Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day of the year for the Jewish people. For nearly three and a half thousand years this day has brought endless pain and suffering. Despite this long history of hardships, learning how to overcome them has given the Jewish people insight on how to brighten up the world.
In 1312 B.C.E (2449 in the Jewish calendar), was the “Tragedy of the Spies.” The Jews just received the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai and were about to enter the land of Israel, biblically known as the land of Canaan. Before entering, the people requested spies to reassure them that the land was good. This request came despite a promise from God that they will settle and thrive in this land “flowing with milk and honey.”
12 spies were sent in, 10 came back with a negative report. The Jews accepted the slanderous report and wept. That day was Tisha B’Av. What was destined as the day the Jewish people would enter the promised land instead became the day they rejected it; thereby rejecting God. As punishment, not only did the Jews need to wander the desert for 40 years until that generation died out, but Tisha B’Av would forever be a day of calamities until the messianic age. As written in the Talmud (Ta’anis 28b) “You wept in vain, I will establish it for you as a time of weeping for all generations.” From this moment on, major tragedies have plagued the Jewish Nation on Tisha B’Av. The result has been generation after generation continuously weeping.
Now fast forward nearly 1000 years to 422 B.C.E (3338). The Jews have been living in Israel for nearly a millennium but due to their idolorous ways, lost divine protection paving the way for a Babylonian takeover of the land. Jerusalem went up in flames, all the houses were burned down but most importantly, the sacred Holy Temple was destroyed. The Jews were kicked out of Israel, displaced and remained in exile for 70 years. What day was this tragedy? Tisha B’Av.
The next great empire to emerge was the Persians who not only defeated the Babylonians, but allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Only 5-10% of the Jews took advantage of this opportunity to go back while the rest, comfortable in their new environment, stayed behind. This may seem puzzling but when presented the same opportunity after the State of Israel was established in 1948 C.E. (5708), again only 5-10% of the world Jewish population returned to their ancient homeland.
King Darius II, son of the Jewish Queen Esther who saved the Jews from mass slaughter at hands of the wicked Haman, allowed the second Temple to be rebuilt. Hundreds of years followed where Jews had access to Israel, their Temple and invaders like the mighty Greek Empire would be defeated. Rather than uniting in a time of triumph, internal conflicts broke out over leadership eventually turning into a civil war which the Jews turned to the Roman Empire to settle.
Jewish tradition holds that the second exile was caused by baseless hatred. While the Romans began taking over, the Jews were preoccupied with internal affairs and before they knew it, the Romans were at the gates of Jerusalem. Rather than coming together to fight against a Roman takeover, their hatred for one another took precedence. Eventually, this led to radicals burning the entire food supply, causing mass hunger and desperation. Jerusalem fell and on Tisha B’Av, 70 C.E. (3830), the Second Temple was destroyed. Since then, the Jewish people have remained in exile, still divided and in many ways, still don’t get along with one another.
Without a homeland, the Jews were powerless and defenceless. Anti-semitism is the world’s oldest prejudice dating back thousands of years. Historians have been able to trace some of the worst events in Jewish history on Tisha B’Av. Examples include in 135 C.E. (3895), the final revolt against the Romans was crushed; in 1096 C.E. (4856), the first crusades were launched killing tens of thousands of Jews; in 1290 C.E. (5050), all 3,000 Jews living in England were expelled; in 1492 C.E. (5252), all 200,000 Jews living in Spain were expelled; in 1914 C.E. (5674), WWI began which set the stage for WWII; in 1942 C.E. (5701), Nazis began deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka; in 1994 C.E. (5754), there was a bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires that killed 87 and injuring over 100 people. Yes, all of these terrible events happened on the same day of the year, Tisha B’Av.
Violence, discrimination, and hate crimes against the Jews has risen at a rapid rate within the last few years. Many view today’s anti-semitism as the worst since the Holocauast. Conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the start of the coronavirus have spread throughout the world. Israel is the most condemned country by the United Nations every year. Jews in America are the victims of over half of all religious based hate crimes. According to the FBI in 2018, when adjusted for population, Jews are 2.7x more likely to be a victim of a hate crime than African Americans and 2.2x more likely than Muslims. According to “Stand With Us,” 20% of German University Students reject Israel’s existence; there was a record number of anti-semitic incidents recorded in the Netherlands in 2019; anti-semitism in Italy increased by 70% and in France by 27% last year and overall attacks throughout the world have increased significantly.
Despite the growing threat of anti-semitism, the Jewish people’s biggest threat continues to be from within. When exiled by Rome, the Jews assimilated into the rest of society. Hellenized Jews uncircumcised themselves, others put national identity before their Jewish identity, and some converted or gave up religion entirely.
During the enlightenment, people’s perception of morality changed. Gladiator fights and burning people alive were no longer acceptable. Changing with the rest of society presented a golden opportunity for many Jews who thought this may be a chance to avoid discrimination. Some went as far as to change Shabbat services to Sunday to follow the church, while others rejected Torah obligations such as circumcision, keeping kosher and blowing the shofar.
This pattern of assimilation is still present today. Many Jews put their country before faith, and studies have shown that Jews are quicker to criticize Israel than non-Jews. The most alarming part of assimilation is the rise in the number of intermarriages. Pew Research did a study in 2013 which shows the intermarriage rates and predicts the amount of Jewish children born after a certain number of generations. It is proven, when a Jew is disconnected to their Torah roots, they are overwhelmingly more likely to give up marrying Jewish.
As Tisha B’Av arrives this year a question must be asked. What is significant about this holiday? The answer is no matter how much pain and suffering a Jew may feel on the saddest day of the year, they are always looked after. No matter where a Jew is they are never forgotten. That is why this day falls during the month of Av, which translates to father in Hebrew. Even during the toughest of times, every Jew is always being looked after by their father who is doing everything for his children’s benefit.
Jews have been weeping on Tisha B’Av for generations. If over three thousand years of terrible tragedies hasn’t destroyed the Jews spirits, nothing will. Rather than giving up, Jews learned how to find light from the darkest of places. Light is like hope; more powerful than fear and more contagious than a pandemic. This year has been very rough for so many, Jew and non-Jew alike. No matter how dark and scary the world may seem, a Jews knows how to find light and shine it with others. Learning how to overcome hardships have turned the Jews into the masters of hope. These lessons should be reasons to rejoice by brightening up the world. When a Jew shines, the world shines too.