The Seventeen of Tammuz
The Seventeenth of Tammuz (Hebrew: שבעה עשר בתמוז, Shiv’ah Asar b’Tammuz) is a minor Jewish fast day commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple. It falls on the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz and marks the beginning of the three-week mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av. The day also commemorates the destruction of the Twin Tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Seventeenth of Tammuz occurs forty days following the holiday of Shavuot. Moses ascended Mount Sinai and remained up there those forty days. The Children of Israel built the Golden Calf on the afternoon of the sixteenth of Tammuz when it seemed that Moses was not coming down when promised. Moses descended the next day (forty days by his count), saw that the Israelites were violating many of the laws he had received, and smashed the tablets. The day is marked with a fast, which lasts from dawn to dusk. Traditionally observant Jews abstain from eating and drinking.
The fast of Tammuz, according to R. Akiva’s interpretation, is the fast mentioned in the Book of Zechariah. The verse states: “the fast of the fourth month”. This refers to Tamuz which is the fourth month of the Hebrew calendar. This fast was originally on the ninth of Tamuz. After the Second Temple’s destruction, the fast was moved to the seventeenth.
The three weeks
The Three Weeks start on the seventeenth day of the Jewish month of Tammuz — the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz — and end on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av — the fast of Tisha B’Av, which occurs exactly three weeks later. Both of these fasts commemorate events surrounding the destruction of the Jewish Temples and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the land of Israel. According to conventional chronology, the destruction of the first Temple, by Nebuchadnezzar II, occurred in 586 BCE, and the second, by the Romans, in 70 CE. Jewish chronology, however, traditionally places the first destruction at about 421 BCE.
The Three Weeks are historically a time of misfortune, since many tragedies and calamities befell the Jewish people at this time. These tragedies include: the breaking of the Tablets of the Law by Moses, when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf; the burning of a Sefer Torah by Apostomus during the Second Temple era; the destruction of both Temples on Tisha B’Av; the expulsion of the Jews from Spain on Tisha B’Av 1492; and the outbreak of World War I on Tisha B’Av 1914, which overturned many Jewish communities. As a result, Jews are particularly careful to avoid all dangerous situations during the Three Weeks
The mourning observances during the Three Weeks are divided into four levels, increasing in intensity: 1.From the Seventeenth of Tammuz until the end of Tammuz 2.From Rosh Chodesh Av until the week in which Tisha B’Av falls 3.The week in which Tisha B’Av falls until the Eighth of Av 4.Tisha B’Av itself Standard Ashkenazic and sephardic custom, or minhag, restricts the extent to which one may take a haircut, shave or listen to music, though communities and individuals vary their levels of observance of these customs. No Jewish marriages or other major celebrations are allowed during the Three Weeks, since the joy of such an event would conflict with the expected mood of mourning during this time.
The ninth of Av
Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the western calendar. When the ninth of Av falls on Sabbath (Saturday), the observance is deferred to Sunday the tenth of Av. While the day recalls general tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people over the ages, the day focuses on commemoration of five events: the destruction of the two ancient Temples in Jerusalem, the sin of ten of the twelve scouts sent by Moses who spoke disparagingly about the Promised Land, the razing of Jerusalem following the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire.
Although primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temples, it is also considered appropriate to commemorate other Jewish tragedies that occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Accordingly, the day has been called the “saddest day in Jewish history”.
The Book of Lamentations is traditionally read, followed by the kinnot, a series of liturgical lamentations. In many Sephardic and Yemenite communities, and formerly also among Ashkenazim, it is also customary to read the Book of Job.