The 17th of Tammuz and the Three Weeks

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 (David Roberts)

Tuesday, July 15th marks the beginning of the period known to Orthodox Jews everywhere as “the Three Weeks.” In  the Hebrew calendar that date is the 17th of Tammuz, which  commemorates the day the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem, finally ending its long siege.

The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE. Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av. The 17th of Tammuz marks the beginning of the end of the Second Temple era, with the Romans conquering Jerusalem in three very bloody weeks and destroying the Temple.  Nearly seven centuries earlier, the Babylonians had breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple.

Four other tragic events in history occurred on the 17th of Tammuz:

  1. Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshiping the Golden Calf.
  2. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of sheep.
  3. Apostomos burned the holy Torah.
  4. An idol was placed in the Holy Temple.


Night in Western Wall, Site of the Former Holy Temples in Jerusalem (Antoine Taveneaux)

As an Orthodox Jew, together with many of the Touro College faculty, staff, and students, I will be fasting this Tuesday. A fast day is an opportunity for reflection and self-examination, not only a sad day in history.

The Touro College Libraries have a number of titles on this topic, including the books, In the narrow places: daily inspiration for the Three Weeks, by Erica Brown, and A summary of Halachos of the Three Weeks, by Rabbi Shimon D. Eider.

The fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins at 3:54 AM on Tuesday, July 15th, and ends at 8:58 PM.

Contributed by Toby Krausz, Judaica Librarian, Midtown Library

One thought on “The 17th of Tammuz and the Three Weeks

  1. 613sho July 2, 2015 / 4:52 pm

    While the article is excellent, it is important to note that not all Orthodox Jews have 3 weeks of mourning. Many Sephardic Jews do not start mourning until Rosh Chodesh Av. Indeed, the Talmud, Maran, Ben Ish Hai and the Hida (to name a few) begin the discussion of the laws of mourning with Rosh Chodesh Av. Many Sephardic Jews have taken on the custom to mourn 3 weeks, but many have not.

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