A Brief History
On July 18, 1290, King Edward I of England, also known as “Edward Longshanks” or alternatively “The Hammer of the Scots,” issued the Edict of Expulsion, a royal decree ordering all Jews out of England. At the time, about 16,000 Jews resided in not so Merry Old England. Along with so many other pogroms, massacres, and forcible expulsions, Jewish people have had such a history of discrimination and exclusion that they have their own day of fasting and remembrance of various calamities and disasters, called Tisha B’Av, known as the “saddest day on the Jewish calendar.”
Tisha B’Av is best known for coinciding with the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (by the Babylonians in 587 BC) and when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed yet again (by the Romans in 70 AD). Other Jewish disasters “celebrated” (remembered and lamented) include the murder of the Ten Martyrs, rabbis killed by the Romans during the reign of Hadrian (117-138 AD), the Holocaust, and other historic atrocities against Jews. The incredible number of tragedies occurring on Tisha B’Av include expulsions from England, France, and Spain, a massacre of Jews in France during the Crusades (1096), the entry of Germany into World War I, the approval of the “Final Solution” by Heinrich Himmler in 1941, and the transfer of thousands of Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp in 1942 among others. Other Jewish tragedies and calamities not having occurred on Tisha B’Av may be remembered as well. One particularly bad day that happened on Tisha B’Av was a Roman massacre near Betar, Judea of over 500,000 Jews in 135 AD when the Romans put down the Jewish Bar Kokhba’s revolt.
Tisha B’Av is celebrated by the reading of the Book of Lamentations and a 25 hour fasting period. The day, which falls in either July or August from year to year in the Western (Gregorian) calendar, is considered a day particularly designed by God for terrible things. The 3 week period preceding Tisha B’Av is known as The Three Weeks, and the 9 days immediately prior to Tisha B’Av are known as The Nine Days. (Not particularly original naming!) Among other customs and practices regarding Tisha B’Av are the 5 prohibitions that include
No eating or drinking;
No washing or bathing;
No application of creams or oils;
No wearing of (leather) shoes;
No marital (sexual) relations.
Jews are expected to avoid work if possible, and various other solemn readings and rites may take place. Jews show their devotion to God during Tisha B’Av by not using a pillow to sleep with, or at least using one fewer pillow than normally used. Lamentations and tragic passages from the Torah and Talmud are read at the Synagogue, all of a mournful nature.
Today, Tisha B’Av is celebrated inconsistently among Jews, with only about 22% Jewish Israelis following the fast and about 52% of Jewish Israelis avoiding recreational activities on the day of mourning. Some Israeli Jews even label laws restricting business or other activities on Tisha B’Av as religious coercion, much like many Americans chafed under the “Blue Laws” in the United States when Sunday’s had many limitations on business and other activities (such as hunting, liquor sales and the like).
Jewish people have a stunning number of tragic experiences to remember and lament, a testament to the tendency of human beings to strike out against other human beings that believe different things, worship differently, look or dress differently, or speak differently. While many other minorities around the world have been discriminated against, it is hard to think of any group that has suffered more discrimination than Jews. What do you think?
Question for students (and subscribers): What day of the year do you consider the saddest day of the year? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Kaplan, Aryeh. The Story of Tisha B’Av. Moznaim Pub Corp, 1981.
Pinson, Dovber. The Months of Tamuz and AV: Embracing Brokenness – 17th of Tamuz, Tisha B’Av, & Tu B’Av. Iyyun Publishing, 2018.
Schacter, Jacob. Lord Is Righteous in All His Ways: Reflections on the Tish’ah be-Av Kinnot. KTAV Publishing House, 2006.
The featured image in this article, a map by ecelan (talk) of the expulsions of Jews from European territories between 1100 and 1600, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.