Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tisha B'av

The fasting day of Tisha B'av or literally the ninth of the month of Av began last night at sundown. Av is a month in the Jewish calendar which is a lunar calendar so the dates change every year. I went on a tour of the old city last night. The tour was through the Overseas Student Association we had a security guard with us and an official tour guide so it was very safe.

Tisha B'av is a day of mourning for the Jewish people. During the fast which is from sundown yesterday to sundown today there is no eating, no drinking (not even water), you can not wash or bath yourself, no deodorant or perfume, no marital relations, you can't wear leather shoes, no sitting in chairs you must sit on the floor, no working, no greeting others and no smiling. Traditionally the book of Lamentations is read on this day some sects also read the book of Job. It is a day of grieving as if someone close to you has died. I have the day off from school.

Many important events in Jewish history have taken place on the ninth of Av. The Babylonians destroyed Solomon's temple in 586 B.C. on this day. The Bible actually gives two different days for the destruction of the first temple 2kgs 25:8 says the 7th of Av and Jeremiah says the 10th of Av. The Rabbis compromised on the 9th. 656 years later the second temple build by King Herod was destroyed by the Romans lead by Titus. It is also the day that the 12 spies Moses sent into the promised land to scout came back and the people were afraid so they had to wonder the desert for the next 40 years. Bar Kokhba's revolt failed on the 9th of Av in 132 A.D. The Jewish people believe that their messiah will be born on the 9th of Av.

We began our tour at the Jaffa gate which is the one tourists most often enter. It is called Jaffa gate because it is in the direction of the port city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv. Jaffa was the port city most of the Crusaders came to and they entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa gate. I learned that the current walls of the city were built by Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in 1538. The walls were built very thin and they were designed to be pretty not to be fortifications. The impressive looking guard towers on the wall are empty inside. Suleiman didn't want anyone to find out that the walls were so thin so he killed the two engineers that built the walls for him. The engineers are buried just inside Jaffa gate next to the wall.

We got to go up on the ramparts are walk on part of the outer wall of the city. It was kind of creepy walking up all those stairs in the darkness and noticing how narrow the walkway is. Now they have guardrails for safety but back in the 1530's there were no guard rails for those in charge of walking the walls. This is a picture I took from a guard platform. The tower is known as David's tower, however it was not built by David. I can't remember who built it but I think it was the Crusaders who incorrectly named it. Off to the right in the picture is where the ancient jail used to be located today it's stables for the horses of the mounted police. So standing up here it smells like horses.

The tower from the previous picture is just to the right of this picture. Most of the pictures I took turned out blurry but I'm still figuring out the night settings on the camera. I think it looks beautiful. See the bright light towards the right edge of the picture? There is a monastery there that marks the line of the Israeli controlled area in 1948 between that area up to the outer wall was a no man's land for 19 years. The mayor of Jerusalem had his office in this area and he decided to live in his office during those 19 years and everyday the Jordanian army would take shots at him they never hit him. Our guide told us an interesting story that I'm not sure is true but I'll share it anyway. There was an elderly lady that lived close to the boundary line and one day as she was leaning out the window her teeth fell out and landed in no man's land. Our guide said it took the United Nations four months to work out a solution. One Jordanian general, one Israeli general and one U.N. general walked in together to return that poor woman's teeth. I'm doing my best to recount the historical events but I may have confused some of the details this tour was in the evening after a long day of class.

Once we got down from the walls we went through the Zion gate pictured here. If you look closely you might be able to see the bullet holes left from the fighting between the Jordanian and Israeli armies in 1948 for the control of the Jewish Quarter. After this we went to see the tomb of King David which is near one of the places the Upper Room from the last supper might have been. There were signs here asking that no pictures be taken so sadly I can't show it too you. I did get to hear a group of Jewish men reading a special lamentation prayer for Tisha B'av near David's tomb.

Now this is in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. This is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem...sort of..technically its the site of the oldest synagogue since the site keeps getting destroyed in the fighting because the enemy knows its important. This version was built around 2005.

This is a minaret to the left of the previous picture. A minaret is part of a Muslim mosque at prayer times a man climbs to the top of the tower to sing to let Muslims know it's time to pray. So what is a minaret doing next to the synagogue in the heart of the Jewish Quarter? Of course there is a good story involved. Once the land the synagogue sits on belonged to this Jewish lady whose son got into an argument with the elders. The argument got so heated that the son no longer felt comfortable in the Jewish Quarter so he converted to Islam. The mother was so angry at the Jewish elders for causing her son to become a Muslim that she sold the land to the Arabs. The Arabs evicted the Jews from the synagogue and built a mosque on the site. The mosque was destroyed sometime later and the land once again belongs to the Jewish people but the minaret remains.

A traditional part of Tisha B'av is visiting the Western Wall to pray. You aren't supposed to take pictures around the wall on the Sabbath Day or holidays so this one was snapped quickly before we went through security. I don't think you can really tell how many people were there let me just tell you it was very crowded. And this picture was taken around midnight to give you some idea of the importance of the visit to the wall and more people kept coming in through security. We got back to the Student Village close to 1 am.

Questions from the last post:
Nikki-I spend a lot of time in my room. Right now if I'm not in class I will likely be in my room studying or taking a nap. We have not had any drills for the bomb shelter. There is a speaker right outside my bedroom that I think is used to warn us to take shelter. I haven't figured out anything else it could be for. I do have a wireless internet connection and I have notice the connection is slower with the window closed I haven't tried it with the blast door closed.

Uncle Joe- Based on what the tour guide told us I think the crenelations at Damascus gate are just for decoration if I find out anything different I'll let you know.

My teddy bear was bought for me by Trevor. Her name is Adaya Tikva both are Hebrew names their meanings put together mean God's jewel of Hope. Her t-shirt has the symbol of world peace on it. She traveled here in my carry on giving extra padding to my computer.

The cacti outside my window are wild I've seen them growing elsewhere in town. The keystone structure over the windows on the construction site is just for pretty decoration. You can't tell from my zoomed in picture but more than one window doesn't have the keystone yet. The tall skinny trees on the sides of the staircase are not Cedars of Lebanon I don't think we are in the right climate for those. I think they are some kind of pine tree but I'm not sure which species.

I think I covered the night pictures request pretty well in this post but I'll try to snap so more if I'm ever out after dark.


  1. Good picturing. I don't see any advertising signs lit up. Do they shut them down for the holy day, or not have any, or just not any in the picture?

    I like the teddy bear answer. I wasn't expecting that much depth of character for the furry fellow.

    Are those lines of holes about two feet above the top of the lintel on that doorway what you are saying are bullet holes? Must be from a machine gun!

    Really like your tourguiding style. Did you learn it all from Disney. You certainly are presenting a "Magic Kingdom". :)

  2. The history of the Tisha B'av and the ninth of Av which I didn't know about or that it's a national day of mourning for the Jewish people. The appropriate way to observe the day involved so much deprivation and solitude regarding food, comforts and socializing. I can't think of anything is the Christian faith that comes close to this level of dedication. The reading of Lamentations or Job must hold a special significance on this day.

    Great history lesson on Solomon's Temple, the Crusaders, Jaffa and Zion Gates. Gastly price to pay for constructing deceptively thin walls by the two engineers.

    The night time pictures are beautiful. I love the way you explain the history and what I'm looking at. It's like experiencing the tour myself through your eyes. I'm enjoying your blog so much.


  3. What a great tour! I love the story about the woman losing her dentures! It really doesn't matter if it did happen. No doubt getting it resolved would take all that work.

    The stories, history and pictures are wonderful!

  4. No sitting in chairs? And no smiling?!? Wow! That's intense! Did what you observed from other people match all these rules? Did you guys have to be careful on the tour not to smile at anyone?

    Great pictures and stories! Thanks for sharing!