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17th of Tammuz - July 9th -The three weeks begin

8 July, 20098 July, 2009 1 comments Jewish Holidays Jewish Holidays

Author : Rabbi David Ebstein


17th of Tammuz


July 9th, 2009 marks the Hebrew date, the 17th of Tammuz, the date on which the Romans breached the walls surrounding Jerusalem (Mishnah Ta'anit 4:6). Three weeks later on the 9th of Av, they destroyed the 2nd Temple.


In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, 39:2 we learn that "in the eleventh year of (King) Zedekiah, on the ninth day of the fourth month, the [walls of the] city were breached." This means that before the destruction of the 1st temple built by King Solomon, the walls were breached on the 9th of Tammuz, and not the 17th. Despite this minor discrepancy, both events are commemorated on the same date, as are the destructions of the first and second temple which both took place on the 9th of Av-Tisha B'av.


The mishnah (edited by Rabbi Judah the  Prince, 210 AD) teaches us that there are other calamities connected to the 17th of Tammuz: the burning of the Torah and the erection of an idol in the Temple by Apostomos during the period preceding the Maccabean revolt; the cessation of the daily sacrifices (korban tamid) during the Roman siege of Jerusalem; and the breaking of the tablets by Moses. The rabbis connected the Torah reading for the 17th of Tammuz to the breaking of the tablets, by having us read verses from Exodus, 34:4-10 that remind us that Moses carved the tablets of stone for a second time. This special reading provides us with an element of comfort as we remember the destruction of the first set of tablets.


If you are in Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz you may not notice any change in the life of the city and its inhabitants. The fast of the 17th in Tammuz does not preclude work or travel, although it is observed by a fast from sunup to sundown. The day is punctuated by regular morning and afternoon services that contain special references to the fast day both in the liturgy and biblical readings.


Rabbi Isaac Klein (may his memory be for a blessing) reminds us that "the days between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are considered days of mourning, for they witnessed the collapse of besieged Jerusalem, beginning with the breaching of the walls on the seventeenth of Tammuz, and culminating with the burning of the Temple on the ninth of Av. Since exactly three weeks passed between these two events, the period is known as the "three weeks." In rabbinic literature is is known as bein hametzarim, between the straits, derived from a verse in Lamentations 1:3, which was interpreted as referring to the days between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av.


During this 3 week period, observant Jews refrain from joyous celebrations like weddings, and on the Sabbath, read special prophetic portions that emphasize the somber mood. The mood as reflected in various customs becomes even more somber from the 1st of Av (the month following Tammuz) to the 9th of Av. Many Jews do not eat meat or wine, refrain from swimming, and do not have their haircut. All of this leads up to the 9th of Av which is a full fast day, beginning at sundown and ending at sundown the next day.


•1)      As a rabbi and a tour guide, I find myself teaching about this holiday, the ninth of Av, quite often, especially as I lead groups through the southern and western excavations. I frequently teach them the following Talmudic passage:


Our rabbis have taught: When the First Temple was about to be destroyed, bands upon bands of young priests with the keys of the Temple in their hands assembled and mounted the roof of the Temple and exclaimed, "master of the Universe, as we did not have the merit to be faithful treasurers, these keys are handed back into Your keeping." They threw the keys up towards heaven. And there emerged something that looked like the palm of a hand, and received the keys from them. Whereupon they jumped and fell into the fire. Babylonian Talmud Taanit 29a


I am fascinated with this legend found in the Talmud, and it makes me wonder who today contains the keys to the temple, to the future of the Jewish people and to the state of Israel. There are many keys and keeping Israel strong in the 21st century requires that all of us need to be "faithful treasurers" so that we can insure that Israel is a home where all visitors and residents of all faiths remain free to practice their religion.









  • By Anonymous 3174 Days Ago
    2 points    
    Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (the Ruach haKodesh) who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought (ransomed) at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
    Reply to this comment

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