Tisha B’Av is one of two major fasts in the Jewish calendar. It takes place, as the name implies, each year on the 9th day of the month of Av and culminates three weeks of sadness and mourning marking a large number of tragedies that have marked Jewish history for hundreds and even thousands of years. Both of our Holy Temples were destroyed on this day, centuries apart. Massacres and pogroms and expulsions have marked this day.
There are minor fasts that run from sunup to sundown and can often be put aside for various reasons. There are two that we do not put aside, but for major issues of health.
One is Yom Kippur, the most solemn day on our calendar. On this day, we look back at our deeds in order to look forward. We are hopeful tht the year to come will be a good one and so we use this time to reconcile the past and look at the lessones we cn learn and take into next year.
The second is Tisha B’Av. This is a day of great saddness for our people, for all that we have lost throughout out history, for all that we were not worthy. On both days, we take on the burden of mourners. We do not eat. We do not wear leather shoes.
And a very large part of both days involves remembering the consequences of our actions. On Yom Kippur, as much as we do a national reckoning, we are focused more on ourselves as individuals and our personal actions. On Tisha B’Av, our greatest sorrow is mourned. The connection to Jerusalem and our losing our Holy Temples becomes our focus above all other tragedies that have befallen our people. Few of us have had the honor to go up to the Temple Mount and even those who do have this honor are often greatly saddened by the restrictions imposed by our own government. Israel has the distinct dishonor of being the only democracy in the world that forbids someone to pray silently; the only country that would arrest someone simply for moving their lips in devotion and prayer. How sad and how appropriate, on this saddest of days, to read the following article and take a tour, if only virtually, of our holiest place.
A Virtual Tour of the Temple Mount
by Moshe Feiglin
On the 19th of every Hebrew month I have the privilege to guide a group of Jews on the Temple Mount . At 7:30 in the morning, I wait at the main entrance to the Western Wall for the people who will join me. The people who come are not average tourists. Before they arrive, they purify themselves in a ritual bath, put on non-leather shoes and make sure that they know where it is permissible by Jewish law to walk on the Temple Mount.
This week is part of the period of mourning for our destroyed, holy Temple . As such, I invite you to join me here for a virtual tour. I hope that someday you will join me in Jerusalem for the real thing.
At 7:30 we enter the side entrance that leads to the Mugrabim Gate. Well, we don’t really enter. Other groups of tourists from around the world or groups of Israelis who look like tourists sail right past the security. But for us – the Jews who look like Jews – there is a special procedure. We must undergo a body check. On the surface, it seems like the police are searching for weapons, as is the norm in all public places since the Oslo ‘Peace’ Accords descended upon us. But actually, they are searching for something much more dangerous. They are searching for prayer books. One time, a particularly industrious policeman caught me with a Grace after Meals card that I always carry in my wallet. I began to laugh and almost got myself arrested.
After it is clear that we are free of any dangerous prayer materials, we undergo a briefing. The group is sternly informed that it is forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount – the site of the Jewish holy Temple . “Whoever prays,” the policeman warns, “will be arrested, and will not be allowed on the Temple Mount next time.” After that degrading ceremony, we ascend to the holiest place in the world. The yearning for this place and for the Temple that will be built upon it has preserved our identity for close to 2,000 years.
We gingerly step onto the wooden bridge that will bring us to the Mugrabim Gate,
above the Western Wall. Before we enter the gate, I ask my group to look down
below, to the Herodian street that was uncovered in the archeological digs in and around the Temple Mount This is the street on which Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi
Tarfon walked. On the day of the destruction of the Temple , 1,938 years ago,
Roman soldiers toppled the huge stones of the Western Wall onto the street below. This pile of rocks was unearthed and wisely left by the archeologists as it had been found. It provides us with a snapshot of the day that the Temple was destroyed.
With awe in our hearts we enter the Temple Mount . The awe is almost immediately
sidelined by what feels like an emotional sledgehammer to the head. Arab children are playing soccer. Other Arabs sit in the shade and chew on a sandwich. The Temple Mount looks like a Moslem park. Our holy Temple of the past peeks out at us from everywhere, but you have to be able to see past the sorry picture of the present. Exquisitely crafted marble pillars from the Second Temple period are scattered about the Mount. Remnants of the gold plating that covered the pillars can still be detected in the cracks.
A Moslem guard joins our group. He keeps his eyes on our lips. If he sees someone
whispering a prayer, he immediately informs the Jewish policeman, who will call
extra forces to arrest the “criminal”.
And now, we stand at the entrance to the Hulda Gates. It is from here that the Jews
who came from near and far for the Jewish holidays would enter the Temple Mount.. It was here that, after days of walking to Jerusalem , they would finally see the Temple in all its glory. We can imagine how, when they would come face to face with the house of G-d, they would bow down with intense devotion. We stand silently as we face the Dome of the Rock that covers the Foundation Stone, the site of the Holy of Holies. We tightly seal our lips. Remember, it is forbidden for Jews to pray here.
We continue. Off to the side we see what looks like a pile of junk. We approach the
pile. This is not junk, but huge, ancient wooden planks. When a fire broke out at the Dome of the Rock a number of years ago, large amounts of these planks were removed from there. A Jewish man managed to buy some of those planks from an Arab junk dealer. He sent them for botanical examination and for Carbon-14 dating. The tests showed that the planks are made of cedar and cypress trees – the very same trees cited in the Book of Kings – the trees that Hiram the king of Tzor sent to King Solomon to build the 1st Temple. The lab dated the trees to the 1st Temple period. When a 2,000 year-old boat was discovered in the Sea of Galilee, a museum was built in Ginosar to house the vessel that may have carried the Jew who founded Christianity. But remnants of the 1st Temple? Just throw them into the junk pile. That is how Israel relates to its Jewish identity.
We continue to walk. The Arabs have been digging through the center of the mountain for years and have already cleared an immense area that now houses the largest mosque in the Middle East. They do their best to destroy any remnant of the Jewish Temple. The Israeli government allows them to dig and destroy as they please. Piles of debris – chock full of ancient, priceless artifacts – are regularly trucked off to Jerusalem garbage dumps. Jews who pick through the piles of debris have found amazing artifacts from both Temples. The gray tone of the debris piqued the interest of Temple loyalists. Laboratory tests confirmed what they suspected. The dominant factor in the debris is ash. 1,938 years ago, a huge fire burned here.
We reach the entrance of the sanctuary. This is where the priests raised their hands to bless Israel . We stand in silence. Strong emotions of awesome sanctity and horrifying degradation storm through our hearts. And here we end our virtual tour. I have presented you with just a taste of what we experience on the Temple Mount. Whoever wishes to learn more is welcome to join me on the 19th of every month.
The famous, prophetic poet, Uri Tzvi Greenberg, wrote: “He who rules the Temple
Mount rules the Land of Israel .” The Temple Mount is the beating heart of the
Land of Israel . Our national heart is no longer circulating the blood to our organs. On the periphery – in Sderot and Ashkelon – gangrene has set in and begun to spread. When Jews give the keys to the Mount to a foreign nation, they forgo the justice of their claim to any other part of the Land. The most important weapon that a nation can have – belief in the justice of its cause – has been denied us, and we steadily retreat. If we deny the Mount, we cannot claim that our cause is just. Not in Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv.
If we want to return to ourselves – to our moral health, our culture, our security and our destiny – if we want to bring peace to our Land and to the world, we must remember the destroyed house of G-d and tenaciously return to the Temple Mount.