The fast day of the Tenth of the Hebrew month of Tevet (this year, today,January 4) symbolizes the first of a series of events which led to the destruction of the First Temple: the beginning of the siege of the Babylonians on Jerusalem, the capital city of Judea, as the Book of Kings relates:
“Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around. The city continued in a state of siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah” (Kings II, 25 verse 1-2)
A number of years ago, Peter McGrath published an article in Newsweek entitled “The Curse of the Past: An Indifference to History Can be a Blessing”. His thesis was that Americans display a remarkable indifference to their own history and that this is a good thing. He cited a study in which post high-school students had difficulty distinguishing Ulysses S. Grant from Robert E. Lee. McGrath also mentioned the Battle of Antietam, which took place during the Civil War. Five thousand men died and another 18,500 were wounded, yet most Americans have never heard of it, let alone can they locate Antietam on a map.
Aside from Yom Kippur, Tishah B’av is the most important fast day of the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. and of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It also commemorates the fall of Betar, the last stronghold of Bar Kokhba in 135 C.E. Finally, it happens to be the day on which hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.