JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 6, 2001 / 15 Tamuz, 5761

Seventeenth of Tammuz

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THIS coming Sunday marks the fast day of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, one of the four (Yom Kippur is not counted as a day of fasting but rather as a day of "rest") biblical fast days on the Jewish calendar. This fast day commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Roman legions, as a prelude to their destruction of the Temple three weeks later on the ninth of Av.

The fast day of the Seventeenth of Tammuz begins the period of time known as the "three weeks," a time of introspection and sadness. During the "three weeks," no weddings are solemnized, new clothing and furnsihings are not purchased and events of entertainment and social joy are avoided. There are differences in observances between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim regarding the nuances and severity of these customs, but the the concept of the "three weeks" is universally recognized in Jewish halacha and ritual. It was this very observance of mourning and sadness over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that kept the flame of longing for the Land of Israel lit throughout the long centuries of Jewish exile. The Zionist movement capitalized on this inner spiritual yearning of the Jewish people and helped create our modern-day State of Israel with it.

The Seventeenth of Tammuz has an older history to it than that of the Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem in the year 70 of the Common Era alone. According to biblical and rabbinic tradition, the Seventeenth day of Tammuz was the day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai bearing with him the two tablets of stone upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. As he descended from the mountain, he saw the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf and engaging in revelry and immorality. He thrust the tablets of stone from his hands and they were smashed on the ground at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Golden Calf was then destroyed as were thousands of Jewish worshippers of it. This sad day in Jewish history, the punishment for which has played a part in all events of later Jewish history, was thus set aside for remembrance well before the advent of the Roman legions on the scene. However, this day did not come into its own as a fast day until the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70.

In today's difficult time, when the Jewish state in the Land of Israel is again under attack and when the revelers around the Golden Calf all over the Jewish world are present in ever-increasing numbers, this fast day of the Seventeenth of Tammuz takes on great relevance. It is a reminder of former tragedy, of the past great price paid for poor leadership decisions, wishful thinking and unbridled nationalist fervor. Unrealistic assesments of Israel's ability to defeat Rome, ignoring the opinions of the religious leaders of Israel who cautioned against the Roman War, and senseless hatred of the factions of the Jewish people, one towards the other, led to the debacle of the destruction of the Temple which event the fast days of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av represent.

The Seventeenth of Tammuz also reminds us that Jewish communal life cannot tolerate indefinitely the Golden Calf worshippers and allow them to freely frolic in its midst. A fair reading of Jewish history will show that the abandonment of Jewish values and tradition, which is after all, the embodiment of what the Golden Calf represents, leads to grave national and personal consequences. So this day of introspection and memory, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, should not be allowed to slip by in our lives unnoticed and not observed. If observed now, then eventually, this day, like all of our days of mourning, will be restored as a day of joy and happiness for all of Israel and mankind.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein