2000 years of mourning for the Temple
Monday night and Tuesday is Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year where we mourn the loss of both Temples. I will not be posting until Tuesday afternoon.
Here is a (Christian) description of how Jews mourned the Temple in the 19th as well as the first and fifth centuries, from Recent Discoveries on the Temple Hill at Jerusalem by James King, 1884.
According to this account, Jews were still allowed to visit the Temple Mount until the Muslim invasion.
The congregation at the Wailing Place is one of the most solemn gatherings left to the Jewish Church, and, as the writer gazed at the motley concourse, he experienced a feeling of sorrow that the remnants of the chosen race should be heartlessly thrust outside the sacred enclosure of their fathers’ holy Temple by men of an alien race and an alien creed. Many of the elders, seated on the ground with their backs against the wall on the west side of the area, and with their faces turned towards the Eternal House, read out of their well-thumbed Hebrew books passages from the prophetic writings, such as “Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever; behold, see, we beseech Thee, we are all Thy people. Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned up with fire, and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt Thou refrain Thyself for these things, O Lord? Wilt Thou hold Thy peace, and afflict us very sore
About four o’clock a Rabbin stood up, facing the Sanctuary wall, and, resting his book against the stone, read aloud from the Jewish lamentation service a kind of litany. After each petition the assembly responded in a peculiar buzzing tone, rocking their bodies to and fro, after the manner of their fathers. The following litany of eight petitions is often rehearsed :—
The Rabbin reads aloud— All the people respond—
For the place that lies desolate: We sit in solitude and mourn.For the place that is destroyed: We sit in solitude and mourn.For the walls that are overthrown: We sit in solitude and mourn.For our majesty that is departed: We sit in solitude and mourn.For our great men who lie dead: We sit in solitude and mourn.For the precious stones that are buried: We sit in solitude and mourn.For the priests who have stumbled: We sit in solitude and mourn.
For our kings who have despised Him: We sit in solitude and mourn.
Another litany, written after the manner of an antiphonal psalm, is often repeated. It consists of five petitions, offered up on behalf of Zion; and, in response to each petition, the assembly offer up a petition for Jerusalem:—
The Rabbin prays thus :—
We pray Thee have mercy on Zion:
Haste! haste! Redeemer of Zion:
May beauty and majesty surround
Zion:May the kingdom soon return to
Zion:May peace and joy abide with Zion:
The people answer—
Gather the children of Jerusalem.
Speak to the heart of Jerusalem.
Ah! turn Thyself mercifully to Jerusalem.
Comfort those who mourn over Jerusalem.
And the Branch of Jesse spring up at Jerusalem.
The following is an account of a visit to the Wailing Place by Dr. Frankl, a Jew, who visited the Holy City:—
“The Jews have a firman from the Sultan, which, in return for a small tax, ensures them the right of entrance to the Wailing Place for all time to come. The road conducted us to several streets, till, entering a narrow crooked lane, we reached the wall, which has been often described. There can be no doubt but the lower part of it is a real memorial of the days of Solomon, which, in the language of Flavius Josephus, is immovable for all time. Its cyclopic proportions produce the conviction that it will last as long as the strong places of the earth. Before we reached the wall we heard a sort of howling melody—a passionate shrieking—a heart-rending wailing, like a chorus, from which the words came sounding forth, ‘How long yet, O God?’ Several hundreds of Jews, in Turkish and Polish costumes, were assembled, and, with their faces turned towards the wall, were bending and bowing as they offered up the evening prayer. He who led their devotions was a young man in a Polish talar, who seemed to be worn out with passion and disease. The words were those of the well-known Mincha prayer, but drawled, torn, shrieked, and mumbled in such a way that the piercing sound resembled rather the raging frenzy of chained madmen, or the roaring of a cataract, than the worship of rational beings. At a considerable distance from the men stood about a hundred women, all in long white robes, the folds of which covered the head and the whole figure—like white doves, which, weary of flight, had perched upon the ruins. When it was their turn to offer up the usual passages of the prayer, they joined the men’s tumultuous chorus, and raised their arms aloft, which with their white robes looked like wings with which they were about to soar aloft into the open sky; and then they struck their foreheads on the square stones of the wall of the Temple. Meanwhile, if the leader of their prayers grew weary, and leaned his head against the wall in silent tears, for a moment there was a death-like silence. I happened to be near him, and I could mark the sincerity of his agitated soul. He gave a rapid glance at me, and, without stopping short in his prayer, said to me, ‘Mokam Kodesh,’ i.e., ‘Holy place,’ and pointed to my covered feet. My guide had forgotten to inform me that I must take off my shoes. I now did so, and was drawn into the vortex of raging sorrow and lamentation.”
The Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening at sunset, therefore, when the sun was sinking low in the western sky, the worshippers at the Wailing Place sometimes chant in Hebrew a plaintive hymn, known as the Wailing Song. The melody is thought to date from the time of Ezra, and, consequently, is accounted to be amongst the oldest pieces of music extant. The following is a translation of the hymn :—
He is great, He is good.
He’ll build His Temple speedily.
In great haste, in great haste,
In our own day speedily.
Lord, build, Lord, build,
Build Thy Temple speedily.
He will save, He will save,
He’ll save His Israel speedily.
At this time, now, O Lord,
In our own day speedily.
Lord, save, Lord, save,
Save Thine Israel speedily.
Lord, bring back, Lord, bring back,
Bring back Thy people speedily;
O restore to their land,
To their Salem speedily.
Bring back to Thee, bring back to Thee,
To their Saviour, speedily.
How long the Jews have assembled for lamentation at the Wailing Place cannot be determined with certainty, although there is historical evidence to prove that they have assembled to mourn over their lost glory and desolate Temple since the time of the Apostles. After the merciless destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D., the priestly families fled to Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee; and the great men of the Jewish nation found homes in Egypt, Cyprus, and other places, while only the poor and the officiating priests remained in the Holy City. Slowly Jerusalem rose from her ashes, and for sixty years enjoyed such peace as comes after the maddened din of warfare. During that period the Jews bewailed their downfall, and nobody interfered with the poor inhabitants of the city. At length, after sixty years’ freedom from accursed warfare, a mighty insurrection arose among the Jews against the oppressive yoke of Rome. The insurgents were headed by Bar Cochaba, the Son of a Star, the last and greatest of the false Messiahs. After three years of warfare and butchery, Bar Cochaba, with sword in hand, fell down slain on the walls of Beth-er, near Bethlehem, and forthwith the domination of the Romans was restored. The Emperor Hadrian, filled with wrath at the insurrection, again destroyed Jerusalem, and drove the Jews from their hallowed city. He fixed a Roman colony on Zion, built a heathen temple on Moriah, on the site of the sacred edifice of the Jews, and dedicated it to Capitoline Jupiter. When the colony had increased in size, he bestowed upon the new city the name of ^Elia Capitolina, combining with his own family title of ^Elius the name of Jupiter of the Capitol, the guardian deity of the colony. Christians and pagans were permitted to reside there, but the Jews were forbidden to enter the city on pain of death ; and this stern decree remained in force in the days of Tertullian, about a century afterwards. About the middle of the fourth century, however, the Jews were permitted to dwell in the neighbourhood, and once a year—on the anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem—they were allowed to enter the Temple enclosure, that they might approach the lapis pertusus, or perforated stone, and anoint it with oil. “There,” says an ancient, writer “they make lamentations with groans, and rend their garments, and so retire.”
Jerome, the eminent Latin Father, who founded a convent at Bethlehem, and for thirty years led an ascetic life in the Holy Land, when commenting, about 400 A.D., on Zephaniah i. 14, “The mighty man shall cry there bitterly,” draws a vivid picture of the wretched crowds of Jews who in his day assembled at the Wailing Place, by the west wall of the Temple, to bemoan the loss of their ancestral greatness.
On the ninth of the month Ab, might be seen the aged and decrepit of both sexes, with tattered garments and dishevelled hair, who met to weep over the downfall of Jerusalem, and purchased permission of the soldiery to prolong their lamentations, el miles mercedem postulat tit illis flere plus liceat. The perforated stone, called lapis pertusus, is probably the Sakkra or sacred rock of Moriah, originally the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, and now covered with the elegant sanctuary called Kubbet es-Sakhra, or Dome of the Rock.
After the Moslem occupation of Jerusalem in the seventh century, the lapis pertusus, or sacred rock of Moriah, was invested with a sanctity second only to the Kaaba of Mecca. This sanctity was afterwards extended to the whole of the top of Moriah, and, consequently, the heretic Jews were driven outside the Temple enclosure. In course of time, however, they approached the outer walls, and there continued to celebrate their lamentation service. Thus for above twelve centuries have the Jews assembled outside the walls of their ancient Temple; but it would be difficult, with our present knowledge, to prove that the present Wailing Place has been the identical spot of lamentation throughout the many generations that have lived and died since the Moslem occupation of Jerusalem under Khalif Omar in 637 A.D.
Here are my previous Tisha B’Av posts:
2005: A sad anniversary
2006: A reason to keep mourning on Tisha B’Av
2007: Tisha B’Av, 1948
2008: Weeping over the ruins of Jerusalem
2009: The Kotel, 1912
2010: A reason to cry
2011: Judaism’s holiest site is being desecrated today
2012: Documentary on Israel’s disengagement of Gaza
2013: The Churban underneath the Mount
I wish everyone observing Tisha B’Av an easy and meaningful fast.