Ashurah b’Av as a day of not mourning

Rabbi Zev Farber asks; when the First Temple was destroyed either on the 10th of Av (Jeremiah 52:12) or the 7th of Av (2 Kings 25:8), and the Second Temple, according to Josephus, was also destroyed on the 10th of Av; how did Rabbinic Jews come to commemorate the destruction of both Temples on the 9th of Av? A very good question indeed.

Since the author of 2 Kings is a religious historian and Prophet Jeremiah is the author of his own book. (52:12) the tenth of Av date is more reliable. Insight into the tenth day of Av may come from Islamic traditional narrations (Hadith).

A well known Hadith says:”Prophets are paternal brothers (sons of one father by different co-wives). Their mothers (mother tongue, motherland. and religious community-Umma comes from Um-mother) are different; but their religion (from the one God) is one.” (Bukhari Vol. 4: Book 55 #651 and Muslim Book 30: #5834-6).

A good example of this is the close connections between some Qur’an and Hadith statements; and similar Torah and Rabbinic statements.

“When Prophet Muhammad arrived in Madina in 622 CE, he found the Jews (yahûd) there fasted on Ashura (what we Muslims count as) the 10th of Muharram, and so he asked them the reason for their fasting on this day. They said: “This is a blessed day. On this day Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy (Egypt) and so Prophet Musa fasted on this day giving thanks to Allah.”

“Prophet Muhammad said (comparing his own exodus from years of persecution in Makka to the Jewish exodus from oppression in Egypt): ‘We are closer (time-wise) to Musa than you are.” Thus, he fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on this day.’” (Bukhâri)

Evangelical Missionary Islamophobes often claim that since Jews do not fast on Passover, the Jewish holy day that celebrates the exodus from Egypt, this hadith is evidence that Prophet Muhammad cannot be a true Prophet. This claim is absurd.

The Torah states very clearly that in celebrating this blessed day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy in Egypt, the whole Jewish nation should for seven days refrain from eating any yeast filled baked grain.

The only permitted grains must be unleavened: “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day (of Passover) you are to remove the yeast from your houses. Whoever eats anything leavened from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from (the People of) Israel.” (Exodus 12:15)

Since the fast of Yom Kippur is a total fast like Ramadan, Jews do not usually call Passover’s seven day anti-leavened restriction a fast, but Catholic and Orthodox Churches still refer to any religious dietary restriction such as meatless Good Friday, as a fast. Medina’s Jews seem to have done this also.

While the rules of Ramadan and Yom Kippur fasting in Islam and Judaism are very similar; the theme of Yom Kippur and Ashura are very similar. The Prophet said: “For fasting the day of ‘Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for (sins committed in) the past year.” (Muslim, 1976)

The Torah tells Jews (Leviticus 23:27) that on the 10th day of the month of Tishri: “You should do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. Indeed, any person who does not practice self-denial (fasting) throughout that day shall be cut off from his people…” In addition to the self-denial alluded to above, we are also told in Leviticus that on this day the High Priest would perform sacred rites in the Holy Temple in order to achieve expiation of the people’s sins.

In rabbinic literature, Yom Kippur is the culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance following Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. To the rabbis, this period marked the beginning of a spiritual trial for the souls of Israel. The 10 days of repentance could then be seen as a time for self-examination, and Yom Kippur marked the climax; when God, the true judge, would decide the fate of all of Israel as individuals and as a community, and hopefully inscribe them into the Book of Life.

The rabbis follow through on the biblical theme of self-denial in their discussions of the daily pleasures from which one must abstain on Yom Kippur. Among them are eating, drinking, bathing and anointing oneself, wearing leather-soled shoes (at the time the most comfortable option), and abstaining from sexual relations.

Since no Reform Rabbi who observes the ninth of Av prays for the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s Temple, and since I believe that “Prophets are paternal brothers (sons of one father by co-wives). Their mothers (mother tongue, motherland. and their own religious community, Umma comes from Um-mother) are different; but their religion (from the one and only God) is one”; I believe we should always try to harmonize scriptural statements; rather than try to contradict them.

That is what the rabbis did when they decided between the seventh and the tenth of Av; to observe the ninth of Av as a compromise; because “…hardhearted people fall into evil.” (Proverbs 28:14) and this is why: “The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way.

A certain man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. “When the man [who gave the party] found him [Bar Kamza] there he said, See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out.

Said [Bar Kamza]: Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink. He said, I won’t. Then let me give you half the cost of the party. No, said the other. Then let me pay for the whole party. He still said, No, and he took [Bar Kamza] by the hand and draged him outside.

[Bar Kamza thought] Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the Roman Government. He went and said [to the Emperor’s governor], the Jews are rebelling against you. [The Emperor’s governor] said, How can I tell? [Bar Kamza] said to him: Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on their Holy Temple altar].

So [the Emperor’s governor] sent with him an unblemished calf. On the way [Bar Kamza] made a blemish on its upper lip, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they [the Romans] do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Roman Government.

Said Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.

The rabbis then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?”

When the calf [of the Emperor’s governor] was not offered it was taken as an act of public insult and rebellion and [the Emperor’s governor] then sent against them [general] Vespasian who came and besieged Jerusalem for three years.

Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai thereupon remarked: Through the [self-righteousness, hardhearted, strict] scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas our Homeland has been destroyed, our Temple burnt-down, and we ourselves were exiled from our homeland.” (Talmud Gittin 55b-56a)

Why does Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai not blame the whole disaster on Bar Kamza and his anger at the rabbis who were there? Did Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai think Bar Kamza was right to think: “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him.”

Were most rabbis silent when this man was publicly shamed because they were always apprehensive about being too softhearted and un-judgmental, when other people were shamed in public by self-righteousness, hardhearted, critics?

Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkulas is a forerunner of our generation of super strict politically powerful Haredim Rabbis who frequently shame agunot, gays, Reform Jews, plus potential and actual converts in public; without being denounced by the majority of other rabbis who do not try to stop them; which shows that they agreed with them; “for hardhearted people fall into evil.”

And this is why Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught: Better a man should throw himself into a fiery furnace, than publicly put his neighbor to shame. (Gitten 59a)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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