The 17th day of the fourth month, Tammuz (known in Hebrew as Shiv'ah Asar be-Tammuz) commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem three weeks before the complete fall of the city and the destruction of the Temple.

"In the eleventh year of Zidqiyyahu king of Yehuda, in the tenth month, Nevuhadnezzar king of Bavel and all his army came against Yerushalayim, and they beseiged it. In the eleventh year of Zidqiyyahu, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city...." [1]

According to Jeremiah, the breach of the walls by the Babylonians under Nevuhadnezzar in 586 BCE took place on 9 Tammuz, and the fast was presumably observed on that date until the building of the Second Temple, when minor fasts were abolished.

When the break into Jerusalem made by Titus in 70 CE fell on 17 Tammuz, the latter date was chosen for the fast to commemorate both tragedies.[2]

The Mishnah[3] adds other mournful anniversaries that occurred on this date, including the breaking by Moses of the tablets of the Law, the cessation of the daily sacrifice in 70 CE, and the burning of the scrolls of the Law by an otherwise unknown Apostomos, who also erected an idol in the sanctuary.

The seventeenth of Tammuz marks the start of Bayn ha-Mezarim (the three weeks of mourning) which culminates in Tish'ah be'Av (the ninth of Av). Shiv'a-asar be-Tammuz (the seventeenth of Tammuz) is observed from sunrise to sundown and special Torah readings are inserted in the morning and afternoon prayer services, and selihot (penitential prayers) are read.

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The prophet/priest Zechariah (kingdom of Judah; 6th century BCE, following the destruction of the First Temple) projected a future day when all nations would recognize the sanctity of God and Jerusalem. On that apocalyptic day, he prophesied, all the fasts would be annulled and observed instead as days of joy and gladness. Among those fasts was the fast of the fourth month the seventeenth of Tammuz.

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts to the houses of Yehuda; therefore love the truth and peace."[4]

footnotes [1] Jeremiah 39:1-2
[2] Babylonian Talmud Taanit 26a
[3] Taanit 4:6
[4] Zechariah 8:19

TAMMUZ Table of Contents



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