Therefore My nation is being exiled for its ignorance; its honor will die of hunger and its multitudes will be parched with thirst” (Isaiah 5:13).

Rav Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because schoolchildren there were interrupted from studying Torah, as it is stated: “And I am filled with the wrath of God, I cannot contain it, pour it onto the infants in the street and onto the gathering of youths together, for men and women alike will be captured, the elderly along with those of advanced years” (Jeremiah 6:11). Rav Hamnuna explains: What is the reason that the wrath is poured? It is because infants are outside in the streets and are not studying Torah.

Ulla said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people had no shame before each other, as it is stated: “They acted shamefully; they have performed abominations, yet they neither were ashamed nor did they know humiliation. Therefore, they will fall among the fallen, they will fail at the time that I punish them, said God” (Jeremiah 6:15).

Rabbi Yitzḥak said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because its small and the great citizens were equated. They did not properly value the prominent leaders of their generation, as it is stated: “And the common people were like the priest, the slave like his master, the maidservant like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the one indebted to him” (Isaiah 24:2). And it is written afterward: “The land shall be utterly desolate and completely plundered, for God has said this” (Isaiah 24:3).

Rav Amram, son of Rabbi Shimon bar Abba, said that Rabbi Shimon bar Abba said that Rabbi Ḥanina said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the people did not rebuke one another, as it is stated: “Her ministers were like stags that found no pasture, and they walked without strength before their pursuer” (Lamentations 1:6). Just as this stag turns its head toward the other’s tail when it grazes, and each one feeds on its own, so too, the Jewish people in that generation lowered their faces to the ground and did not rebuke one another.

Rabbi Yehuda said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they disparaged the Torah scholars in it, as it is stated: “And they mocked the messengers of God and disdained His words and taunted His prophets, until the wrath of God arose against His people, until it could not be healed” (II Chronicles 36:16).

And Rava said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because there were no more trustworthy people there, as it is stated: “Roam about the streets of Jerusalem and see, and search its plazas, if you can find a person, who acts justly, who seeks integrity, that I should forgive it” (Jeremiah 5:1).

What do you think about this list?

Do you think the rabbis intended this literally?

What do you think Raba means, in the last explanation?

To what period of time were they directing their words?


Would you say that your community/Jewish society today has sins/faults which threaten its existence? If so, what are they?


The Midrash in Jerusalem Talmud Brachot 2:4 tells a strange story of an Arab who explains to a Jew that the shrieking of the Jew's ox was a sign that the Temple was destroyed and that its second shrieking is a sign that the Messiah, named Menachem, 4 was born, in the area of Bethlehem. The Jew sold the ox and bought cloths to sell as diapers, in an attempt to find the mother and child. He went from town to town selling his wares till he encountered a mother who would not buy for her baby because "he was born on day the Temple was destroyed," which she takes as a curse. The seller convinces her to buy, even though she has no money, saying that "on the date it was destroyed the Temple will be rebuilt." He offers to come by to collect at a later date. When he returns and asks about the child, she says that the day they spoke previously a "stormy wind" occurred and swept the baby away and she has not seen him since. The Midrash continues, with a Rabbi Bon rejecting that story as proof, "when we have explicit verses," and quotes two adjacent phrases from Isaiah: "and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one" (10:34, referring to the Temple) and "And a shoot shall come forth from the stock of Jesse" (11:1, referring to the Messiah).

How do you like/explain each of the ways the idea is presented that the birth of the Messiah is tied to the Churban?

The sequence of events is the same in each case. What comes first? When does the second event happen in each - past or future? Is it significant?