Five misfortunes befell our fathers … on the ninth of Av. …On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up. — Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6
Today is Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, a day of mourning to commemorate the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.
The story is told of Napoleon, who, walking through the streets of Paris, passed by a synagogue. He heard the sound of people praying and weeping inside. Turning to one of his aides, a Jewish officer, the emperor asked, “What is going on in there?”
“Today is Tisha B’Av,” came the reply, “and the Jews are mourning the destruction of their holy Temple.”
“When was this temple destroyed?”
“Over seventeen hundred years ago.”
Said Napoleon, “If the Jews are still crying after so many years, then I am certain their Temple will one day be rebuilt!”
This story is most likely a myth, but like all myths it probably contains grains of truth. For Napoleon had a fascinating and complex relationship with the Jewish people.
The emperor Napoleon proclaimed the emancipation of the Jews in the Italian states he had established. The majority of Italian Jews hailed Napoleon as a liberator and political savior, calling him “Ḥelek Tov” (lit. “Good Part”; cf. Bona-Parte).
The principal influence exercised by Napoleon as emperor on Jewish history was in the years 1806 to 1808 when he convened the Assembly of Jewish Notables and the (French) Sanhedrin, and established the Consistories.
The programmatic documents formulated during this period and the institutions which then came into being embody the first practical expression of the demands made by a centralized modern state on the Jews who had become its citizens – “the separation of the political from the religious elements in Judaism.” The news of the activities of the Jewish assemblies stirred both Jewish and gentile sectors of society in Central and Western Europe. The Austrian authorities were apprehensive that the Jews would regard Napoleon in the light of a messiah. In England, theological hopes and political projects for the “Return of Israel” intensified. On March 17, 1808, however, Napoleon issued an order restricting the economic activity and the freedom of movement of the Jews in the eastern provinces of the empire for a period of ten years, an order which became known among Jews as the “Infamous Decree.”
Napoleon’s victorious armies brought civic emancipation to the Jews in all the countries of Central and Western Europe where governments dependent on him were formed. The central Jewish Consistory established in the Kingdom of Westphalia was the first Jewish institution in Europe to introduce reforms into the Jewish religion. The Jews of Eastern Europe were only ephemerally influenced by Napoleon’s conquests. Discussions were held among Hasidim as to whether support should be given to Napoleon or the Russian Czar Alexander I in order to hasten the coming of the messiah.
Read more here.
Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a meaningful fast.