The first music that I heard on Israel radio this morning (Tuesday, August 9th, ט'' באב) was
עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל--שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ, גַּם-בָּכִינוּ: בְּזָכְרֵנוּ, אֶת-צִיּוֹן.
My old brain transformed that into Peter, Paul and Mary, "By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered thee Zion . . . ."
Psalm 137, in whatever language you prefer.
This is the ninth day in the month of Av (Tisha B''Av), a time of fasting to mourn the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 588 BCE, and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans on the same day in 70 CE. By tradition, Jews also remember other catastrophes associated with Tisha B''Av, even if they may not have occurred exactly on that date.
The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II on July 20, 1095 (in Jewish Calendar av 9, 4855), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
Jews were expelled from England on July 25,1290 (Av 9, 5050 in Jewish Calendar).
Jews were expelled from Spain on August 11, 1492 (Av 9, 5252 in Jewish Calendar).
On Tisha B''Av 5674 (August 1, 1914), World War I broke out, causing unprecedented devastation across Europe and set the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
On the eve of Tisha B''Av 5702 (July 23, 1942), the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
The Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 86 and wounding 300 others, on Monday July 18, 1994, (in Jewish Calendar, the 10th of Av, 5754).
To this list might be added:
S&P''s downgrade of US Government bonds, and subsequent panics in the stock exchanges of New York, Europe, Tel Aviv and elsewhere
Extreme dissatisfaction with the Israeli government expressed by two to three hundred thousand protesters last weekend in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities.
There is also a spreading of violence from a trigger incident in London to several major cities of Britain, raising the prospect of what may happen in lower income enclaves elsewhere.
Those claiming to be leaders of the Israeli protest have been quick to reject the panel of experts appointed by the Prime Minister to hear complaints and make proposals. The economic crisis will not help. Perceptions of severe problems in Europe and the United States are producing comments about belt-tightening to complete with those demanding a revolution. Physicians are also likely to be hurt. Their partial strikes have been going for several months. Currently the Physicians Association and Finance Ministry negotiators are at an impasse. Government negotiators are saying that they have made the best offer possible. Senior physicians are trying to deal with rebellions of colleagues unhappy with what seems to be a possible outcome.
The free market enthusiast who is the prime minister has noted his willingness to readjust taxes to lighten the burden on regressive levies like Value Added and rely more on the progressive taxes. That is only a small step toward the long list of demands shouted by protesters. Many of them would be hurt by an increase in progressive taxes. An analysis of who participated in last weekend''s demonstration shows more than 50 percent coming from the three highest deciles of family income. (The Marker August 8, p. 12)
Ancient texts do not agree about what has become Tisha B''Av. The Book of Jeremiah dates the destruction of the Temple as the 10th day of Av. (52:12) Rabbis and communities have varied in their observance from the time of the Talmud to the present.
Israelis are serious about Tisha B''Av. A recent survey indicates that more than 20 percent of Jews fast. Most restaurants, cinemas, and other places of entertainment are closed. I do not think of the university gym as a place of entertainment, but that, too, is closed. Banks and the stock exchange are closed. This year that provides an opportunity to cool off and ponder current shocks in the market.
Those who pray read the Book of Lamentations. Its beginning sets the mood:
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary
She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she hath none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
The last passage is more hopeful.
Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
Thou canst not have utterly rejected us, and be exceeding wroth against us.
Some also read the Book of Job. That also begins bad and ends better.
Perhaps we can hope for something similar this week, or next.