We are about to enter the Three Weeks – the period of time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. (Tammuz 17 begins Monday evening, July 5th.) It is such an inauspicious period throughout our history that the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, forbids the performance of weddings. It is a period of introspection with thoughts to correcting one’s mistakes in life. During this period – though in different times of history – both of the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.
The Second Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, unwarranted hatred. People did not treat others with respect or kindness. The Sages tell us that for the Third Temple to be rebuilt there needs to be Ahavat Chinam, unconditional love.
The 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz begins a three week national period of semi-mourning which culminates with the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av). It is a period where many tragedies have historically occurred and is considered in Jewish cosmology such an inauspicious time period that one is, as mentioned above, not allowed to get married. From the 1st of Av (July 19) one is even advised to push off court cases until after the 10th of Av (July 30th). Traditionally, we refrain from hair-cutting, purchasing or wearing new clothing, listening to music and pleasure trips. It is a time for self-reflection and improvement.
On the 17th of Tammuz five calamitous events occurred throughout history:
– Moshe broke the first Tablets of the Ten Commandments when he descended from Mt. Sinai and saw the worshipping of the Golden Calf.
– The Daily Sacrificial Offerings ceased in the First Temple due to lack of sheep.
– The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the siege of the Second Temple.
– Apustumus-the-Wicked burned a Sefer Torah.
– An idol was placed in the Sanctuary of the Second Temple.
The 17th of Tammuz is a fast day. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise and continuing until about an hour after sunset. The purpose of the fast is to awaken our hearts to repentance through recalling our forefathers’ misdeeds which led to tragedies and our repetition of those mistakes. The fasting is a preparation for repentance – to break the body’s dominance over a person’s spiritual side. One should engage in self-examination and undertake to correct mistakes in his relationship with G-d, his fellow man and with himself.
It is interesting to note that Saddam Hussein named the nuclear reactor (from which he planned to create a bomb to drop on Israel) – you guessed it, Tammuz 17.
Source: Ten Minutes Over Baghdad. For more history, read Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov.