In just over a week, on the 17th day of Tammuz, Jews around the world will fast to commemorate multiple tragedies and to mark the beginning of the three-week period that concludes on Tisha b’Av (9 Av). These fast days are two of the four fasts that are associated with the destruction of the Holy Temples, about which it is written: “the prophet (Zechariah 8:19) calls these days both days of fasting and days of joy, signifying that when there is peace they shall be for joy and gladness, but if there is not peace they shall be fast days” (Talmud Rosh Hashana 18b).

When these words were stated, however, the fast in the month of Tammuz was observed on the 9th day of Tammuz, not the 17th. In fact, the history of the 9th of Tammuz demonstrates exactly how a fast day can be transformed into a day of joy and feasting:

The Book of Jeremiah clearly describes the events that took place on the 9th of Tammuz in the 11th year of the reign of King Zedekiah: “A breach was made in the city, that all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the middle gate…” (39:2-3). King Zedekiah and all the “men of war” tried to flee but were caught. His sons and the nobles of Judea were killed by Nebuchadnezzer and then King Zedekiah was blinded and bound in chains (39:3-8).

The 9th of Tammuz was a day of great tragedy for the Jews, and, according to tradition, it was maintained as a national fast throughout the Babylonian exile. However, when the Jewish people were allowed to return to the Promised Land and to rebuild the Temple, the somber day became a feast day. Alas, that feast day was cancelled when the Second Temple was destroyed, but the 9th of Tammuz did not become a day of mourning again. Instead, the tragedy of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem during the First Temple is included in the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans).

*In 2016, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz will be observed on Sunday, July 24th, and the fast of the 9th of Av will be observed on Sunday, August 14th.

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