While the Temple Burned
By Larry Domnitch
The fires the consumed both the first and second Jerusalem Temples continue to burn until the middle of the following day. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan stated, "Had I been alive in that generation, I would have fixed [the day of mourning] for the tenth (of Av), because the greater part of the Temple was burnt on that day." As Tisha B'Av, has been a day of Jewish misfortune and tragic occurrences throughout history, so too has been the tenth of Av.
On the Tenth of Av, several events occurred that had a profound effect upon the history of the Jews, resulting in tragedies of untold proportions.
Expulsion from France
On July 22 1306, the tenth of Av, the Jews of France were arrested and ordered to leave the country.
The Jewish community was not aware of the planned expulsion, for France's king, Phillip the Fair, did not want them to flee in advance with their assets. One of the monarch's motives for expelling the Jews was financial. Phillip saw plundering the wealth of the exiles as a way to shore up France's economic woes. No doubt, frustration of failed attempts over centuries to force the Jews into apostasy was also a contributing factor. Some local European provinces in prior years had expelled the Jews, but this decree applied to most of France. It was by far the most significant expulsion to date in Medieval Europe. Approximately one hundred thousand, including both young and old, healthy and infirmed, were forced to wander in search of new homes; many perished along the way.
In less then ten years, Louis the X invited the Jews back to France, some did return. However, the expulsion had serious consequences beyond the immense human suffering it had caused. It had ended the great era of Jewish scholarship of the Tosaphists of France, whose commentaries illuminated Talmudic texts. The expulsion also set a precedent for other mass expulsions, which plagued the Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages. As a result, the existence of Jewish communities within a European country became precarious. Jews never knew for sure if they might be compelled by law to pack their bags.
Barred from England
As Jews might be forced from their homes, other places had denied Jews residence. In the twentieth century with the emergence of Nazi Germany, such policies had grave implications to the Jewish community.
In the late nineteenth century, England was a haven for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing from oppression in Russia. The immigrants made their way to the East End of London. Their continuous flow had slowly aroused the opposition of many British lawmakers. Some as far back as the 1880's dubbed the immigration wave, "the alien invasion." Many viewed the Eastern European Jewish immigrants as a pariah, or a "state within a state." With the increase of xenophobia, laws were proposed to limit the flow of 'aliens' into Great Britain.
On August 11, 1905, the tenth of Av, the 'Aliens Act' was passed. The law entitled an immigration officer to deny entry to an 'undesirable immigrant,' defined as one who had no means of earning a living, one who is judged to be a lunatic, or one who was convicted of a nonpolitical crime. The bill also allowed for the expulsion of those that had already immigrated and were deemed undesirable.
With the passage of the Alien Act, immigration restriction had become law. The British legislation was not only the beginning of a policy that would enforce increasingly stricter anti-immigration measures over time, but it also impacted American policy. Americans who opposed the levels of Eastern European immigration looked towards the bill as an example of immigration limitation. In 1924, Johnson Reed Bill passed the US Congress severely restricting the flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe. These restrictions remained in force throughout the era of Nazism and the Holocaust, denying European Jewry desperately needed sanctuary.
Events on the tenth of Av in Israel
On the tenth of Av in the year 1929, Arab hostilities towards Zionism exploded into full-scale riots. The Arabs of Jerusalem were well aware of the significance of the Western Wall to the Jews and used Judaism's holy site as a means to express their opposition to the Balfour declaration of 1917, which called for a Jewish state in 'Palestine.' On Yom Kippur 1928, the British consented to Arab demands to remove the mechitza, the divider separating men from women when in prayer. In the middle of Yom Kippur services, British soldiers entered the grounds of the Western Wall and removed the Mechitza.
As Arab opposition to Zionsim was increasing, efforts were made by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini to keep Jews from praying at the Western Wall. Husseini whipped Arab masses into a rage by charging that the Jews were attacking the Muslim holy places. Soon after, as a newly opened door near the Kotel near the Jewish worshippers was opened Jews were attacked at the Western Wall. Useage was made of this opening by the Arab attackers contrary to British assurances that the opening would not be used to attacks. Two Jews were injured and many religious articles were destroyed.
On the next day, the seventeenth of August the 11th of Av -- thousands of Arabs armed with clubs, swords and daggers converged upon the Mosque of Omar to hear the impassioned speeches by their leaders. Soon the cry 'slaughter the Jews' was bellowed by masses of Arabs in the streets of Jerusalem. Over the next few days there were attacks at Mount Scopus and the Bucharian section of Jerusalem where young Abraham Mizrachi was mortally stabbed.
Over the next ten days, rioting would take the lives of 133 Jews with 339 wounded. When the British police, who were slow to act, finally restored order, it again became clear that solution to the conflict between Arab and Jew was not forthcoming.
Throughout the Arab world, the conflict and the issue of Jewish settlement became highlighted as a result of the riots. Massive demonstrations were held throughout Arab countries in sympathy with the Arabs in 'Palestine.' In Iraq, ten thousand assembled in a mosque in memory of the victims of "British Zionist aggression." Then they poured out into the streets in angry demonstration. Such displays further pressured the British to yield to Arab terms, which demanded severe restrictions on Jewish immigration into Palestine, and the British did respond by imposing such severe restrictions with the Passfield White Paper of 1929, and the eventual MacDonald White Paper of 1939.
The first of the 1929 anti-Zionist riots which cause the British to further restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine began on August 16 1929 - the Tenth of Av. As events of the day contributed to the closure of the west to Jewish immigrants, so too was the sanctuary of the Land of Israel denied the Jews in their greatest hour of need.
Indeed, the destruction of the Temple, which continued into the Tenth day of Av is remembered and mourned on that day. So too are the tragedies over the course of Jewish History also remembered and mourned on that fateful day, as well.