Lamenting with Job: The Karaite Version of the Fasts for Jerusalem
Introduction: The Fast Days and the Karaite Calendar
For Karaite Jews, the 9th of Tammuz—a Karaite fast day—begins a mourning period of four and a half weeks, which culminates with two fasts on the 7th and 10th of Av. These fast dates are consistent with the biblical dates given for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. (See appendix for a brief explanation/overview of the Karaite fast dates.) During the days between the 9th of Tammuz and 10th of Av, Karaites observe many mourning practices, including a number of liturgical practices, which only partially overlap with those of Rabbinic Jews.
Mourning Customs from the 9th of Tammuz to the 10th of Av: Three Layers of Intensification
Karaite Jews observe a number of mourning customs during the time period between the 9th of Tammuz and the 10th of Av, i.e., from the time the Babylonians breached the walls to the time the Temple was destroyed, including three fasts. These fasts tell the story of the destruction of Jerusalem:
9th of Tammuz (parallel to Rabbinite 17th of Tammuz)
ירמיהו נב:ו בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרְבִיעִי בְּתִשְׁעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ וַיֶּחֱזַק הָרָעָב בָּעִיר וְלֹא הָיָה לֶחֶם לְעַם הָאָרֶץ. נב:זוַתִּבָּקַע הָעִיר…
Jer 52:6 On the ninth day of the fourth month, the famine had become acute in the city; there was no food left for the common people. 52:7and [the wall of] the city was breached…
7th of Av (no parallel Rabbinite fast)
מלכים ב כה:חוּבַחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בְּשִׁבְעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ… בָּא נְבוּזַרְאֲדָן רַב טַבָּחִים עֶבֶד מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם: כה:טוַיִּשְׂרֹף אֶת בֵּית יְ-הֹוָה וְאֶת בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֵת כָּל־בָּתֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְאֶת כָּל בֵּית גָּדוֹל שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ:
2 Kings 25:8 On the seventh day of the fifth month… Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards, an officer of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 25:9 He burned the House of YHWH, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down the house of every notable person.
10th of Av (parallel to Rabbinite
ירמיהו נב:יב וּבַחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ… בָּא נְבוּזַרְאֲדָן רַב טַבָּחִים עָמַד לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. נב:יגוַיִּשְׂרֹף אֶת בֵּית יְהוָה וְאֶת בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֵת כָּל בָּתֵּי יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְאֶת כָּל בֵּית הַגָּדוֹל שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ.
Jer 52:12 And On the tenth day of the fifth month… Nebuzaradan, the chief of the guards, came to represent the king of Babylon in Jerusalem. 52:13 He burned the House of YHWH, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down the house of every notable person.
Below are just a few examples of some of these practices:
- From the 9th of Tammuz through the 10th of Av –Throughout the year, Karaites read from Torah scrolls as part of the Shabbat prayer service. During the four to five shabbatot between the fasts, however, the scrolls are not taken out of the ark during prayer service. Readings are done instead from regular chumashim.
- The 1st through the 10th of Av – No meat or wine is consumed. Men do not shave from the start of the month of Av to midday on the 10th of Av.
- The 7th through the 10th of Av – As explained above, Karaites fast on both the 7th and 10th of Av. While most begin these fasts well after sunset—a person should start fasting up to three hours after his or her regular dinnertime—some choose to fast starting from sunset. Some even fast four consecutive days from the 7th of Av to the 10th (eating only at night); this is not a very common practice. On the 7th through the 10th of Av, it is customary to sit and sleep on the ground instead of in chairs and beds, and not to change one’s clothes.
Reading Eichah (Lamentations) over Five Weeks
Rabbinic Jews are familiar with the yearly reading of Lamentations on Tisha b’Av. Karaite Jews also read Lamentations; however, the reading is divided over the five weeks, reading one chapter each Shabbat in consecutive order. Additionally, the fifth and final chapter is read every day of the five weeks, during the daily prayer services (as well as on the fifth Shabbat in years where there is one).
Thus, the complete book of Lamentations is read over the timespan that the Babylonians sacked the city, from the time they breached the walls (9th of Tammuz) to the time they burned the temple (10th of Av). The practice of reading Lamentations between these dates reflects the fact that the book of Lamentations describes the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, not only the Temple.
The “Megillah” of Job on the Tenth of Av
Although Karaite tradition does not treat Lamentations like a megillah that is read in a single sitting, it does treat Job this way: all 42 chapters are read in succession on the 10th of Av. This is unique to Karaite tradition; the closest rabbinic parallel is in b. Ta’anit 30a, which includes Job among the biblical books that may be read on the 9th of Av.
Job is a very long book, and many Karaites split up reading the book among participants. More than once, when I have attended services on the 10th of Av in Israel, we sat in a circle on the floor while reading Job; one person led each chapter while the others listened, but we took turns reading different chapters. The book is chanted in a tune accessible to novices and experienced congregants alike.
The Suitability of Job to the Tenth of Av
The book of Job, which focuses on suffering, is well-suited to the fast of Av. The book speaks to the many Jews who have experienced persecution in the exile, and felt abandoned by God:
אֲשַׁוַּע אֵלֶיךָ וְלֹא תַעֲנֵנִי… תֵּהָפֵךְ לְאַכְזָר לִי בְּעֹצֶם יָדְךָ תִשְׂטְמֵנִי:
I cry to to You and You do not answer me…You have become cruel to me, with the might of your hand you persecute me (Job 30:20-21).
Job challenges the notion that one suffers only if one has sinned. Although Job suffers greatly, the book takes pain to note that he is blameless (Job 1-2, 42:7-8). The theology of Job thus differs from the theology found in Lamentations, which, like Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26, explains God’s destruction of Israel as a response to the Israelites’ improper behavior. Whereas Lamentations addresses the Exile at a national level, Job speaks to every individual Jew who, in his or her suffering at the hands of persecutors, has asked “where is God?”
The reading of Job is not merely the culmination of the four-and-a-half-week long mourning period, but also functions as the pivot point to a period of consolation (nechama). The end of the book (42:7-17) narrates how Job’s life improves again: He recovers his wealth, his health is restored, and he has more children. This pivot reflects the belief of the Jewish people that God has not abandoned them in exile, but that they will return to Holy Land and again live in harmony with God.
Thus, on the afternoon of the 10th of Av, after reading the book of Job, the day takes a turn and enters what is referred to in Karaite literature as the nechama (“consolation”). A number of different practices mark this transition:
- Men trim their beards.
- The biblical passages marking God’s promise to save His people are read in the synagogue (these are called nechamot).
- Preparations for the break-fast begin. It is customary to eat meat during the break-fast. Although the nechama begins in the afternoon, the fast is not broken until nightfall.
The first time I really took note of the nechama, I was attending services in Be’er Sheva, Israel. I took a short break after hearing the book of Job and then returned to the synagogue. Upon entering the synagogue courtyard, I saw that the men had trimmed their beards and that a turkey was wandering around the synagogue courtyard. Perplexed, I asked about what was happening. I learned that the nechama had begun and that the turkey was brought in for the break-fast. Since then, I have always remembered the nechama.
Dating Ezekiel’s Vision of a Future Temple to the 10th of Av
The dating of the nechama to the 10th of Av—i.e, the same day as the destruction of the Temple—is not arbitrary. The Karaite sages explain that on the 14th anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, God granted Ezekiel a vision of the future temple. That is, God promised to save his people on the very same date that the Temple was destroyed. Thus, the 10th of Av is both the darkest fast of the year, and a day of hope and consolation. While Karaites remember the start of the exile on the 10th of Av, we also look forward to a world in which Jews return safely to Israel and the nations of the world live together in peace. May Karaite Jews, Rabbanite Jews, and all people merit to see this world speedily and in our days.
Dating the Four Jerusalem
Fasts as Observed by Karaites
Karaite Jews, like Rabbanite Jews, commemorate four fasts related to the exile of 586 BCE, and referenced in the book of Zechariah:
זכריה ח:יט כֹּה אָמַר יְ-הוָה צְבָאוֹת צוֹם הָרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְמֹעֲדִים טוֹבִים…
Zech 8:19 Thus said YHWH of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah…
In both the Karaite and Rabbanite traditions, the fasts mark Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jewish nation’s descent into exile. The dates for two of these fasts in Rabbinic Judaism—17th of Tammuz and 9th of Av—are meant to be consistent with the Roman conquest and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Karaite Jews, however, traditionally observe these fasts in commemoration of the four major events related to the Babylonian exile:
- The beginning of the siege on Jerusalem on the 10th of Tevet. (Jeremiah 52:4)
- The breaching of the walls of Jerusalem on the 9th of Tammuz. (Jeremiah 52:7)
- The burning of the city and of the Temple on the 7th and 10th of Av. (2 Kings 25:8-9 and Jeremiah 52:12, respectively). To explain the two dates, the Karaite sage Hakham Aharon ben Eliyahu explains that the storage structures around the temple were burnt on the seventh of Av and that the main sanctuary was burnt on the tenth.
- The murder of Gedaliah, governor of Judah, on the 24th of Tishrei, which led the Babylonians to exile many of the remaining Jews from the holy land.
In sum, whereas Rabbanites fast for the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th of Tammuz, Karaites fast 8 days earlier on the 9th of Tammuz. Furthermore, because the Tanakh records two dates for the burning of the temple, Karaites traditionally fast on both the 7th and 10th of Av, instead of the 9th of Av (not mentioned in Tanakh). Thus, Karaites observe four and a half weeks of mourning between the fast of Tammuz and the fast of Av, whereas Rabbanites observe three.
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Tomer Rami Mangoubi is a graduate of MIT. He was raised in an Egyptian Karaite family in Boston, MA, and has helped provide comments for a (forthcoming) translation of the traditional Karaite legal text, Sefer Levush Malchut (ספר לבוש מלכות, “Royal Attire”). Mangoubi is currently producing an expansive summary and analysis of Karaite Halacha that allows English speakers access to classical Karaite sources, titled Mikdash Me’at (מקדש מעט, “A Small Temple”), and available here.
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