1313 BCE: The spies returned from the Promised Land with frightening reports, and the Israelites balked at the prospect of entering the land. G‑d decreed that they would therefore wander in the desert for 40 years. “The people cried that night.” What night was it? It was the night of the 9th of Av, the day when the Holy Temples in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and a day the Jewish people would mourn every year. “You cried for naught,” said G‑d. “By your lives, I will make this a night of crying for generations to come.” Back in the desert, every year on the 9th of Av, the people would dig graves and go to sleep in them, understanding that those of them who had reached the age of 60 would not rise in the morning.
Both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date. The First Temple was burned by the Babylonians in 423 BCE. For the next 410 years, the Jewish people would bring daily offerings in this magnificent edifice, and here the nation would gather three times a year to "see and to be seen by the face of G‑d." Here the Divine Presence was manifest. Ten daily miracles – such as the wind never extinguishing the fire on the altar – attested to G‑d's presence in the Temple. On the ninth day of Av, toward evening, the Holy Temple was set on fire and destroyed. The fire burned for untilnoon the next day.
Our Sages taught: When the first Holy Temple was destroyed, groups of young priests gathered with the keys to the Sanctuary in their hands. They ascended the roof and declared: "Master of the World! Since we have not merited to be trustworthy custodians, let the keys be given back to You." They then threw the keys toward Heaven. A hand emerged and received them, and the priests threw themselves into the fire (Talmud, Ta'anit 29b).
In addition to the 940,000 people killed in the aforementioned incident, millions more were killed inside and outside of the city. Many thousands of the people that had escaped the sword were taken prisoner and led into captivity in Babylon, where some of their best had already preceded them. Only the poorest of the residents of Jerusalem were permitted to stay on to plant the vineyards and work in the fields.
The Second Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem for 420 years (349 BCE–70 CE). Unlike the period of the First Temple, when the Jews were for the most part autonomous, for the vast majority of the Second Temple era the Jews were subject to foreign rule: by the Persians, the Greeks, and eventually the Romans. Aside for the troubles caused by these external powers, the Jews were also plagued internally by tumultuous politics, and they divided into many factions—a phenomenon that ultimately led to the Temple’s destruction and our nation’s torturous exile.
The Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans in 133 CE ended in defeat: The Jews of Betar were butchered on the 9th of Av and the Temple Mount was plowed one year later on the same date. Eighty thousand Romans entered Betar and slaughtered the men, women and children until blood flowed from the doorways and sewers. Horses sank up until their nostrils, and the rivers of blood lifted up rocks weighing forty se’ah [approximately 700 lb.], and flowed into the sea, where its stain was noticeable for a distance of four mil [approximately 2.5 miles].
Hadrian had a large vineyard, eighteen mil [approximately 11.5 miles] by eighteen mil—the distance between Tiberias and Tzippori—and he surrounded it with a wall made from the bodies of those slain in Betar. He also ordered that they not be brought to burial. The sages taught: for seven years the gentiles harvested their vineyards without having to fertilize them, because of the blood of Israel.
Later on in our history, many more tragedies happened on this day, including the 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews and the 1492 banishment of all Jews from Spain. Historians estimate that anywhere from 100,000-300,000 Jews departed. The last Jews left Spain on Thursday, August 2, 1492, Tisha B'Av. Finding a new home was not easy, and many Jews died from the rigors of the journey. Some ships were overloaded and sank. Unscrupulous captains threw Jews overboard or robbed them of all their possessions. Jews were sold to pirates as slaves or dropped on uninhabited islands off the coast of Africa to attempt to survive. A number of Jews returned to Spain, where they were baptized immediately upon landing, and then closely watched by the Inquisition. Travelers on land were killed by robbers, attacked by wild animals, or wandered about until they died of hunger, disease, or exposure.
Where Jews Went
Many Jews went to Portugal, adjacent to Spain with a similar climate and culture. However, this was only a temporary haven, for in 1497 Portugal embarked on a program of forced conversion. Later, the Inquisition came to Portugal, as well, and the Jews either left the country or converted. Others left for North Africa, Italy, and Western Europe. Some even wound up in such Ashkenazic countries as Germany and Poland, becoming culturally Ashkenazic. A large number settled in Turkey, whose ruler extended a welcome to the Jews. There is no record of any significant number going to Palestine.
World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b'Av.
There is one silver lining to all of this: legend has it that the Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av. Now that will be one shalom zachor I would love to attend.