The “Three Weeks” between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av have historically been days of misfortune and calamity for the Jewish people. During this time, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, amongst other tragedies.
These days are referred to as the period “within the straits” (Bein Hametzarim), in accordance with the verse: “All her oppressors have overtaken her within the straits” (Lamentations 1:3).
During this time, various aspects of mourning are observed by the entire nation. We minimize joy and celebration. The expressions of mourning take on greater intensity as we approach the day of Tisha B’Av.
On Shabbat during the Three Weeks, the Haftorahs are taken from chapters in Isaiah and Jeremiah dealing with the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people.
Agonizing over these events is meant to help us conquer those spiritual deficiencies which brought about these tragic events. Through the process of “teshuva” – self-introspection and a commitment to improve – we have the power to transform tragedy into joy. In fact, the Talmud says that after the future redemption of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple, these days will be re-dedicated as days of rejoicing and festivity.
Five great catastrophes occurred on the 17th of Tammuz:
- Moshe broke the tablets at Mount Sinai – in response to the sin of the golden calf.
- The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem.
- Jerusalem’s walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
- Prior to the great revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.
- An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple – a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.
Five great catastrophes occurred on Tisha B’av
- During the time of Moshe, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 12 Spies, and a decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
- The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar. (586 BCE)
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. (70 CE)
- The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by the Roman emperor Hadrian. (135 CE)
- The Temple Mount was plowed under, and Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city.
Other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history coincided with the ninth of Av, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the outbreak of World War One in 1914, and the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942.