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July 12, 2002 - Image 101

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-07-12

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he name most associated with Tisha b'Av is Jeremiah (in
Hebrew, Yirmiyahu) the prophet. By tradition, Jeremiah
is the author of Eichah, or Lamentations, which we read
on the night of Tisha b'Av.
Jeremiah has come through the ages as a tragic figure, a lonely
voice exhorting his people to return to the ways of the Torah and
imploring the government to avoid war, lest they witness the down-
fall of Jewish independence and the destruction of the Holy Temple
and Jerusalem. (His warnings, alas, proved true.)
One cannot read the Book ofJeremiah without feeling a sense of
closeness to the author. Of all the prophets in the Tanach, none is so
self-revealing as Jeremiah. He tells us of his feelings, his reaction to
having been chosen as the conscience of the nation.
Jeremiah was born into a priestly family in Anatot, a village north-
east of Jerusalem, around 645 B.C.E. It was a troubled time. The
Jewish state had gone through 52 years of political and religious
decadence under King Menashe. The country was forced to submit
to the authority of Assyria, its feared northern neighbor. Religiously,

As Tisha bAv nears, the tragic story
of the author of "Lamentations."

the people descended into paganism, and Judaism was so repressed
that the Torah completely disappeared.
Succeeding King Menashe was his son, Amon, who reigned less
than two years before he was assassinated. King Amon's brother,
Josiah, followed. It was in the 13th year of King Josiah's reign that
Jeremiah heard the call to begin his mission.
Although at that time it was common for men to marry early,
Jeremiah entered his ministry at a young age and remained celibate
(married, as it were, to his prophetic mission). In fact, Jeremiah fre-
quently brought up the image of husband and wife to describe the
relationship of God and the Jewish people. To Jeremiah, an apostate
Jew was like an adulterous wife.
Jeremiah welcomed the news that occurred in the 18th year of
Josiah's, reign. During repairs to the Temple, the high priest found a
scroll under the rubbish. He gave it to a scribe, who, in turn, read it
to the king.
The scroll was the Torah, and for the first time, King Josiah real-
ized the extent to which Judaism had been corrupted by the people's
pagan ways.
The king undertook national religious reform, purging the coun-
try of idols and rural sanctuaries. He ordered the Temple purified
and reintroduced the celebration of Pesach (Passover).

During Josiah's reign, Israel's old enemy, Assyria, was on the
The Scythians, a Central Asian people, overran Western Asia.
Assyria and Egypt, erstwhile rivals, joined hands to face the new
peril. Meanwhile, a new power, Babylonia, had come on the scene
and threatened to overtake all the old empires.
The Egyptians marched up the coast of Israel to aid the Assyrians,
but Josiah, fearing an empowered Assyria, sought to block their
advance. At Megiddo, King Josiah was killed.
The pro-pagan forces saw it as a defeat of the king's reforms, as
The successive monarchies were manipulated by Egypt. When
Jeremiah exhorted the government and people to resist political
manipulations and return to Judaism lest the Temple itself be
destroyed, he was charged with treason and threatened with death.

Impact On Israel

Israel had more to fear than an angry prophet, with Assyria in
decline and Babylonia the new force in the region. Jeremiah saw
immediately what lay in store for the Jewish nation and urged alle-
giance to Babylonia.

At first, the new Jewish king, Jehoiakim, heeded Jeremiah's advice.
But three years later, believing he could resist the region's super
power, King Jehoiakim broke off.with Babylonia, which immediate-
ly roused its allies to attack.
The king lost his life-in the battle, and his son and successor,
Jehoiachin, foolishly continued his father's policy. King Jehoiachin
ended up surrendering. He, along with the rest of the royal court,
the nobility and 1,000 craftsmen, were exiled to Babylon.
The next Jewish king, Zedekiah, began his reign by acknowledg-
ing Babylonia's dominance. But soon King Zedekiah was swept
along by a wave of optimism and false security that led him to
believe that the Jews could revolt against Babylonia and win.
Jeremiah counseled against such nonsense. He even appeared on
the streets of Jerusalem with a wooden yoke around his neck, to
symbolize the dominance of Babylonia and the futility of trying to
fight it.
Jeremiah was scorned and mocked. King Zedekiah took Judea
into an anti-Babylonian military coalition. He rejected Jeremiah's
counsel to remain loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king.
The war began and Jerusalem was laid siege. The Judean authorities
arrested Jeremiah and threw him in prison. The Babylonians closed
Ultimately, even though he tried to escape, King Zedekiah was
captured by the Babylonians, blinded and sent in chains to Babylon.
One month later, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and
much of the Jewish population was deported to Babylon.
The Babylonians appointed Gedaliah, grandson of the scribe who
read the recovered Torah to King Josiah, as governor of the Jewish
remnant in Israel. Then, the neighboring Ammonites, in collusion
with members of the defunct Jewish royal house, had Gedaliah
Gedaliah's followers feared vengeance from Nebuchadnezzar. They
fled to Egypt with Jeremiah, taking him against his will.
Jeremiah continued his prophecy in exile. Chapter 44 of the
Book ofJeremiah includes the last recorded words of the prophet.
The rigors of exile probably were too much for Jeremiah, and pre-
sumably, not long after he was taken away, he died. ❑

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