The all day fast of the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, known as Tsom Shivah Asar B’Tammuz [July 9, 2020] is the start of a three-week mourning period for the two destructions of Jerusalem and its two Temples. The fast actually commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date:
1- Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf.
2- During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews stoped offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of sheep.
3- The Syrian King Antiochus placed an idol in the Holy Temple which stimulated a boycott of the Temple, and then a revolt lead by Judah Maccabee.
4- The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege. The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple on the 9th of Av.
5- Once the city wall was breached the Jewish leaders should have surrendered; which may have saved the Temple from destruction. This is especially true for the second destruction when the leaders knew how the first destruction ended.
Perhaps this double failure shows that the Holy One of Israel wanted to do away with the Jerusalem Temple so animals would stop being killed and offered to God. As Prophet Hosea states: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
And “Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them (Amos 5:22).
And “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? [NO!] God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what the LORD requires of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6, 8).
And even the psalmist states: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire—but my ears you have opened—burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.” (Psalms 40:6). And “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (Psalms 51:16)
The point the Hebrew Prophet are making is that religious rituals even when done at an especially holy place, in an especially holy city, are not a substitute for kind and merciful behavior. Oppressing poor people and foreign strangers, just as being uncharitable and violent, will contaminate numerous prayers and daily ritual piety as Prophet Isaiah states: “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; [for] your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:15)
These thoughts are not mine alone. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem, told a young Rabbi who lamented the loss of the Temple and its atoning animal sacrifices: “My son, do not be grieved. We have another atonement as effective as this (the Temple sacrifices). And what is it? Acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ [Hosea. 6:6] (Avot de Rabbi Nathan)