Thursday, July 08, 2010

What happened on 17 Tammuz?

Growing up, we always heard that everything terrible happened on Tisha B'av. The Crusades, the Holocaust, the World Wars, the expulsion from Spain, terrorist attacks - you name it. According to our credulous teachers all of it took place on the day set aside for sorrow, our eternal day of mourning.

When I got a little older, I came to understand that the reasoning here is fallacious. Sure, lots of terrible things happened on Tisha B'av, but what about all the terrible things that happened on other days? If we listed all the tragedies that Jewish people have endured wouldn't we see that the overwhelming majority of them occurred on other days? If the misses far outnumber the hits, can we still say that a meangful relationship exists between our historical tragedies and 9 Av? I don't think so.

With the passage of still more time, I discovered something else: Many of the so-called 9 Av tragedies, actually occurred on other days The great Yuter, an Orthodox Rabbi, pointed it out to me first, and though more than 5 years have passed since I first read Yuter's post, the shock of the discovery still hasn't completely worn off. I remain a little mad at being misled, and a little disappointed that people continue to be so credulous about something so easily disproved.

That's 9 Av, but  this post is about 17 Tammuz. When I was a kid, only 9 Av was connected to tragedies of the past, but I've recently found this post  on the OU's website which attempts to do the same thing for 17 Tammuz. A whole list of events is provided, but are these event's connection to 17 Tammuz as phony as the list Yuter debunked 5 years ago? I decided to find out. What follows is the OU's list with my notes and discoveries in italics
  • Moshe breaks the tablets: The mishna (see below) lists this as one of the 17 Tammuz tragedies. This occured 40 days after the Sinai revelation, which is generally accepted to have occured on 6 Sivan. R. Yosi, a tanna, says Siani was on 7 Sivan, which means the tablets were broken on 18 Tammuz. It would seem, R. Yosi did not hold that 17 Tamuz was a day of disaster for all time. 
  • The priests stop offering the daily Tamid: Also from the mishna (below). The Babylonian Talmud says this occurred during the First Temple era
  • The city of Jerusalem was breached: Also from the mishna (below). The Babylonian Temple says this was a Second Temple era tragedy; the Jerusalem Talmud dates it to the First Temple (and argues that the verse in Jeremiah which would contradict this is actually a scribal error.)
  • Apostmes burns the Torah: Source is still the mishna. No one really knows who Apostomos is. He appears only here, and in the Talmud that discusses this mishna. Louis Ginzburg suggests that Apostemos is really Antiochus Epiphanes, the villain of the Hanuka story. On the OU site and elsewhere he is referred to as a captain of the Roman occupation force, but I don't know how this identification is sustained.
  • Apostmes puts an idol in the sanctuary: The Talmud's proof text for this is a verse in Daniel, which, tradition holds, dates to the Persian period, so I confess to not fully understand why Apostmes is said to be Roman. The idol-in-the-sanctuary story seems like a point in Louis Ginzburg's favor. It was something just like this, tradition tells us, that started the Macabee revolt.
  • In 1391, more than 4,000 Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain:  Wikipedia has anti-Jewish riots occurring on  or around June 6 and August 5 of that year. June 6 on the Gregorian calendar is May 29 on the Julian (see here) and May 29, 1391 corresponds to 17 SIVAN. This is a miss. August 5 corresponds to July 28 which was 18 Av. Also a miss. Though I don't doubt Spanish Jews were murdered on 17 Tamuz 1391, it seems they were murdered all summer long. I fail to see why the deaths on 17 Tamuz are significant, while the deaths during the rest of the summer are ignored. This is the sharpshooter's fallacy.
  • and in 4319 (1559) the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted. The only date I can find for this is June 22; this corresponds to June 12, which was 27 Sivan. Another miss The sharpshooter's fallacy is also in play here: There were pogroms, and ghetto destructions and anti-Jewish atrocities virtually all the time during those dark years. Even if I've calculated wrong, and the ghetto was destroyed on 17 Tammuz, supporters of this theory still need to explain why this one event is more meaningful and significant then all the other terrible things which didn't happen on 17 Tammuz
  • Kovno ghetto was liquidated on this day in 5704 (1944) July 8, 1944 is the date Kovno's Jews were deported, and this does correspond to 17 Tammuz. A hit! However,the sharpshooter's fallacy still applies: Dozens of ghettos were destroyed during the holocaust and there were dozens if not hundreds of deportations. Other than a desire to mabufacture significance for 17 Tammuz, what makes the Kovno ghetto's destruction more important than all the Holocaust  atrocities that didn't occur on 17 Tammuz?
  • and in 5730 (1970) Libya ordered the confiscation of Jewish property: I can't find a date for this.
Conclusion: Attempts to link tragedies to 17 Tammuz are as fruitless and as bogus as the already debunked attempts to do the same for 9 Av.

The Mishna: Five things befell our ancestors on the seventeenth of Tammuz...  On the seventeenth of Tammuz the Tablets were broken and the tamid ceased, and the city was breached, and Apostomos burned the Torah and placed an idol in the sanctuary.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The gemara in taanit specifically says that even according to Rabbi Yossi who holds that the torah was given on the 7th of sivan, and the Luchot were broken on the 17th of Tammuz