Shabbat Balak

Candles Friday 22nd July 8:01pm
Havdalah 23rd 8:55pm
Fast of Shivah Assar Be Tammuz
Starts Sunday morning 4:15am
Ends at 8:55pm

According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6) Five calamities befell the Jewish people on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:

Moses broke the two tablets of stone on Mount Sinai after they made the Golden Calf
The daily tamid sacrifice could not be brought because the Babylonian siege cut off supplies to the Temple
The walls of Jerusalem were breached (the first step towards the destruction of the Temple), and Apostomus burned a Torah scroll
An idol was erected in the Temple.

There is so much here that is both contradictory and historically uncertain. Which Temple was it? When was the tamid sacrifice discontinued? Who was Apostomus? The answer is we do not know for certain!

The Babylonian Talmud places the second and fifth tragedies in the First Temple but dates the breach of Jerusalem to the Second Temple period.
Jerusalem of the First Temple, on the other hand, was breached on the 9th of Tammuz. However, the Jerusalem Talmud states that the breach of Jerusalem in the First Temple occurred on 17th Tammuz.

Apostomus according to Josephus was a Roman soldier in 50 ACE who seized a Torah-scroll and, burned it in public. But the burning of a Torah came later at the time of the Hadrianic persecutions when Chanania ben Teradyon, one of the most distinguished men of the time, was wrapped in a Torah-scroll and burned. According to the Jerusalem Talmud Apostomus burned the Torah at the narrow pass of Lydda. Others suggest that Apostomus was no other than Antiochus Epiphanes and another opinion is that "Apostomus" is the Hebrew transcription for the Latin "Faustinus," and that the name of Julius Severus, who was sent by Hadrian to put down the Bar Cochba rebellion, in which case the setting up of an idol in the sanctuary would have to be taken to refer to the dedication of a temple of Zeus upon the consecrated ground of the Temple.

The fact is we do not know. So why do we still insist on keeping the fast? The answer simply is this. The Seventeenth of Tammuz is the start of a three-week period of sadness and mourning that culminates with Tisha B’Av when both Temples, both Jewish States were destroyed and the people exiled.

In both cases Rabbinic tradition says that we were the cause of our own downfall because we were divided, politically and socially. The rich did not care for the poor. Half the Jews were opposed to the other half. The many of the rabbis were corrupt and we made the wrong decisions because we allowed the mob, popular opinion to influence policies.

That message is so true today. Just as relevant as it ever was. Whether in Israel or the USA. That is why we fast to examine ourselves to see if we can improve, be better and avoid the mistakes and tragedies of the past.