Think about it. Many holidays occur when the event they
commemorate didn’t happen. The American Indians and the Pilgrims didn’t meet
for a turkey meal on the last Thursday in November and President George
Washington wasn’t born on the third Monday in February. In Christianity, Jesus’
mother did not give birth on December 25 and he wasn’t resurrected when Easter
takes place. In Judaism, the Torah doesn’t state that it was revealed to the
Israelites on the sixth day of the Hebrew month Sivan Each of these and many
other holidays memorialize events that transpired on a different date. Let’s
look at the Jewish practice known as “The Three Weeks.”


There are two extended mourning periods in the Jewish calendar,
one for three weeks and the other for seven. Both are not based on verifiable
facts and dates, but each has historical and moral lessons. Both occur during
the summer.

The three weeks begins on the seventeenth of the Hebrew month
Tammuz, which is a minor fast day,
meaning the fast begins in the morning rather than sundown of the prior day,
when the day begins according to Jewish tradition. The fast is first mentioned
in the biblical book Zechariah 8:19.
It commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem’s walls during the
second Temple period, in 70 CE. However, while Zechariah mentions the month of the fast day, it does not give the
date. The Babylonian Talmud, Taanit
26a and b, states that four additional tragedies happened on 17 Tammuz: Moses
broke the first set of the Decalogue, The Romans placed an idol in the Temple’s
inner sanctum during the second Temple period before they destroyed the Temple,
the twice daily sacrifices offered in the Temple was forcibly discontinued, and
a Roman military leader burned a Torah scroll. There is also no historical
evidence that any of these four events occurred on 17 Tammuz, other than Jewish
tradition. Obviously, Jewish tradition, as other cultures, is declaring that
the specific dates are not significant; the events are important, and we can
choose a day to remember and find meaning in them.

The three week period
ends with the fast of 9 Ab. Traditions differ what Jews do during the three
weeks. Some Jews, like people in other cultures and religions, do not observe
all the culture’s and religion’s practices, and don’t fast on either fast day
and behave as usual during the three weeks. Some fast only on 9 Ab and ignore
17 Tammuz. Some fast on both days but vary how they treat the middle period.
Some mourn the loss of the two Temples by refraining from pleasures either for
the entire three weeks, the nine days of Ab, or for the last three days before
9 Ab. Many recall the ancient tragedies and mourn them by not eating meat
dishes during the nine days of Ab, because they consider meat better foods,
improper consumptions during mourning periods, and by not having a hair cut or
men shaving. The Talmud of the sixth century does not mention the three week
period, which is a later development, because practices change; but it
discusses the different behaviors of people during the nine days of Ab.

The date of 9 Ab,
which current tradition states commemorates the destruction of both the first
and second Temples in Jerusalem, like the seventeenth, is not based on historical
facts. We no longer know why the seventeenth or ninth was chosen for the fasts.
Interestingly, we have dates when the Temples were destroyed and they are not 9
Ab. The biblical book II Kings 15:8
states that the first Temple was destroyed on 7 Ab, while the book of Jeremiah gives the tenth as the
destruction date. The Tosefta Taanit
4:6 and Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 29a,
try to resolve the apparent discrepancies by stating that the destruction of
the first Temple by the Babylonians began on the seventh, they ignited a fire
in the Temple on the ninth, and it continued to burn on the tenth. The
historian Josephus, who lived when the second Temple was destroyed and saw it
burn, gives the destruction date as 10 Ab in his book Wars 249-250.
The Babylonian Talmud,
Taanit 26b, states that three
additional events occurred on the ninth of Ab, beside the two destructions:
this was the day when the decree was issued that the Israelites could not enter
Canaan but must remain in the desert for forty years, the city of Bethar was
destroyed during the Bar Cochba rebellion of 132-135, and the Romans ploughed
up Jerusalem. There is no evidence, historical or otherwise, that these events
occurred on 9 Ab. Significantly, the Talmud is telling us that both fast days recall
five tragic events.

Exactly when something happened in the past is
interesting to historians on the one hand and people who enjoy trivia on the
other. However what happened in former times and what we can learn from it to
make our lives and society better should interest everyone.