By Israel Drazin


The number seven is connected to Jewish holidays and practices in well over a hundred instances. Seven has a spiritual implication in Judaism.[1] It reminds Jews of the basic Jewish concept of seven: the seven days of creation that is stressed in the beginning of the Bible and in the Ten Commandments that recalls three basic teachings: there is a God, God created the world, and God can communicate commands, just as Sabbath laws were communicated.


For example: Sabbath is on the seventh day. Passover and Sukkot are seven day holidays. The seventh week after Passover is celebrated as Shavuot, which means seven “weeks.” There are seven biblical holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Passover, Shavuot, and the New Moon. The Jewish holidays mentioned in the Bible total seventy days, which is seven times ten.[2] The first day of the seventh month is Yom Teruah, also named Yom Zikhron Teruah, called Rosh Hashanah today, the New Year holiday.[3] The seventh month is so significant that it is the only month that has four holidays. Yom Kippur, the Fast of Atonement,[4] occurs in the seventh month, and since the first and fourteenth days are taken with Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret, it is on the tenth day, which is seven plus three (three[5] is often added to seven). The seventh year is the sabbatical year when fields have a Sabbath and must rest from being plowed. The seventh sabbatical year is the Jubilee Year during which, among other things, fields return to their owners. The Jewish lunar calendar, which is about ten days shorter than the solar calendar, is made to conform to the solar calendar by adding a leap month seven times in a nineteen-year cycle.


The Jewish fast days are also connected to seven. The fast of Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians on the seventh of the month of Av according to II Kings 25:8–9 and the tenth of Av according to Jeremiah 3:12, in 586 BCE. Tosefta Ta’anit 4:10 and the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 29a, explain the discrepancy: the outer walls were demolished on the seventh and the temple itself on the tenth. In any event, we again see the numbers seven and ten.[6]


The second temple was destroyed by the Romans on the tenth of Av in 70 C.E., according to the historian and Jewish general Josephus.[7] Josephus was present at the occurrence. But the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 29a, several centuries later, gives the date as the ninth of Av. Thus according to Josephus at least, we have another seven (three plus seven).


Why did the rabbis say the destruction of the first and second temples occurred on the ninth of Av when evidence shows they were not destroyed on the ninth? It is possible that the rabbis did not want to use seven because this number is associated with completeness, with the Sabbath, and with joy, and the rabbis did not want to use seven and give the impression that Judaism was completely destroyed and that there is joy connected to the event. Eight may not have been chosen since eight was seen as a symbol of a new beginning and the Temple destruction was the end of an era.[8] Similarly, ten may have seemed inappropriate because, again as we indicated earlier, it is made up of seven and three, the two numbers connected with completeness.


It is also possible that the rabbis did not want to have the fast of Av on the tenth because the tenth would remind the Jew of the other fast of the tenth, Yom Kippur, and they didn’t want Jews to compare both days. The fast of Av is considered an enormous and total calamity. Yom Kippur, on the other hand, has positive elements: during the temple days, the afternoon of Yom Hakippurim, as it was called at that time, was a happy time when young boys and girls would meet and dance. Additionally, on Yom Kippur one is able to seek forgiveness for past misdeeds.


The remaining three smaller fasts are also associated with the number seven or its derivatives three and ten. The Fast of Gedalia occurs on the third of Tishrei, the seventh month. The fast of Asarah b’Tevet is on the tenth. The fast of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz is on the seventeenth, which is seven and ten.[9]


[1] Seven was seen by the pagans as something mystical, as basic to creation, found everywhere. They saw seven heavenly bodies other than stars. They felt the human body was composed of seven parts: a head, two hands, two feet, and the upper and lower parts of the middle area.

[2] Seven days each of Passover and Sukkot, one day each of Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Shavuot, and fifty-two days of Shabbat during the year. This number excludes the New Moon.

[3] A larger than usual amount of offerings was biblically mandated for this day, possibly because it was the seventh month.

[4] Called Yom Hakippurim, Day of Atonements, in the Torah.

[5] Three appears frequently in the Torah, such as Abraham traveling three days toward Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham ibn Ezra explains that three is associated with seven and is approximately half of seven; seven indicates a full completeness and three a smaller completeness.

[6] Ten is seen as seven plus three.

[7] Wars 6:249–250.

[8] Seven is a symbol of completeness and eight denotes the beginning of something new. A male child is circumcised after the completion of seven days of life, on the eighth day. Similarly, the holiday of Shemini Atzeret occurs after the completion of the seven days of Sukkot. The rabbis conceive it as a renewal of a relationship with God.

[9] For a more complete description of the use of seven and three in Judaism and other ancient cultures with more than a hundred examples, see my book Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets.