Every year during the summer months, observant Jews spend three weeks expressing increasing levels of national mourning that commemorate tragedies that befell the Jewish people in the distant past.
This three-week period, which generally falls in the month of July, begins with a national fast day known as the 17th of Tammuz (which this year falls on Thursday 9th July) and ends with a further national fast day known as the 9th of Av (which this year falls on Wednesday night & Thursday 29th-30th July).
In terms of the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the first tragedy that occurred on this date took place over 3,300 years ago when Moses broke the tablets of the 10 commandments. Since then, other tragedies occurred such as the halting of the daily sacrifice in the First Temple around 2,500 years ago, and the burning of the authoritative Torah scrolls that were kept in the Jerusalem Temple, the breeching of the walls of the Jerusalem, and the desecration of the Second Temple - which all took place around 2,000 years ago.
Naturally, there are those who would argue that given the long period of time since these tragedies, the time has come for we, as a nation, to move on. However, as numerous thinkers have explained, the Jewish calendar recalls both historic events and timeless values that we - as a nation - must acknowledge - both for the sake of honoring our past, and for the sake of building our future.
However, beyond these specific events that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz, Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger - who was a nineteenth century German Rabbi - explains that each generation experiences spiritual tragedies, and that the purpose of fasting on these days is to reflect on our challenges and consider how we can improve our situation.
According to Rabbi Ettlinger, just like Moses broke the 10 commandments on the 17th of Tammuz, so too in his generation there were many Jews who broke many basic Jewish laws, and just like the daily sacrifice was halted on the 17th of Tammuz, so too in his generation there were many Jews who gave up on their daily prayers and rituals etc.
And this is why national fasts like the 17th of Tammuz are still important, because while they remind us of events in the past, they also highlight the challenges that we face today, and offer us an opportunity to reflect on our role, as individual Jews, in making a difference towards a better future.
To teach your children more about the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, visit Ji Tap.