This coming Saturday night and Sunday, Jews the world over will be observing the fast of Tisha b’Av. It is on this day of the Hebrew calendar that the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The First Temple was destroyed almost 2,500 years ago, in the year 586 BCE, and the Second Temple 1,951 years ago, in the year 70 CE. It is therefore not easy to understand what exactly it is that the Jewish people mourn.

Here is a brief history of Jerusalem and the First Temple:

King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital (c. 1040 BCE). He desired to build a sanctuary in which the Divine Spirit could dwell. However, God told David “You have been involved in war. The Temple is to be a site of peace, so your son, King Solomon, who will be anointed after you, will merit to build the Temple” (II Samuel 7:13).

“Solomon’s Temple” stood for 410 years. It served as the center of Jewish life, and Jewish pilgrims from all over ascended to Jerusalem three times a year. Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers (5:5) states that ten miracles occurred in the Temple – for instance, the fire of the altar was never extinguished by rain.

Unfortunately, during the rule of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the united kingdom dissolved. The northern ten tribes formed one kingdom (the Kingdom of Israel) and the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, another (the Kingdom of Judah). Strife between the two kingdoms and their worship of idolatry, led to foreign conquest. First the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom (719 BCE) and then the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE) conquered Jerusalem, destroying the First Temple and sending most of the Jews into Babylonian exile.

According to the Talmud (Yoma 9b), the first Temple was destroyed because the three cardinal sins: idol worship, licentiousness and murder were rampant in Jewish society.

The destruction of the First Temple was a massive trauma for the Jewish people, for the nation was now bereft of its spiritual epicenter.

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