The Ninth of Av and Rebuilding the Temple

  • Rav Shabtai Rappaport
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur

The Ninth of Av and Rebuilding the Temple

Based on a Shiur by Rav Shabtai Hakohen Rappaport

Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass

Tisha Be-Av and the rest of the fast days commemorating the destruction of the Temple are not permanent fixtures on the Jewish calendar. At some point in the process of the redemption, the prophet Zekharia (8:19) tells us, "The fast of the fourth [month] (17th of Tamuz) and the fast of the fifth [month] (9th of Av) and the fast of the seventh [month] (Tzom Gedalia) and the fast of the tenth [month] (10th of Tevet) will become for the House of Judah [days of] joy and rejoicing and holidays ..."

When will this occur? When, according to the halakha, will we no longer be obligated to keep the fast days mourning the destruction of the Temple? We will, in this article, explore Rashi's approach to the passage in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 18a-b) that is the key source on this issue.


The mishna (Rosh Hashana 18a) teaches that when the Jewish calendar was determined by a monthly court decision, messengers were to be sent out to the communities of the Exile on six Rosh Chodesh days. It lists: "Nisan because of Pesach ... and on Av because of the fast day."

The gemara asks: "Why were messengers not sent out for the months of Tamuz and Tevet?" After all, all four fast days applied at the time this mishna was formulated. Rav Chana son of Bizna in the name of Rav Shimon Chasida learns this from the fact that these days are referred to in the above-cited verse (Zekharia 8:19) both as fasts and as days of joy. He concludes, "When there is peace, they will be days of joy and rejoicing; when there is not peace, they are fast days." In other words, in times that are not "peaceful" the four fasts all apply.

Rav Pappa replies that there are really three national situations: 1. when there is government persecution ("gezeirat malkhut") - all fasts must continue; 2. when there is peace - they do not; and 3. when there is no persecution, but nor is there peace - people may fast or not fast, according to their preference. The mishna refers to this third situation and therefore the sages did not deem it necessary to send out messengers for the months of Tevet and Tamuz.

If that is the case, asks the gemara, why did they send out messengers in the month of Av? Rav Pappa answers that since so many calamities took place on Tisha Be-av, it is to be observed even in this third situation. Only "when there is peace" will Tisha Be-av no longer be observed.


Rashi, commenting on the gemara's original question, says:

"All of these fasts are to be observed nowadays when the Temple is no longer standing. The mishna refers to this period, as the text of the mishna implies, 'When the Temple WAS standing ...'

'When there is peace' means when idol worshippers do not rule over us."

These comments pose a number of difficulties:

A. Rashi's definitions of "peace" and "lack of peace" seem incongruent. He defines "peace" as the lack of foreign domination; yet, his first comment implies that "the lack of peace" means when the Temple is no longer standing. The Ramban, in contrast, explains "peace" as when the Temple is standing and "lack of peace" as when the Temple is destroyed (see the chapter in Torat Ha-adam on Tisha Be-av). Why doesn't Rashi give a similarly symmetrical explanation?

B. Why do we continue to observe Tisha Be-av today? If even Tisha Be-av is to be discontinued when there is a state of peace, today's Jewish independence - defined by Rashi as "peace" - should be enough to discontinue the fast. The Talmud clearly refers to Jewish independence in Israel; Jews in the diaspora always lived under gentile governments. Based on Rashi's explanation of "joy and rejoicing" - "eulogies and fasting are prohibited" - it should be PROHIBITED to fast on Tisha Be-av!

Many other questions can also be raised regarding this interpretation by Rashi.


It seems that Rashi, for all practical purposes, IDENTIFIED Jewish sovereignty with building the Temple. If there is true Jewish sovereignty, the Jews will rebuild the Temple - or at least start the process of rebuilding it. "When there is peace" includes both Jewish sovereignty and the Temple being rebuilt.

We are still left with one question: Why doesn't Rashi sound consistent? Why does he explain "lack of peace" to mean when the Temple is not standing, and "peace" to mean when there is Jewish sovereignty?


Rashi's comments on Rosh Hashana 30a have been cited to demonstrate that he believes that the third Temple will be divinely built. Among the decrees of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the mishna lists that using new grain ("chadash") is forbidden the whole day that the omer sacrifice was offered ("yom haneif" - the day of waving), the sixteenth of Nisan. The Torah forbids using the year's new grain before offering the omer sacrifice, the first reaping of the barley harvest. When the Temple was standing, the moment the sacrifice was actually brought - as the Torah says, "When you bring it" - new grain was permitted. On a biblical level, when the Temple was no longer standing and the sacrifice was not brought, the new grain should be permitted at dawn - as the Torah says, "on that day." Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai decreed that new grain should be prohibited that whole day.

What was the rationale behind his decree? The gemara explains:

"Speedily the Temple will be rebuilt, and people will say, 'Last year did we not eat [new grain] at dawn? Now also we can.' They will not realize that last year when there was no omer sacrifice, eating is permitted at dawn, and this year when there is [an omer sacrifice], new grain is only permitted after the offering of the sacrifice." The gemara concludes (see the continuation of the discussion on 30a and 30b) that the above problem would only come up when the Temple was rebuilt on the fifteenth of Nisan slightly before sundown or the night of the sixteenth. Rashi comments: "Perhaps you will say, do we not rule in tractate Shevu'ot that the Temple is not to be built on Yom Tov (the fifteenth is the first day of Pesach) or at night? This only applies to when humans build the Temple, but the future Temple IS IN THE HANDS OF HEAVEN." Rashi seems to say explicitly that the third Temple will be built by God and not by man.

It seems to me that it is not necessary to interpret Rashi as arguing with the mainstream opinion that there is a mitzva for the people of Israel to build the third Temple. Rashi might take a position related (but not identical - see below) to that developed in a responsum of Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger in his Binyan Tzion (#1). The Binyan Tzion argues against Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer's proofs that there is a commandment to rebuild the Temple and offer sacrifices whenever possible, even before the messianic era. Besides the obligation to build the Temple, writes the Binyan Tzion, there must be a Divine revelation that the sacrifices offered there are desired by Heaven. Divine desire is a necessary requirement for re-instituting the sacrificial order; sacrifices must be "reiach nichoach la-Shem," "sweet smelling to God." According to Rav Ettlinger, it is forbidden to offer sacrifices without explicit prophetic Divine revelation that they are desired.

There were those who objected to the Binyan Tzion's approach, claiming that the need that sacrifices be "sweet smelling to God" does not refer to revelation of divine desire but rather to human intent that the sacrifices achieve divine desire. The person offering the sacrifice must intend to do something desirous by Heaven. Rashi might agree with this approach but still believe that a revelation that God desires our sacrificial service is essential for reinstating certain aspects of the sacrificial order.

The approach ofthe Binyan Tzion also rings true for a practical reason. There so many unclear halakhic issues involved in the building of the Temple: Is the tekhelet used in the kohanim's clothing the authentic one? Is the altar properly placed (see the Rambam's Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira chapter 2)? Are those serving as kohanim really descended from Aharon? Even though, as in all areas of halakha, we are to use the best of our knowledge and follow tradition, with regard to the Temple of Israel it is essential that there be unanimous assent to its halakhic legitimacy. It would take a prophet to assure that all Jews would support the reinstated Temple service. Otherwise, some individuals might claim that the new Temple is not in line with Halakha, and they could not be forced to change their minds.

It seems that those who would rebuild the Temple and offer sacrifices - based on a general consensus of the sages of the land of Israel - would still refrain from offering the OMER until the appearance of a Divine revelation that the new Temple is desired. The offering of the omer affects the whole Jewish people's mitzva of not eating of the new grain. The leadership of the people, despite broad national consent, would still not offer the Omer on behalf of all of Israel without Divine approval.

When Rashi says, "When the Temple is standing," he refers to divine will concerning the Temple, not just its physical building. The Temple might be physically built long before Pesach, but the divine revelation that it is approved and desired might only take place on Yom Tov afternoon or at night. Rashi's comment is carefully worded: "The future Temple IS IN THE HANDS OF HEAVEN." He does not mean that it will be built by Heaven, but rather that its functioning is in the hands of Heaven, waiting for Divine approval. WHEN this approval comes has nothing to do with the law against building the Temple at night or on Yom Tov.


We can prove that the altar can be built and sacrifices offered upon it even without a Temple. The gemara (Makkot 19a) quotes Rabbi Yishmael as saying that one cannot bring ma'aser sheni (tithe to be eaten in Jerusalem) to Jerusalem and eat it there nowadays. His proof is from the laws of the sacrifice of the firstborn animal, which must likewise be brought to Jerusalem. Just as the firstborn can be offered only when there is a Temple, so too ma'aser sheni. The gemara asks what Rabbi Yishmael's position is regarding the sanctity of Jerusalem at the present time. If he believes that the sanctity of the Second Temple period remains in effect, then the firstborn should also be brought nowadays!

Rashi comments:

"He can offer it and eat it. For if one believes that the sanctity of the Second Temple remains in effect, then he must maintain that sacrifices can be brought even without a Temple, as we say in Megilla (10a)." Apparently, sacrifices can be brought, according to this opinion, even when there is no Temple. Simply building an altar suffices to enable offering sacrifices. These are two independent realms of Halakha - building the Temple and offering sacrifices. A completely functioning Temple is dependent on divine approval. Since we were told, "I will destroy your Temples and I will not smell your fragrant offerings," we must wait until we are told otherwise. However, sacrifices depend only on the practical ability to build an altar. As long as the firstborn can be offered, ma'aser sheni can be eaten (in purity) in Jerusalem.

This is also the Rambam's position: in Hilkhot Ma'aser Sheni (2:1), he writes that ma'aser sheni cannot be eaten in Jerusalem unless there is a Temple ("bifnei ha-bayit"). On the other hand, in Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira (6:15) he writes that because the sanctity of the Second Temple continues to this day, sacrifices can be brought today and ma'aser sheni can be eaten in all of Jerusalem even though there are no walls. The Rambam seems to refer to the present time. In other words, building the Temple and the altar are within our hands nowadays, even though our period will not be referred to as "when the Temple is standing" until there is divine approval of the Temple.


Why, then, does Rashi refer to "peace" as when there is Jewish sovereignty and "lack of peace" as when the Temple is not standing?

The mishna used the expression, "when the Temple is not standing," implying that it was composed in a period when the Temple was destroyed and Pesach Sheni could not be offered. Therefore, Rashi explained "lack of peace" as when the Temple was not standing. Here, Rashi means that the Temple is not physically standing. This was only because it was not practically possible to build the Temple because of an unwilling gentile government. Rashi, by explaining "peace" as when there is Jewish sovereignty, indicates his approach that the Temple can and will be built when it is practically possible. The Temple can be built and sacrifices brought even without Divine approval.

When the Temple will be able to be built - physically - the fasts will cease and instead become days of joy. This will become possible when external and internal pressures will allow for it. Perhaps we can infer from the gemara that Tisha Be-av will still be observed during this period. (The proof given that the mishna was written in a period when the Temple was not standing is NOT that messengers went out to announce Rosh Chodesh Av - that might have been even when the Temple was standing. The proof is only that the mishna uses the expression, "when the Temple was standing.") It is likely that Tisha Be-av will be observed even when the Temple is standing until there is a divine sign of approval, that God once again desires our sacrifices and wants to have His Presence rest in the Beit Hamikdash.

(For the full version of this article, see Daf Kesher #145, Av 5748, vol. 2, pp. 103-106.)

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