What the 9th of Av does mean to us today?

Note: The text offers a private view on some basic principles. It is not a political program or something similar. The purpose also of course is not to attack any other beliefs, rather to challenge needed answers for our common good and future.

The date

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av is a communal day of mourning and fasting, which commemorates the destruction of the sanctuaries in Jerusalem. While the first temple was destroyed on the 7th of the month (2nd book of Kings 25.8), the second destruction 490 years later according to Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus ( ) occurred on the 10th of Av.  Actually the date of the 9th refers to the fall of the stronghold of Betar in the time of Bar Kochba, which generally is dated 132 to 136 according to the Christian calendar. To harmonized the commemoration to these events and to accomplish a standardized “most saddest day in Jewish history” tradition points out, that the main part of the destruction of both temples occurred on the 9th of Av (Jeremiah however maintains the fire burned until the tenth of Av, Jer. 52.12). The destruction of the Herodian temple in the year 70 according to Taanith 29a therefore was lit already at 9th of Av. Further tradition attributed a number of other catastrophes to the very day, even if they obviously may not have occurred on a single day, as for example the murder of Jews during the crusade in 1095 or the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Obviously the date of 9th of Av refers to the destruction of Betar. The destruction of both temples are attributions, maybe because an annual fasting which lasts three days are way too much.  All the more it of course it is difficult to refer the year long lasting massacres and annihilation camps during “the Shoah” to this single day – although some on a questionably basis of course do. Arab hostility against the State of Israel however in 1973 singled out Yom Kipur for starting a war, not Tisha be Av and a number of fierce terror attacks on buses and market places as well as rocket fire still are harmful and serious, although they do not occur on this particular date of the calendar.

Actually the month of Av is the eleventh of the Jewish calendar (except for leap years), so Tisha be Av is the 9th day of the 11th month, what maybe reminds of “9/11” but more obvious refers to 9th of November, at least here in Germany where a common phrase has been to call the day “Schicksalstag der Deutschen”  (fateful day of the Germans).  The German capitulation in World War One was on that day, deliberately also Hitler’s Beer Putsch and the “Reichskristallnacht” and of course most recently the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989.   

The meaning

Since Shimon ben Kosiwa (better known as Bar Kochba) was the last ancient Jewish ruler in Israel, the actual meaning of the fall of Betar is the loss of a sovereign government of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Throughout the following centuries time and again were more or less autonomously ruling Jewish sovereigns: princes of Davidic descent in Babylonia, the Jewish kingdom of Dhu Nawaz in Saudi Arabia before Mohamed, the kingdom of Khazars which at least partly converted to Judaism, not to forget Jews in medieval Europe, with own jurisdiction which however alternated with lots of local persecutions. Although there were rather small medieval Jewish settlements in Israel too, there however was no single Jewish state, neither in Israel nor elsewhere.  Since 1948 there is a Jewish state Israel which since June 1967 also includes an united Jerusalem.

Third temple

The first temple was scheduled by King David and built by his son King Salomon. The destruction of the first temple in the year 586 b.c. is a negative turning point in Jewish history and was followed by the so called Babylonian Exile (Hebrew: Galut Bawel). The second temple was built by Serubawel about 515 b.c. Some five hundred years later the temple was demolished by King Herod in order to built a new one. Usually understood just as “renovation” it actually was a new construction, praised as most beautiful of all buildings in the world. Although over the course of the construction, which take three years or some decades, the offering continued, in fact it already was the third temple. Ancient coins from the Bar Kochba period which refer to a free Jerusalem depict a temple structure, which indicates another, a fourth temple. There even was a serious attempt to built a fifth temple: In 363 Roman Emperor Julian ordered to establish a new Jewish temple in Jerusalem, but it was never completed. In medieval times more tolerant Muslim rulers allowed to built synagogues at the temple mount. However today the area known for the golden dome of rock as most famous landmark of Jerusalem  and the Al Aqsa mosque along with several smaller structures and a higher number of burial places actually is a Muslim place.

The so called “Third Temple movement” is anxious to built a Jewish temple on this very mountain plateau at the cost of the destruction of the Muslim structures. This of course not only would cause a war with the Muslim world but also eternal bitter enmity with all followers of Islam. More gentle minds therefore maintain that the promised new temple only will be built by heavenly force. Maybe angels will carry the required stones from heaven and solve all dratted problems and questions. But since the Hebrew word which is translated as “angel” actually means a worker, it rather suggest physical work (malakha) and no phone call or telekinesis.


The meaning of the temple

The Jerusalem temple was conceived as home for the divine presence on earth, as homestead of God. The Holy of the Holies (kodesh hakdoshim, the Arab name of Jerusalem Al Quds actually derives from that) actually was the storage room for the Ark of the Covenant with the tables of the law from Mount Sinai. In remembrance of that synagogues have a storage room for the scrolls which contain the hand written text of the Torah. The original tables of course are long lost and further more there still is no burnt offering in Judaism today. So the question may be stated what would be the purpose and benefit of a new temple.  Before risking a war with the sixth part of humanity it maybe is appropriate to ponder  on the reason and overall aim. Are we really out to re-introduce animal sacrifice instead of verbose prayers or will the reproaches by animal protection advocates be not less wordily? To understand the ancient “temple system” we need to bring to our mind the ancient reality of animals as “payment method”. As today there were actual laws which provided fines, penalties and charges for wrongdoing. Illegal parking, theft, battery as well as many other offences (in case of getting caught) result in punishment, most often in punitive fines, payable in banknotes. In ancient times however the currency denomination was in animals: pigeons or turtle doves for minor, sheep or goat for graver and oxen for major offences. In the course of the Herodian, third temple, time – under Greek and Roman influence and a growing parallel Diaspora – already an alternative had developed. Sinners and pilgrims arrived from remote parts of the Galilee or even Greece and Rome in Jerusalem and of course they brought no doves or sheep with them. Instead they had money: Roman or Greek , coins, which now they had to exchange into the currency accepted by the authorities and laws of the temple. Christian Gospels shed some light on the given situation during this transformation process. Right were today is the Al Aqsa mosque in Herodian time were the money exchangers (κολλυβιστῶν), but Jesus of Nazareth, obviously rejected the reform and opposed the “commercial activity” and threw over some tables (τραπέζας, trapeza, in Latin: bank), without refusing the traditional animal offering, what often is overseen. He just opposes the merchandise character of the house (οἶκον ἐμπορίου) , which however is result of the current reform, introduced to ease the procedure for out-of-town pilgrims (John 2.13 ff.).

The locality problem

Currently the most frequented site of Judaism in Jerusalem is the Western wall fundament beneath the temple mount. Hundreds or thousands of  prayers and sightseer are crowding the place, many put small pieces of paper in the crevices of the huge stones. There even is a service to address a message from abroad which is promised to be placed as a note there for you. So you don’t have to travel to Jerusalem in order to place a slip, which of course after a while has to make way for others. Of course we may ask ourselves if the custom which goes back at least to early 18th century and also is performed by prominent Gentile visitors such as US presidents (Bush, Obama) or the Catholic pope, makes any sense. Does the placing of small slips has anything to do with the previous function of the temple? And if so may the situation be improved if formal letter boxes were arranged? We may doubt either way.

The current use as well as the associated hopes and ideas sometimes have the flavor of “magic”. One of the many varieties of it is the “magic of the place”, which assumes that a particular place brings this or that result. If a family father kills his wife and children in a house, another family which twenty years later rents the empty house without knowing anything from the previous incidents and after some time has the same faith. Sooner or later it turns out that the house some generations ago was built on a former Indian cemetery or something like this. Just in the house next door of course nothing would have happened and the families would have lived an exemplary family life without any noteworthy problems. A number of ghost stories of that kind (not only at the movies) are quite popular and convey the meaning of a “magic place”. Contrary to the malign there of course also are benign examples, for instance Christian (and other) pilgrimage sites like Lourdes where people pray in order to get cured from any diseases, at best miraculously. Comparatively you also may assume that a Jewish temple only may be on one particular place on earth, because no offering or prayer may be accepted a mile away from it. Is that really an attitude Torah commands us?

No, of course we do pray at home or in synagogue services without difficulty. In the time of Moshe Rabbenu there of course was no temple, but there was an offering service which took place in the tabernacle (משכן, miskan) which was a portable dwelling place for the divine presence. The tent included the Holy of the Holies with the Ark of the Covenant as well as the altar, the menorah, the tables for the showbreads, etc. Actually in the time of Moshe a belief in a “magic place” was not in existence.  It was no problem in forty years of moving through the dessert. The tabernacle was  at Gilgal and Shiloh, in Nob and Gibeon … until king Salomon brought it to Jerusalem. There is no single commandment from the Torah which refers especially to a temple in Jerusalem, everything what was ordered already applied for the tabernacle.

So the local problem actually is within the subject matter, what is the use of a temple when prayer work also in synagogues or elsewhere? Of course it is the offering. It rather is not the question where to offer sacrifices. The question is how many offerings can be offered at all?


The capacity problem

So if we do want to get a new temple in Jerusalem we of course also do have to deal with the question, raised by the rather traditional critics of Jesus, who apparently supported the previous cashless state. So how to handle traveling with sheep or oxen from Staten Island, London, Tel Aviv or Antwerp in order to offer cashless in Jerusalem. Or is it better to start sheep-less in Seattle and buy the cattle (to bring down passions: preferably of organic breeding ) nearby the temple? In ancient temple times Jerusalem with some ten thousand people of course was a major, big city. Today Jerusalem has almost 800.000 inhabitants, two thirds of them are Jewish and there are some Millions of Jews more in Israel and the rest of the world. If at least a quarter of the Jewry would be observant and pilgrimage for Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth to Jerusalem in order to bring sacrifices, the temple would need to “handle” some 4 million animal slaughtering during one week, or half a million per day or twenty thousand every hour. Using just one altar (misbeach) that of course in no way is conceive- or realizable.  Even high-speed automation engineering – which of course would not have the slightest idea of the initial purpose – would make it possible. From a Kohen slaugthermen perspective an ancient, pre-Jesus temple, in our times is not manageable, because there are way too many Jews.  A limited access for a favored few however  has nothing to do with the intention of the Torah. So we come back to the transfer idea of the Herodian time, which fiercely was rejected by an uptight Jesus of Nazareth. His followers who took a Roman shape after a while, replaced the animal offering which also was the present cult in ancient Rome and Greece and elsewhere, by a rather mystical taking of symbolical bread – which by the way is called host after “hostia”, the Latin word for animal sacrifice. However, as the current custom to place slips of paper at the Western Wall in Jerusalem from abroad already suggests, the development of course again includes modern technology. The same technique which allows to send emails for a piece of paper which is put for you in a gap of course also is used for money transfer. So why not wire the cash value of a sheep, dove or oxen to the Temple in Jerusalem? Because there will be the at least remote possibility to confuse it with the already existing  בנק ישראל, the Central Bank of Israel? The more practical question would be who gets the transfers and what will be the use of it. The ancient practice of animal sacrifice actually was a kind of offering which in our days is hardly to understand. The offering was burnt. The priests – in order to gain a living – used some parts of the offering, but the rest was burnt. What does that mean? A traffic policeman fines you for a parking violation and your fine will be, let’s say 20 dollars. He takes the bill and burns it right in front of your eyes. That actually was the idea the temple offering worked. The animal which was offered implicitly had to be one without any blemish and would have no offspring (or interests in monetary terms). However in order to burn money, is there a need for a new temple or will current exchange brokers do as well?

wishful thinking

The present state

Although Jerusalem was the place of the Jewish temples for more than a thousand years in history and therefore also is the first and upmost reference point in Israel and our right hand shall wither if we forget, there of course is no magic place – there just is a kind of Jerusalem syndrome which affect people of different religion or denomination.

Denis Rohan, an Australian Christian in 1969 set fire to the Al Aqsa mosque, who assumed that his act would hasten a second coming of Jesus, but actually only caused Muslim riots who assumed Jewish extremists as offenders. Muslim as well as Soviet propaganda however blamed Israel for the attack. Two years earlier in 1967 the Chief Rabbinates of Israel decided to impose a complete ban on the whole mount, because of a given uncertainty where the actual temple was located.  Less doubtless but seldom considered are a high number of (in most cases Muslim, but there also are some Christian) burial places at the temple mount. One of the most recent burials at the mount which had some public attention was that of the Palestinian leader Faisal Husseni who in 2001 surprisingly died at the airport during a visit in Kuwait. He was buried on the temple mount next to the Dome of the Rock in a family tomb. However, actually it would require to built a new Jewish temple on a cemetery. Of course we may assume that some angels will carry the corpses away, but likely this will not going to happen, not to forget the common believe on restrictions for Kohanim regarding cemeteries in general. Even Herod accepted that only workers of a Kohen descent built the new temple in his time.

Of course a new temple is desirable, but the procedure of animal offering – which in fact is anything but brutal if committed according the laws of the Torah – obviously is not realizable if only one % of the Jews would demand for instance at Passover. A temple as fine collecting facility may be a strange but nonetheless the most practical idea if it goes along with an appropriate prayer room, which as in Herod’s time may be the most beautiful in the world. Why not in Jerusalem? Since on the former temple mount are Muslim structures as well as umpteen grave sites the place actually seems not be kosher. We cannot assume divine presence on the former temple mount simultaneously with the rejection of the current status as violation. The rational standpoint would be to accept the place as most important historical site of the Jewish people. There is no argument building a new sanctuary bet hamikdash at a different, “ritually pure” place, which will cause no war, but work.

The future

A number of arguments made by Theodor Herzl regarding Zionism obviously also possibly may be applied for building a new temple on a more proper place. Just remember what Benjamin ben Seev said: “Wir werden kühner und herrlicher bauen, als es je vorher geschehen ist. Denn wir haben Mittel, die in der Geschichte noch nicht da waren.“

Herzl 2.0 obviously also means:

 If you will it, it is no dream.


So what was the today message of the 9th of Av?

In previous centuries the idea was to remind us not to forget Jerusalem, mount Zion our national homestead and the temple as the main token of Jewish history. But Judaism of course is not a sad heritage of long-time unemployed butchers who eagerly lie in wait of a new slaughter house. The main purpose of the Torah of course is not to built a temple in Jerusalem but the commandments of the Torah and our approach to it.

Heaven helps those who help themselves. Bet?


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