The Historical Meaning of Tish'a B'av (9 Av)

The following was given as a shiur of a given on 9 Av 5763, Aug 7th 2003

Introduction

For those of you who haven't been following this blog, I'll give you a quick recap. A week ago, someone asked me what happened on 9 Av. My first resposne was quoting M. Ta'anit 4:6. She then asked what else happened on 9 Av, meaning event that happened later in Jewish history - the Spanish Expiulsion and World War I (WWI) in particular. Not being confident to answer either way at that time, I started doing research.

Ohr Torah has a thorough chart of these events. For reasons which will be explained later, I will divide these events into three categories:

  • Hazal - M. Ta'anit 4:6
    1. Decree that the dor ha-midbar wouldn't enter Eretz Yisrael
    2. Hurban I
    3. Hurban II
    4. Beitar destroyed
    5. Yerushalayim destroyed

  • Post-Hazal, Pre-1792
    1. First Crusade
    2. English Expulsion
    3. Spanish Expulsion

  • Post-1792
    1. Start of World War I (WWI)
    2. Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto
    3. Iraq Walks out of Talks with Kuwait
    4. AMIA Bombing in Argentina

Hazal

M. Taanit 4:6 lists the more "traditional" events for which we mourn on 9 Av. The Gemara (bTan 29a) attempts to prove the accuracy of the Mishna's statement through available canonical material. Although there is no specific date given for narrative of the spies, the gemara uses the verses to count from the days which are given, and come up with 8 Av. Rabba citing R. Yonahan explains that the spies came back on the 8th, and the events actually happened on the 9th.

There are two verses in the Navi which give dates for the first hurban. II Melakhim 25:8 (can't find Hebrew searchable on-line nach) has the first hurban happening on the 7th day of the 5th month(5th month being Av, Nissan being the first). Yirmiyahu 52:12 says the hurban happened on the 10th of the month. So, not only are these dates not consistent, but neither one matches 9 Av. The Gemara explains that the Temple was breached on the 7th, started burning on the end of the 9th, with the majority of the destruction occuring on the 10th. Although R. Yohanan would have had the mourning on the 10th, the Rabbis legislated that we mourn at the beginning of the destruction - 9 Av.

There are no biblical sources for the remaining three events, and hazal do not even ask the question minalan - from where do we know this - for the final event. For the second hurban the Gemara simple states that we "roll over" positive events to positive days and negative events to negative days and for Beitar the Gemara simply says that it's a "gemara" or tradition.

Post-Hazal, Pre 1752

After the time of Hazal, we have a more accessible calendar which makes it easier to determine what happened when. An excellent program for converting Hebrew and English calendars is Hebcal. However, this program does not take into account the switch from the Gregorian to Julian system and will return the following message:

WARNING: Results for year 1752 C.E. and before may not be accurate. Hebcal does not take into account a correction of ten days that was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII known as the Gregorian Reformation.

Despite Hebcal's limitations, it is possible to do the calculation manually by following the Papal Bull of February 1582.

Date Range Divided By 400 Difference of Days
1900 4.75 -13
1800 4.5 -12
1700 4.25 -11
1600 4 -10
1500 3.75 -10
1400 3.5 -9
1300 3.25 -8
1200 3 -8
1100 2.75 -7
1000 2.5 -6

Of course, following this pattern tapers off towards the end.

There is another excelent downloadable program called Kaluach which does compute the Hebrew dates for the Julian calendar, but I cannot confirm how accurate it is.

Despite the complication in the calendar systems, some events are obviously way off. Pope Urban II issued his proclamation starting the first Crusade on November 27th 1095 - a few months after 9 Av.

The Jews were expelled from England on July 18th 1290. Hebcal returns 2 Av 5050, but Kaluach does indeed give us 9 Av. (I don't see an on-line interface to provide a link, but you can download the program and run the tests yourself.

The edict expelling the Jews from Spain was signed on March 30th 1492 set to take effect on July 30th. Kaluach returns 2 Nissan 5252 for March 30th and 6 Av for July 30th. If we rely on Kaluach for the English Expulsion, we cannot accept that the Spanish Expulsion also took place on 9 Av.

Post-1752

The start of WWI easily falls within Hebcal's range. The question is which date should we use? Archduke Ferdinand was assasinated on June, 28th 1914. This translates to 4 Tammuz 5674.

The first formal declaration of war came on July 28th when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Hebcal returns 5 Av.

Russia mobilizes against Austria and on July 31 (8 Av), Germany gives Russia an ultimatum to either disarm or face war. Due to Russia's refusal, Germany formally declared war on Russia on Aug 1st. This was in fact 9 Av. The fighting began on Aug 2nd when
Germany invaded Luxembourg, and Britain joined in on Aug 4th (this blogger's B-Day) when Germany invaded Belgium.

So the first declaration of war came on June 28th and fighting actually began on Aug 2nd. Neither one of which is 9 Av.

The liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto began on July 22nd 1942 (Also see the timelines of The Raoul Wallenberg Museum, Bronx School of Science. Yad Vashem only says the deportations started sometime in July with no specific date.)

However July 22nd 1942 returns 8 Av 5702 - unless they started after sunset.

The uprising began on April 19th 1943 (14 Nissan 5703) and ended on May 16th (11 Iyyar). The Warsaw Ghetto was ultimately destroyed on June 3rd 1943 or 29 Iyyar.

I haven't been able to confirm the date of the Iraq / Kuwait talks. War was actually declared on August 2, 1990, or 11 Av 5750.

The AMIA bombing took place on July 18th 1994 or 10 Av 5754.

What does this all mean?

Overall, we hardly have a convincing set of 9 Av events. But why does any of this matter? What's the big deal? So it's off by a day or two - who cares?

Since I've started this project, I've gotten these and numerous related questions. So why am I making such a big deal about this?

Historical Accuracy
First, I think there is merit simply in getting history straight, especically that which is easily verifiable. Deut. 32:7 tells us to remember the days of the world. Lev. 19:11 prohibits lying and Ex. 23:7 commands to "stay far away" from falsehood. Some might argue that all history is didactic - the lessons of history are more important than the facts themselves. However, if a lesson is predicated on innacurate data, the lesson is lost when the truth is discovered.

Or as quoted to me in the name of Jacob Neusner, "You can't make good theology from bad facts."

Cheapening 9 Av and the Events
Again assuming that history is merely didactic and meant to teach lessons as opposed to facts we must also consider the unintended consequences. Presumeably, the reason why we would try to fit other events into 9 Av is to give more significance to 9 Av - it demonstrates the auspiciousness of 9 Av throughout Jewish History. However, the very need to add more significance to 9 Av implies that there isn't enough significance on its own. 9 Av is somehow lacking, and we need to make it more meaningful. Furthermore, the events themselves become more meaningful because the happened on 9 Av - again implying that these events aren't intrinsicly important, but need the added bonus of occuring on 9 Av. And what of the other tragedies that didn't happen on 9 Av? Are they somehow less important?

This is not to say that we should not connect the tragedies of Jewish History to 9 Av. On the contrary, we are so far removed from the Hurban that we would need some tragedy in our own lives to begin to grasp what it's like. Those in the European shtetl during the Crusades and Holocaust knew destruction. They experienced and internalized descruction. For them, remembering the Hurban is something real.

Distorting history for a derasha is a gimmick which cheapens both the day and the events.

Differences Between Hazal and Us
Although it might seem that in the modern era we've done nothing different than the rabbis of the Mishna, I think that there are some important distinctions to be made. The Mishna was written in the shadow of the Hurban, painfully aware of its consequences. The examples given are not random tragedies; they all relate to losing Eretz Yisrael. The Mishna was not written in a vacuum, but was speaking to the Jews of its time. I think the Gemara understood this in its analyisis. The Gemara starts by meticulously calculating the date of the Spies and ends not even asking the about the date Yerushalayim was destroyed. They could have had a tradtion, being close enough to the events, that they didn't need to justify the dates. They were common knowledge. Or perhaps they realized that ultimately, the dates are not important.

The Forgotten Message of 9 Av
This religious revisionism is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a larger pattern in Judaism - the worshipping of symbols. We know that the 9 Av is a terrible day initially because of the hurban. But over time, 9 Av takes on a life of its own as a day of tragedy for the Jewish people. We get sidetracked from the meaning of the hurban and instead take a fatalistic approach to the day - that it is a day of tragedy. 9 Av is inherently infamous, and the hurban is relegated to just another event which happened.

Another example of this phenomenon is how we treat the halakhot of the three weeks / 9 days. According to the Gemara (bTan 29b - 30a) the only prohibitions during this time are against laundry and haircutting and these only apply for the week preceeding 9 Av. However, various customs have arisen including prohibiting eating meat and listening to music. These extra prohibitions presumably help us feel the loss of the Temple.

Assuming we follow the tradition that the temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam - baseless hatred - then how does not eating meat or listening to music help? Most people I've asked admitted that they would think less of someone who violated these customs of mourning. Ironically these customs which were created to help feel the hurban engender the feelings which destroyed it in the first place. The ultimate meaning of the Hurban gets lost in the symbols we've created.

Conclusion

In the Haftara we read the shabbat before 9 Av, Yeshayahu Ha-Navi chastizes Israel for essentially missing the point of their religion. Benei Yisrael were giving the sacrifices and performing all the r
ituals, but they were morally corrupt. Like we do today, Israel subsituded external rituals for internal commitment.

It's easy to accept prohibitions and to have it look like we're doing it for God. It's much harder look within ourselves and try to change and improve ourselves - as individuals and as a community - to undo the hurban for which we are mourning.

Posted in Jewish History, Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava. Tagged with , .
  • Bob

    This is an excellent post, I assume that people began connecting the crusades and the like with Tisha b'Av because we say Kinnot that relate to them. They assumed incorrectly that the reason for doing so was due a historic connection. In reality, it was because, as you point out, the meaning behind all tragidies can probably be traced to the ones that befell us in ancient times, sinat chinam etc. We have not correct those, therefore no temple and therefore a continuation of tragic events.

  • William

    Rabbi, thank you for helping me to better understand the reality and the "legend" of 9 Av through your research. As a gentile Christian who worked for Jewish businessmen in Baltimore MD in the 50's and 60's it is amazing to me how little that I learned from them, especially about their spiritual lives, even though I remember expressing my strong interest to them.
    You statement intrigued me, "We know that the 9 Av is a terrible day initially because of the hurban. But over time, 9 Av takes on a life of its own as a day of tragedy for the Jewish people." Is it possible that is just what G-D intended. Another day of remembering of how much the Chosen People have suffered, and G-D forbid, may still yet suffer in the future. Psalm 122:6

  • Victor

    To answer your comments about WHY the dates are not exact it could be a few reasons,
    1.It could be that the 9th of Av,that occurred in the middle east has a time difference (compared to europe) so that could be the explaination of why its not exact.
    2.Also we dont know when the evil leaders decided to attack , as that point would be totally unknown to anyone today.
    3.Maybe our calenders are off,as we know that the Jewish "new moon" could be 2 days as we would not be sure of the exact time.
    Victor

  • blp

    9th of Av 2005 - Gaza pullout begins.

  • Charlie Hall

    The shooting started a little earlier in World War I:
    "The day after Serbia received Austria-Hungary's declaration of war, 29 July, the capital Belgrade was placed under bombardment."
    http://www.firstworldwar.com/origins/julycrisis.htm

  • Your friend

    Mate, numbers are MEANINGLESS without knowing the incertanity. I don't know how many times my teacher has told me this.

  • Boruch

    In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain. King Ferdinand decreed that by the end of July, Spain should be Judenrein. They were then given two days extra, until the second of August, the 9th of Av.

  • http://solanum.blogspot.com/ Dovid S.

    Hi Josh,
    I enjoyed your post a while back and just came across this site, the homepage of the book Calendrical Calculations, which has a great calendar applet that lets you check dates across more than a handful of calendars. Just be sure to read the Warnings section first.

  • orenhayon

    Outstanding post. Well done.