If you were to ask how many formal Jewish holidays there are, the answer you get will depend on who you ask. Ask two different Jews, and your answer it might depend on how long you would like to hear them argue. What can I say, we often like to argue.
Ultimately, there is a total of 50 (51 on a leap year) different holidays, or days of observation in Judaism. With that said, most modern, especially American Jews, only celebrate between 10 to 12 different holidays a year. That list includes the ten major holidays, plus Chanukah, and in some cases a potpourri plus-one toss-up of the remaining 39 different days.
Rather than risk sending your head spinning with a compressive overview of all things festive and Jewish, I’ll give you the “Reader’s Digest” summary of virtually all of the major Jewish holidays:
“People tried to kill us, we survived.”
Now, those outside the Jewish community might be unaware, but one of the apparently endless number of Jewish holidays just so happened to have recently occurred.
At sundown, on Monday, July 31st, the Jewish day of remembrance known as Tisha B’Av commenced.
In Hebrew, Tisha B’Av means, “the ninth of Av.” An appropriate name for this day since the memorial falls every year on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (Typically in July or August on the Gregorian calendar).
One reason that most of those outside of the Jewish community may be unfamiliar with the faith’s many holidays, has to do with the fact that a lot of holidays aren’t exactly fun. At least by conventional standards.
When it comes to “un-fun” holidays, Tisha B’Av is in a league of its own. The ninth of Av is regarded as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar and it is a day that is said to be forever marked with tragedy.
According to Rabbinic tradition, Tisha B’Av’s eternal doomsday origins come straight from the Bible. Specifically, from the sin of the Ten Spies (excluding Joshua and Caleb) in Numbers 13. 1-33. According to tradition, after their scouting venture, only Joshua and Caleb said the Israelites could seize the promise land. The other ten spies Moses had sent out said the land was impossible to conquer. That night the Children of Israel wept with the belief that G-d was setting them up for defeat. That night of sadness is recorded as being the ninth day of Av.
The perpetual day of misfortune is born.
Let’s be honest, there is a lot of things in the Bible we either voluntarily or unconsciously fail to pay attention to. Tisha B’Av might very well have been one of those things, had the ten spies belief in calamity been the only thing that occurred on the 9th of Av. However, it was only the beginning.
Jewish tradition says that the Ninth of Av was the day that the First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
Six-hundred and fifty-seven years later, the Ninth of Av proved to be once again a bad omen when The Second Jewish Temple, built by Ezra was destroyed by the Romans. The second Temple destruction ultimately scattered the people of Judea commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
August 4th 135, also just so happened to be, yep once again, Tisha B’Av. This was the day that the Romans crushed Bar KoChba’s Revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 500,000 Jewish civilians in the process.
If these weren’t enough disaster for the Jewish people, the following calamities befell the Jewish people on or around Tisha B’Av. The Jews were expelled from England; sixteen years later, France; and 186 years later, Spain.
August 1, 1914, when Germany entered World War I, that day just so happened to be good old Av 9th.
Finally, August 2, 1941, also just so happened to be our bad friend again Tisha B’Av. This Tisha B’Av happened to be the day that Commander of the Nazi SS Heinrich Himmler, formally signed and approved “The Final Solution.” Thus starting the Holocaust, which ultimately would result in the deaths of 1/3 of the entire world’s Jewish population.
Ok, now a lot of you might be thinking, “You almost had me thinking about conversion when you mentioned 50 holidays a year. However, if you call all of THAT something to celebrate I’m going to have to pass.”
-Understandable. No hard feelings.
Historically, Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day of the year for Jews. Not only does it serve as a reminder of all of our past misfortunes, but it also marks as a potential harbinger for yet more hardships to come.
However, marked in amongst all of those tragedies is something that is indeed intensely joyous and seemingly nothing short of being a divine work of beauty.
They tried to destroy us… but nevertheless, we survived.
Now, this isn’t the view of most Jews, however, I say Tisha B’Av should be venerated not simply memorialized.
In truth, one doesn’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the secreted representation of Tisha B’Av. You don’t have to be Jewish because every single person existence is a representation of what Tisha B’Av ultimately is. Tisha B’Av isn’t merely the recording of a series of disasters, misfortunes, and tragedies.
No… Tisha B’Av is the story of life! Not Jewish life. Rather, it is the universal encapsulation of all human life.
Fundamentally, Tisha B’Av is merely an example of the natural oscillation between highs and lows that every single person goes through in life. We all face hardships. We all face days of disaster. We all face days in which we feel disconnected from who we desire to be and powerless to what our tomorrow will bring.
Nevertheless, if you are reading this right now, you’re a survivor. Your torch hasn’t been extinguished and you haven’t been voted off the Island. Every single one of us has struggled at some point in life, or some may even be struggling right now. Nevertheless… you still persist.
If you think about it, life, just like the Hebrew calendar, is a very complicated and inexplicable thing. Superficially, life appears to simply be a jumble of coincidences, ambitions, unintended consequences, which all seem to come together and form the collective of our individual existences.
Life is so fundamentally mysterious and fragile that if life was a product we had to take a loan out for, NONE of us would choose to purchase it.
To willingly choose to live, means agreeing to a contract that has an undefined term limit and an infinite number of experiences and outcomes that can come with it.
Would any of us ever buy a car if the salesperson told us:
“You might have this car for a day, or you might have it for 115 years. The car might end up being the most luxurious vehicle you’ve ever driven, or it might end up being a hunk of junk that will cause you many hardships. Oh, and by the way, no matter what, the car is going to be constantly changing. In fact, this car will be a lot of different models, both good and bad. However, it will never stay the same as long you have it.”
However, what makes life so uniquely special has nothing to do with how lavish it is or isn’t at any given moment. Rather, life’s true greatness is that so long as you still have it, there is always the potential for your life to go somewhere. One day you’re an exile the next day you’re a King.
Tisha B’Av represents the collective history of the Jews. However, each of us has a collective history. Every single experience in our collective histories has a meaning. Nothing in life is inconsequential. The good, the bad, the ugly… it all has a meaning. Most importantly that meaning can always be for good!
Nothing you experience in life is ever inherently good or bad. What makes something good or bad is based on how you view it at that moment and time.
The promotion you didn't get at work might seem bad at the moment. However, what if not getting promoted is the exact thing that motivates you into making a career change and suddenly you find your life is better than it ever could have been before.
Any experience you have doesn’t ever have to be truly bad. What if what feels like a disaster at the time is merely preparing you for greatness in the future. The only thing that can hold up your greatness is your willingness to have faith that your future will be bright.
Tisha B’Av isn’t about failure, let down, or catastrophe. It’s about overcoming seemingly insurmountable struggles. It is about survival… persistence… It’s about existence.
Maybe for some people, this is the first time you’ve ever heard about Tisha B’Av. Maybe others are still stuck on the whole 50 holidays thing. If that’s the case, the good news is you just learned something new, and that is always a good thing.
Now, you don’t have to be Jewish, and you don’t even have to remember the words “Ninth of Av” ever again after reading this. However, I do urge everyone to consider for a moment what it was that supposedly ushered in the day of doom and gloom on the Hebrew calendar.
The original act that supposedly eternally cursed an entire day for the Jewish people, actually never started with any misfortune at all. Rather, it was the assumption or belief that tomorrow was going to be disastrous that ultimately did it. The belief that their future was destined to be a failure, resulted in exactly that... failure. The Israelites wandered for 40 years and that generation failed to set foot in the promised land.
The destination in life is always a result of the struggle and tomorrow is only guaranteed to be a failure, if you fail before you ever even try.