Between the Straights

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem, David Roberts (1850)

Sundown tonight marks the beginning of the 17th day of the 4th month on the Hebrew calendar (17 Tammuz). This day is the beginning of a 3 week period leading up to the 9th day of the 5th month (9 Av). This period is called Bein HaMetzarim (Between the Straights). According to the Mishna (Taanit 4:6), several calamities befell the people of Israel on the 17th of the 4th month. According to tradition, it was on this day that Moses broke the two tablets, that the daily sacrifices ceased in the 1st Temple, that the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 2nd Temple times, that prior to the Bar Kochba revolt, the Roman leader Apostomus burned a scroll of the Torah, and an idol was erected in the 1st Temple.

The Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), according to Jewish tradition, is a “day upon which, in the words of the Talmud, ‘disasters recurred again and again to the Jewish people.'”

According to Jewish Tradition:

  • Both temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av.
  • Betar, the defeat of the last stronghold of Bar Kochba took place on the 9th of Av.
  • The Decree that the Children of Israel would not enter the land because of the 12 spies incident occurred on the 9th of Av.
  • The plowing of Jerusalem in 136 CE happened on the 9th of Av.
  • The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 was issued on this fateful day!
  • The book of Lamentations is read during this time and aside from Yom Kippur, it is the only 24 hour fast observed by the Jewish people.

The Bible provides two dates for the destruction of the 1st Temple. In 1 Kings 25:8-9 it says that this took place on the 7th, while the prophet Jeremiah says that it happened on the 10th (Jeremiah 52:12). This is reconciled in the sources by stating that the final phases of the destruction began on the 7th and by the 10th it was completely ruined.

But Why?

Jewish sources relate that the 1st Temple was ultimately destroyed because the people committed three major sins: murder, idolatry and immorality. The 2nd Temple, we are told, was destroyed because of the sin of Sinat Chinam (Hatred without cause).

Based upon the point that both Temples were destroyed, but for the different reasons listed above, the conclusion reached was that baseless hatred was equal to the three sins of murder, idolatry and immorality.

A fast was established in the fifth month to commemorate the fall of the Temple. The purpose of this fast (or any fast) is called into question by God in Zechariah (see Zech 7:1-7), and then later a prediction is given that these times of sorrow will be turned to joy and gladness (Zech 8:18ff). If hatred without cause led to destruction and sorrow, then seemingly love without cause can lead to restoration, joy and gladness. Mourning over the destruction of the Temple has occupied the religious during these three weeks since biblical times. Perhaps it is time to begin to work on the root problem that led to the calamitous events associated with this three week period. Perhaps it is time to pursue love without cause.

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