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Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tisha B'Av

For 2017, beginning Monday night,  July 31 and continuing through sunset on Tuesday, August 1, the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av will be observed.  Jewish employees and students should be accommodated for the observance of this holiday.

Tisha B'Av is the date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed (the Romans selected the date on purpose). It is also the date on which a string of tragedies have befallen the Jewish people.

The holiday is a major day of mourning for Orthodox and most Conservative Jews. By contrast, it is treated as a Memorial Day by Reconstructionist Jews. Finally, it is wholly opposed by many Reform Jews, and not observed on theological grounds since the founding of the state of Israel. 

Traditional Jewish Views of Tisha B’Av

For Orthodox and most Conservative Jews, Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning and a total fast day (like Yom Kippur). Jews are prohibited from eating, drinking, washing, using skin cream, smoking, wearing leather or showing affection (kissing, hugging, etc.).

The day is spent reading the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Job.  For the morning part of the service, observers sit on the floor or on low benches as is customary during mourning after someone’s death in Judaism.

Tisha B’Av is one of the most somber days in the Jewish calendar.  The name in Hebrew simply means the “Ninth of Av” (Av is a month in the Jewish calendar).  The day, however, is the most calamitous in Jewish history, as it was the day when Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed both the first time by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and the second time by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 AD.

The date is also significant for an entire chronology of disasters in Jewish history that fell on the 9th of Av.  These are as follows:

586 BC
Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple -- Solomon’s Temple -- beginning the Babylonian Exile (that lasted until 537 BC).

The destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the First Temple is related in the Bible in 2 Kings 25:9-12; 2 Chronicles 36:19; and Isaiah 64:11. 

Then they burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. 2 Chronicles 36:19
70 CE

Sacking of the Second Temple
in Jerusalem depicted on
the Arch of Titus, Rome
The Roman Emperor Titus destroyed the Second Temple (which was rebuilt in 516 BC after Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and returned the Jews to Israel). This was to put down the Jewish revolt (of which early Christianity was a part).  Titus chose theTisha B'Av specifically to add impact to the destruction of the Second Temple on the same day as the first.  Following this, Rome razed Jerusalem and the Jews were not allowed to rebuild the ruins, beginning the diaspora. The sacking of the Second Temple is famously depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome.

All that remains of the Temple in Jerusalem today is the Kotel, the Western Wall of the wall that surrounded the original building. This remains the holiest site in Judaism. Since the 19th Century, it has been common among some non-Jews to refer to the Kotel as the Wailing Wall (in Turkish Ağlama Duvarı, in Arabic el-Mabka,  in French le Mur des Lamentations and in German die Klagemauer). The term "Wailing Wall" derives from non-Jews observation of the practice of Jews praying there and, on Tisha B'Av, crying over the destruction of the Temple.  Though not particularly insulting, this is not a common term used by Jews themselves who prefer the Hebrew word Kotel or, "the Western Wall" put into the vernacular.  

The Kotel, Jerusalem
Tradition says this is also the date on which the Romans killed the 10 martyrs (though not historically accurate necessarily, which would suggest that only 8 were).  These are commemorated in a poem recited on Yom Kippur.  The 10 martyrs committed no crime but were tried by Rome in a mock trial as punishment for the crimes of Joseph’s 10 brothers for selling Joseph into slavery in ancient Egypt.  The martyrs were the most important rabbis of the Second Temple period and each were killed rather gruesomely.  For example, the High Priest – Rabbi Yishmael – before being beheaded, had the skin of his head flayed off and stuffed while his was still alive as a gift for a Roman noblewoman who thought he was handsome. Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon was burned alive by being wrapped in the Torah scroll which had been stuffed between his body and the parchment with wet wool so that he would not be able to die quickly.  The greatest of all scholars of his day, and still a major figure in Jewish practice was Rabbi Akiva, who had iron rakes used to tear off his flesh. Rabbi Akiva is remembered for reciting the “Sh’ma” prayer about the unity of God throughout the ordeal.

135 CE

Simon Bar Kokhba
on the Knesset Menorah
In 135 CE, Simon Bar Kokhba was captured and, on Tisha B'Av, killed ending the third and final major Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire (the Third Revolt had begun in 132 CE). 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian, in putting down the uprising, was brutal. According to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, over 580,000 Jews were killed. In all 50 Jewish fortified cities and 985 Jewish villages were razed to the ground in what is now Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. 

1096 CE

Crusaders killing Jews
Illustration from a French Bible ca. 1250
The First Crusade officially began on August 15 -- Tisha B'Av-- of 1096. Although Pope Urban II called for the Crusade first at the Council of Clermont in November 1095, the papally ordained date for the commencement of troop movements was August 15, 1096 -- Tisha B'Av. While it should be noted that Jews were mass murdered by Crusaders in all nine of the Crusades (the last ending in 1272), the First Crusade was both the beginning of these attacks and one for which the Jews had no previous experience.

The stated purpose of the first Crusade was to retake access to Muslim-controlled Jerusalem. Although not directed against the Jews, the Crusade rapidly turned into a Jewish tragedy. The difficulty was that -- without Church approval in this instance -- the first Crusaders were undisciplined, largely uneducated and lacking in supplies. In the first months of the campaign as they marched toward Jerusalem, the Crusaders rampaged against the only non-Christians they could find: the Jews. One branch of the Crusaders went off course to attack the Jews of the Rhineland where over 4000 Jews were either murdered or committed suicide rather than face conversion (for example, 500 Jews in Cologne committed mass suicide at one time).

After the first Crusaders finally took Jerusalem, they gathered the majority of the Jewish community there into one of the synagogues and on July 15, 1099 set fire to it killing all of the men, women and children inside. It should be noted that the Crusaders were no less lenient with the Muslims there. It is estimated that out of a population of 70,000 at the time of the Crusader capture of Jerusalem, the population had plummeted to less than 30,000 after the conquest. Under Muslim rule, Jerusalem had practiced religious tolerance for Christians and Jews alike. Since the Crusaders did not kill the Christians living in Jerusalem, the 40,000 victims were exclusively Muslim and Jewish.

1182 CE

King Philip II Augustus, the last king of the Franks and the first king of modern France expelled the Jews from his territory on Tisha B'Av.  Philip Augustus had come to the throne in 1181 and learned that he did not have funds enough to finance the war he was about to declare against Phillip of Alsace, Count of Flanders over the disputed territory of Vermandois.

Philip II Augustus expelling the Jews from France
from the Grandes Chroniques de France (1321)
To gain the necessary funds for the war, Philip Augustus decided to seize the money from the Jews in his lands. The Saturday following his coronation -- March 14, 1181 -- he had all the Jews of the kingdom arrested in their synagogues, and took all of their money and investments over. In April 1182, Philip Augustus signed the order of expulsion for all Jews, giving them until Tisha B'Av (July of 1182) to sell all personal property, which they were allowed to take with them. All Jewish-owned buildings, farms, vineyards, wine presses and other immovable property then transferred directly to the king.

It should be noted that Jews had lived in the area of what was now France for well over 1000 years. The first Jewish residents of Vienne recorded in the year 6 CE and the first major community in Lyons (then called Lugdunum) from the year 39 CE. Despite various persecutions, Jews had prospered, and the yeshiva at Troyes in Champagne became a major center of Jewish studies as the home of the period's greatest Jewish scholar Rashi (1040-1105).

Unlike the later English and Spanish expulsions (described below) that barred Jews for centuries, France's expulsions of the Jews were brief even if they were frequent. Philip II Augustus actually readmitted the Jews in his own reign in 1198 (although they faced an additional tax for return and received none of their confiscated property). In 1289, the Jews of the regions of Anjou, Gascony, Maine and Nevers were expelled and most came to Paris where they were first invited but then expelled in 1306 (because they were not able to pay the amount in taxation that had been anticipated). This was, incidentally, on July 22 - the day after Tisha B'Av.

Louis XIV officially readmitted
the Jews to France in 1675
The Jews were readmitted (1315) and finally expelled from France for the last time in 1394. Though not officially allowed to return, Jews came back informally (as evidenced by an edict of 1615 in the south of France that gave the death penalty to Christians for sheltering or even communicating with Jews) as well as pogroms on Jews in Provence following the edict.

The first official readmittance came in 1675. In that year, Louis XIV gave the Jews of Alsace and Lorraine (which had been acquired from Austria in 1648) a special patent allowing them the right to live there under the king's protection in return for high rates of taxation. Changing attitudes began to informally allow admittance of Jews elsewhere in France in the 1700's and the special taxation of Jews was finally eliminated in 1785. It was not until the French Revolution of 1789, though, that full emancipation and admittance of Jews in France became official.

1290 CE

Edward I expelled the Jews from England on the Tisha B'Av in 1290 CE.  Edward I was rather unusual in that, after killing 300 Jews in the Tower of London, he gave no real reason for their expulsion except for that of financial gain by taking their belongings and money. All of their property was confiscated directly by the king. Additionally, all debts owed to the Jews by others were transferred as debts to the king.

Edward I
Before the expulsion, the position of Jews in England had been deteriorating for decades. Henry III (the father of Edward I), for example, in 1218 became the first ruler to force Jews to wear yellow stars, a practice later adopted under the Nazis. Several accusations of blood libel led to executions as well as massacres at London and at York. For more on the blood libel accusations in which Jews were accused of using Christian babies' blood to make matzoh, please see my post on Passover at:


Because the Magna Carta explicitly excluded Jews, they had no legal protection from the monarch's whims. As a result, over the course of the 13th Century, the monarchy levied 49 major levies on the Jews. In 1275, Edward I outlawed charging interest (which Jews had been allowed to due since Christians were not allowed to charge interest to other Christians). He gave the Jews 15 years to make the transition from moneylending to other fields, but at the same the guilds prevented the Jews from entering other fields, and they were barred from owning land in most cases. The final Edict of Expulsion was a culmination of Crown's money-raising acts against the Jews.

The Jews were banned from England for over 350 years. It was not until 1656 that Oliver Cromwell formally rescinded the Edict of Expulsion.

1492 CE

The Alhambra Edict
banning Jews from Spain
stayed in effect for 476 years
from 1492-1968.
On March 31, 1492, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon pronounced the Alhambra Decree, giving the Jews of Spain until July 31 (the eve of Tisha B'Av) to leave the country.  This was a tragedy unparalleled in European Jewish history before.

Unlike the relatively small and poorly integrated Jewish populations involved in the expulsions from France and England described above, the Jews of Iberia were among the most well-established and integrated in all of Jewish history. The Jews of Iberia were, in fact, arguably the best integrated Jewish population until present-day North America.

Jews had a presence in Iberia for at least 1700 years at the time of the Alhambra Decree. When the Romans took over Hispania (present-day Spain) from Carthage following the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE), Jews were already present there. Throughout the Roman era, the Jews had interacted with the non-Jewish population. Even after the conversion of the Rome to Christianity and the subsequent persecution of Jews elsewhere in the Empire, Jews in Spain  remained relatively untouched for centuries protected both by the distance from the Church hierarchy in Rome itself and from their centuries of close interaction with non-Jews there. Indeed, Jews prospered in Iberia only after the fall of Rome with the conquest of Spain by the Visigoths in the 6th century were the anti-Jewish policies of the Church (such as forced baptism of children of mixed marriages) even enforced.

Only in 653 CE did Jews in Spain meet true persecution with the Church's Eighth Council of Toledo in which Jewish rites such as Sabbath worship and circumcision were officially punishable by stoning to death.  While many Jews began to leave Spain following this, their circumstances changed soon after with the Tariq ibn Ziyyad's Islamic conquest of Iberia in 711 CE.

Muslim holdings (in green) in Iberia ca. 1000
The Jews welcomed the Muslim invaders fleeing the Catholic areas (especially after those still living there were declared traitors and had their goods confiscated). Muslims had throughout their lands held Jews and Christians both to be dhimmi -- people of the Book -- with protected (if not fully equal status) to Muslims. While the Christians in the conquered lands generally chose to flee to other Christian countries, the Jews not only remained but began to pour into the Moorish-ruled areas from elsewhere in Christian Europe. Jews were allowed to worship free from persecution and -- unlike anywhere in Christendom -- were allowed participate in any area of business they wished.

This ushered in what became known as the Golden Age of Jewish Culture in Spain, arguably the greatest flourishing of a Jewish community anywhere in Europe. For the next 400 years, Jews in Moorish Spain rose to prominence far beyond what their small numbers would suggest.

Because they were allowed (for what was essentially the first instance since ancient times) to participate in government, Jews became active in government. Several Jews held major positions throughout Islamic Spain.  Indeed, four Jews rose to the position of Saragossa's Vizier (the equivalent of Prime Minister): Abu al-Fadl ibn Hasid Jekuthiel ibn Ḥasan, Samuel ha-Levi ibn Nagdela and Joseph ibn Naghrela. The Chief Physician of Granada -- Hasdai ibn Shaprut -- also served as a foreign minister. Another Jewish diplomat for Granada was Joseph ibn Migash. Also Jews such as the military leader Abu Ruiz ibn Dahri served in the Muslim armies.

Allowed as nowhere else in Europe to participate in academics, science and literature, the Jewish Golden Age in Spain produced leading figures in these areas. These included the astronomer Isaac ibn Abalia, the explorer/geographer Benjamin of Tudela. the poets Dunash ben Labrat and Solomon ibn Gabirol, the poet/philosopher Yehuda Halevi, and the philosopher, poet and linguist Rabbi Moses ibn Ezra. Moorish Spain also became the center of Jewish theological studies during this period. It was in Spain that Jewish mysticism saw its flowering with the works of the Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia and the publication of the Zohar by Moses de Leon. Finally, the Golden Age of the Jews in Spain produced the greatest of all Jewish medieval scholars Maimonides. Also known as the Rambam, Maimonides codified the Talmud, wrote the Guide for the Perplexed and arguably became the most important Jewish philosopher until modern times.

The Golden Age of Jewish Culture in Spain began to wane as Christian Europe began the "reconquest" or Reconquista. While the first Christian victory occurred in 722 at the Battle of Covadonga, the Jewish position under Moorish rule and the Jewish position did not begin to significantly falter until the late 10th Century. Until then, as Christians conquered various Iberian territories, the populations (Muslim and Jewish alike) had the option of moving to those lands still under Islamic rule. When Caliph Al-Hakam II Ibn Abd-ar-Rahman died in 976, though, the Granadan Caliphate began to weaken from within. Faced with internal instability and fearing the string of  Christian victories, the masses in Granada (notably not the rulers or the elites) began to seek a scapegoat, and anti-Jewish activities began to grow. This culminated on December 30, 1066 when mobs overran the royal palace at Granada. They crucified the Jewish Vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and on a single day killed over 4000 Jews in anti-Jewish riots. This was the first significant act of violence against Jews in the entire history of Islamic Iberia. Following this, many Jews left  for North Africa and what is now Israel and even for Christian-held Toledo which had remained a Jewish center of learning. This worsened the situation of the Jews who remained who were then seen as disloyal. Still, the majority of Jews stayed in the Emirate of Granada, the last remaining Muslim nation in Iberia until its surrender in early 1492.

Isaac Abrabanel
It is with this background that the Alhambra Edict takes on its true significance. Ironically, Queen Isabella's main financial advisor was the Jew Isaac Abrabanel. Abrabanel had offered Isabella and Ferdinand 600,000 crowns to rescind the verdict, which they almost accepted but the Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada shamed them comparing this to Judas' betrayal of Jesus for money.  The difficulty for Isabella and Ferdinand was greater than simply that of Torquemada.

The whole purpose of the Reconquista was to make all of Spain Catholic. This meant that toleration of non-Catholics would undermine the whole justification for their rule.  The difficulty was that the educated elite and business leaders of the newly conquered lands were largely Jewish as the Muslim intellectual and economic leaders simply fled to other Muslim nations. As the Christian armies grew more successful in the Reconquista, the Jews there were given a choice of conversion or death. While some chose death, tens of thousands of Jews converted but the Church leaders were (justly) suspicious that such forced conversion were insincere. Additionally, the Christian rulers resented the economic power of the converted Jews prevented the new conquerors from taking the profits of the countries they had conquered.

The Inquisition began in 1480
using torture to uncover
"secret" Jews among converts
In 1480, Isabella and Ferdinand began what was to become the Spanish Inquisition as they sought to find out "secret" Jews. This proved largely ineffective since most of the people tortured tended to confess.

Faced with the difficulty of rooting out "secret" Jews, Isabella and Ferdiand simply found it expedient to expel all Jews from the newly conquered Granada as well as any Jews remaining in Castile and Aragon. The penalty was death without trial, meaning that many new converts also chose to leave. Depending on whose estimates are used, the figures of how many Jews left the country by Tisha B'Av 1492 vary greatly ranging from a minimum of 130,000 to a maximum of 800,000. The descendants of the Iberian Jews expelled from Spain today make up the Sephardic Jewish community (Sephardi or סְפָרַדִּ) means Spanish in Hebrew.

The Alhambra Decree was formally revoked only following the Second Vatican Council n December 1968.
1914 CE

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres (Ieper), Belgium
Burial site of "In Flanders Fields" poet John McRae.
In the three battles fought at Ypres, 1/2 million soldiers
were killed or wounded.
World War I was declared on July 28 -- Tisha B'Av -- of 1914. While this was more of a world tragedy than simply a Jewish tragedy, World War I has particularly significance for Jews. It was the unacceptable terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war that laid the seeds for the conspiracy theories and scapegoating of the Jews among the Nazis that ultimately led to the Holocaust.

World War I was also one of the first times in which European Jews were seen as full citizens of most of the the countries in which they lived. As a result, Jews fought in great numbers on both sides of the conflict. In all, approximately 100,000 Jews died fighting in World War I.  As a side note, John McRae's famously moving poem "In Flanders Fields" opens:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
Ironically, World War I was the first time that large numbers of British and Commonwealth graves officially included Jewish markings on the gravestones.

1942 CE

Warsaw Ghetto surrender
In the middle of World War II, the Nazis selected the eve of Tisha B'Av -- July 23, 1942 --  to begin sending Jews to Treblinka, the first extermination camp, Treblinka served as a sort of pilot program for later camps, so this represents the beginning of the worst disaster in all of Jewish history.

This was the same date that the extermination of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto began. There is some evidence to suggest that the selection of the date was deliberately set for Tisha B'Av.

1994 CE

AMIA bombing, Buenos Aires
On July 18 -- Tisha B'Av -- of 1994, terrorists blew up the Jewish Community Center or Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina killing 85 Jews and injuring over 300 others. This was the largest terrorist attack in Argentine history and remains a major political issue in its handling to this day.

Argentina is significant in having the largest Jewish community in Latin America. With just under 200,000 Jews, Argentina is the 7th largest Jewish population worldwide and with 175,000 of those living in the capital, Buenos Aires is the 13th largest Jewish city ( http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/world-jewish-population.htm). 

The initial investigation was poorly handled, which remains a major issue currently in Argentine politics. In 2005, then President Nestor Kirchner called the handling of the bombing "a national disgrace" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4423612.stm) and in 2006 Argentina formally indicated the complicity of Iran and Hezbollah in the bombing.

In her November 2010 speech to the UN General Assembly, current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner publicly attacked Iran for its role in the bombing. In March 2012, former President Carlos Menem was formally required to go to trial for possible cover-ups of those complicit in the bombing.

Tisha B’Av Among Reconstructionist and Reform Jews

It should be noted that not all Jews observe Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning. Reconstructionist Jews have transformed the observance of Tisha B’Av to a Memorial Day. Among most Reform and some Conservative Jews, Tisha B’Av  should not be celebrated on religious grounds.  These Jews believe that, following the creation of the state of Israel, the mourning for Tisha B’Av is inappropriate.  While such views should be recognized, it is important to realize that all Orthodox, most Conservative, and some Reform Jews, do not agree with this practice. For them, this is a solemn fast day of mourning.

Reconstructionist Jewish Views of Tisha B’Av

Reconstructionist Jews observe Tisha B’Av as a Memorial Day rather than as a day of mourning. This is explained by Rabbi Lewis Eron on the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement website:

Our people have returned to our ancient homeland and rebuilt our towns and cities. We are no longer powerless. Our world has changed and our needs have changed. To speak to us today, Tisha b'Av can not longer be the day on which we remember all the evil that has happened to us. It needs to become the day on which we understand that despite our setbacks, our struggles, our real loses and deep suffering, we, the Jewish people, have overcome the obstacles fate has set before us. Our existence today is a triumph of our people's spirit. http://jrf.org/showdt&rid=451&pid=111  
Rabbi Eron's comments may not represent that of all Reconstructionist Jews, but can be seen as representative having appeared on the main website of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College of the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement.

Reform Jewish Views of Tisha B’Av

Many Reform Jews reject the concept of mourning the destruction of the Temple on philosophical grounds. As Rabbi Daniel Syme explains:
Reform Judaism has never assigned a central religious role to the ancient Temple. To the early Reformers, mourning the destruction of the Temple in such elaborate fashion did not seem meaningful, especially since Reform has not idealized the rebuilding of the Temple, as has Jewish tradition. For most Reform Jews, then, 586 b.c.e. and 70 c.e. are important dates in Jewish history, but Tishah B'Av has faded in importance as a ritual observance. 

Rabbi Syme's comments may not represent that of all Reform Jews, but can be seen as representative having appeared in the main Internet publication of the Union for Reform Judaism. 

Concluding Comments

This overview is meant only to be informational. This in no way intends to put forth that one view of the observance (or non-observance) of Tisha B’Av is better than another.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.  Also, despite the sobering nature of this description, I still hope you find this worthwhile.

Want to Learn More?

Aish.com, “What Happened on the Ninth of Av?” http://www.aish.com/h/9av/oal/48944076.html

Arutz Sheva, “Tisha B'Av: Mourning Destruction but Hoping for Redemption,” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/146502

Rabbi Lewis Eron, Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, “Tisha b'Av: The Modern
Meaning of Tisha b'Av,” http://jrf.org/showdt&rid=451&pid=111

Judaism 101, “Tisha B’Av,” http://www.jewfaq.org/holidayd.htm

Caryn Meltz, About.com: Judaism,  “Tisha B’Av – A Taboo Day,” http://judaism.about.com/library/3_holidays/tishabav/bl_tishabav_taboo.htm

My Jewish Learning, “Tisha B’Av: Communal Mourning,” http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/TishaBav.htm

Ohr Somaych, “Av, The Month of Tragedies,” http://ohr.edu/yhiy/article.php/1092

Orthodox Union, “Tisha B’Av,” http://www.ou.org/yerushalayim/tishabav/

Rabbi Daniel Syme, Union for Reform Judaism, “Tisha B’Av: A Brief History,” http://urj.org/holidays/tishabav/?syspage=article&item_id=21945

Clip Art Sources

Opening clip art image: Ohr.edu:  http://ohr.edu/special/9av/9av.jpg

Destruction of the Temple: http://www.nyissues.com/tisha-b-av.html

Sacking of the Second Temple in Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus, Rome: My own personal photo.

The Kotel, Jerusalem: My own personal photo.

Philip II Augustus expelling the Jews from France from the Grandes Chroniques de France (1321): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/99/1182_french_expulsion_of_jews.jpg/325px-1182_french_expulsion_of_jews.jpg

Louis XIV of France (1701) by Hyacinthe Rigaud, The Louvre, Paris, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_XIV_of_France.jpg

Edward I, Portrait from Westminster Abbey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gal_nations_edward_i.jpg
Crusader killing Jews from French Bible ca. 1250: http://www.sanger.ac.uk/about/press/features/gfx/genomic-archaeology03.jpg

Alhambra Edict: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9e/Alhambra_Decree.jpg/429px-Alhambra_Decree.jpg

Muslim holdings (in green) in Iberia ca. 1000: http://orias.berkeley.edu/2011/HWWorkingGroup2011Toledo.htm

Maimonides: http://www.medievalists.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Maimonides1.jpg

Isaac Abrabanel: http://sephardicseminary.org/eshel_womans_sephardic_seminary_mission/eshel_womans_sephardic_seminary_sephardic_history/

Inquisition torturers and victim: http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/inquisition-wheel.jpg

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres/Ieper: My own personal photograph.

The Warsaw Ghetto surrender photograph is one of the most famous from World War II. It was taken by SS officer Jürgen Stroop who included it in his official report to SS Chief Heinrich Himmler:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stroop_Report_-_Warsaw_Ghetto_Uprising_06.jpg

AMIA bombing, Buenos Aires: http://www.tbam.org/clientuploads/images/MISC/amia.gif

Union for Reform Judaism logo: http://www.gans.co.il/upl_art/12644-56.jpg

RRC logo: http://isabellafreedman.org/i/banners/RRC-digital.jpg

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The Islamic observance of the holy month of Ramadan (رمضان) for 2018 begins on (or near to, depending on the sighting of the moon) the evening of Wednesday, May 15 and ends on the evening of Thursday, June 14 with the concluding holiday of Eid al Fitr.  

As with all Islamic holidays, the actual date depends on the sightability of the moon. While the most commonly accepted date for this year is for sunset of May 15, some debate exists among certain sects as to whether the sighting of the moon should be on the same day as the sighting of the moon in Mecca or the day following. Because I have received criticism for stating one date only in the past, let me state clearly here that this overview is meant to be informational only and is in no way intended to indicate that one view or the other is correct.

All students, employees and faculty who request it, should be accommodated. For most Muslims, the first and last days of Ramadan are usually spent in worship and students, employees and faculty should be excused from activities if requested. Some Muslims also observe an exclusion period in the mosque (Iʿtikāf ) during the last 10 days of Ramadan and may need accommodation.

Importantly, during the entire month of Ramadan, believers fast during the daylight hours. Part of accommodation should therefore include discouraging others from eating or drinking in class or in other settings where attendance is mandatory. Consideration should also be given to requiring attendance at meetings where food is served (as in serving meals or snacks during the meeting).

Ramadan: Islam’s Holy Month

Ramadan is a time of worship and contemplation in Islam. Ramadan is observed by all sects.  The month of Ramadan – the ninth in the Islamic lunar calendar -- is also when it is believed the first verses of the Koran were sent down from heaven in 610 CE.

It should be noted, however, that this was not the Koran in its entirety which was revealed through the Prophet Mohammed (عليه السلام) during a 23-year span (only concluding in 632 CE).

Shared Ramadan Observances

While Ramadan customs vary from culture to culture, almost all Muslims share in common the observances of fasting, prayer and the conclusion of the month with Eid al-Fitr. The observance of Ramadan is a central practice of the faith, and its observance is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Fasting or Sawm (صوم‎)

Muslims observing Ramadan fast during daylight hours. The fast includes all food, drink, recreational drugs, sex and tobacco. Most Muslims also consider the fast to include a ban on evil thoughts, gossip, lying, cheating and fighting from dawn to sunset.

Those observing Ramadan will usually want to break their fast at sunset.  Breakfast or lunch meetings, snacks brought for a class and the like should be reconsidered accordingly. Also, even employees, students and others who may not always observe the prayer at the setting of the sun (Maghrib) may do so during this month (note that if it is not possible for students to pray at the appointed times, they are permitted to pray as soon as they can after that – which might, for example, affect an student’s willingness to stay after class or an employee to stay late for a project). Each day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar (إفطار ).

Taraweeh ( تراويح‎) and the Recitation of the Koran

In the evening following the iftar it is common for many people to go to the mosque for Taraweeh or night prayers. Many also go to visit family and friends and recite the prayers together there. Some schools of thought consider Taraweeh compulsory while others consider the prayers voluntary but strongly encouraged. The actually number and nature of the pairs of rakaʿāt recited also vary according to sect and custom. Because feelings run very deeply on this issue and I do not wish to in any way appear to endorse one practice or another, it may be best to refer to the reading lists at the end of this post to read about these different views.

Many Muslims recite out loud the whole Koran during the month of Ramadan. This is in imitation of what the Prophet Mohammed (عليه السلام) during his lifetime. Some families have a tradition of gathering together as an extended family or in groups of friends to recite the Koran as a group activity. In nations with Muslim majority populations or in which Islam is the state religion, the recitation of the Koran is often broadcast over radio and television stations.

Iʿtikāf ( اعتكاف‎)

Lailat ul Qadr
Though not a requirement, many Muslims choose to go into a state of Iʿtikāf or seclusion (usually in a mosque) for a period during Ramadan. This is most commonly for the last ten days of Ramadan so that they can be praying and reading the Koran on Lailat ul Qadr.  Lailat ul Qadr or the Night of Power was the night in which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (عليه السلام. The Koran teaches that  "Lailat  ul Qadr is better than a thousand months" (Sura 97: 3) and so prayers are much greater in power then. Nevertheless, the actual night of Lailat  ul Qadr remains unknown, except that it occurs within the last ten days (some believe last five days) of Ramadan.

Conclusion of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr

Depending on sightability of the moon, the evening of Thursday, July 7 will be the start of  Eid al-Fitr. The festival marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.  It is traditionally a time for meals with the extended family and friends that lasts for two or three days. 

On Eid al-Fitr most Muslims go early to the mosque and in many cases may go to an open-air site such as a stadium early.  There they say special prayers marking the end of Ramadan. Parents and grandparents traditionally give token sums of money or sweets.

Muslims also give Zakat  ( زكاة‎) or alms to the poor in honor of Eid.  This is called Zakat al-Eid.  Typically, people give a donation (in food or cash or both) to the poor. Since Eid al-Fitr comes at the end of a month of particular piety and dedication to God, the holiday is also a time for giving forgiveness and praying for peace and unity.

The traditional Arabic greeting for the Eid is “Eid mubarak” which more or less translates as “Blessed Eid” or just “Happy Eid” (which can be said as well, of course).

Ramadan Customs Around the World

Beyond the share observances described above, customs vary from country to country. Only a few of these are described below (but please add in the comment section those from your own traditions).


Ramadan (in Albanian Ramazani) has particular significance in Albania. Under Communist rule, Albanians were prohibited from signs of worship. Ramadan was significant, though, since fasting could not be detected by the atheist authorities. With the end of the repressive regime of Enver Hoxha in 1991, though, public worship for Muslims and Eastern Orthodox Christians alike began to flourish. It is significant that virtually no religious conflict occurs between Muslims and Christians in Albania (unlike the neighboring countries of the former Yugoslavia where religion had not been banned). Indeed, at Ramadan, Muslim children now commonly share trays of Ramadan treats with their Christian counterparts just as the Christian children share Easter eggs with their Muslim friends. It is also not uncommon for Muslims to be invited Christians to their homes to break the fast with them even though the Christians were not fasting, and some Christians hold meals for breaking the fast in their own homes for their Muslim friends.
Since the fall of Communism, the Ramadan drumming of the lodra through the streets is common again. The lodra is the national instrument and appears on images for Radio Tirana. Men go through the streets beating a lodra so that people wake up to eat can eat before the sun rises. The man returns beating the lodra as the sun sets to announce the breaking of the fast. 
Albanian byrek
While Albanians offer a wide variety of food in different parts of the couuntry to break the fast, one of the most common Ramadan specialties is byrek. This is a a fried pastry made of phyllo dough and stuffed with spinach, meat or milk curd. People eat byrek cold or heated up depending on preference. A recipe for Albanian byrek is available at


Egypt comes alive at night during Ramadan. Shops, often closed during the day, stay open into to 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and buildings are strung with lights and other decorations.

Fanoos lanterns for sale
in Cairo
Children celebrate Ramadan with a fanoos or traditional Ramadan lantern. These lantern are constructed of tin with colored glass (or sometimes plastic) panes through which shines the light from a candle placed in side.

One particularity for Egypt is fairly modern as Egypt grew to become center for Arabic-language television. To mark Ramadan, the Egyptian entertainment industry introduces over half of all Egyptian TV serials produced each year.

Ful medames
Special foods also mark Ramadan in Egypt. Traditionally, Egyptians begin their morning meal with ful medames. Often considered Egypt's national dish, ful medames dates back to the time of ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs. The dish is made of fava beans simmered together with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and other spices. One recipe for ful medames is available at:

The traditional Ramadan drink of Egypt is called Qamar el-din. This is made from sheets of dried apricot paste boiled in water.

India and Pakistan

Hands decorated with henna
In India and Pakistan, Muslim girls traditionally dress festively with gold or multicolored bracelets and bangles. It is common for Ramadan in general -- and especially for Eid--  for girls to paint each others’ hands with mehndi (henna designs).

While Ramadan foods vary from region to region throughout India and Pakistan, one food common to iftar throughout both countries is the samosa.  A samosa is a fried, triangle-shaped pastry stuffed with any number of fillings. These can include vegetables, meat, chicken, potatoes and more.This accompanied with a dipping chutney of, from among others, mint, coriander, tamarind.  In fact, there are so many varieties of samosas, that an entire site is dedicated to them at


The end of the day's fast in Indonesia is traditionally heralded by pounding of the bedug, a special drum for the occasion. Even in urban areas where an actual bedug may not be played, broadcasts of the sound of the drum are broadcast over radios and televisions. On the last night of Ramadan (called Lebaran), bedug players are often joined by large groups of musicians who play well into the night in a celebrative parade.

Panjat pinang pole-climbing 

In many Indonesia towns and especially in Jakarta, panjat pinang pole-climbing competitions are held at Ramadan. The poles are made from nut trees that have been smoothed down and covered with grease. No one person is usually able to climb the pole, so the climbing is usually a group effort. At the top of the pole are a collection of small prizes called panjat pinang. When someone reaches the top and grabs any of the prizes, they share them with those who helped them up the pole.

At the end of Ramada on Eid al-Fitr (called Idul Fitri in Bahasa Indonesia), it is customary in most Indonesian villages to go on Mohon Maaf visits following morning prayers. Mohon Maaf comes from the phrase “Mohon Maaf Lahir Batin” which means "forgive me from the bottom of my heart for my wrongdoings in the past year." Generally, the visits go in order of the most senior member of a family down and at each house, with food provided at each stop along the way. 

 Indonesians trapped in traffic
in Karawang at conclusion of Eid al-Fitr
Many Indonesians have roots in the countryside even if they live in the large cities. This poses a special problem for Indonesia each year at Ramadan, as millions of people leave the cities for their hometowns. While many people in other countries leave for their hometowns as well at Ramadan, the situation is arguably at its most extreme in Indonesia. The expatriate information site "Living in Indonesia" estimated that last year for Ramadan 2011 over 7 million people left Jakarta alone to go visit their traditional homes. The crush of traffic at both the beginning and end of Ramadan therefore predictably overtaxes the national transportation infrastructure each year.


Malays shopping for flowers
for Ramadan
For Malays, people traditionally visit not only living relatives but also to visit graveyards to visit those relatives who have passed on. Ramadan is often a time of brightly-colored decorations and clothing among Malays. Many people decorate their homes with flowers and women in particular often wear colorful headscarves.  

A Ramadan Bazaar
in Kuala Lumpur
Throughout Malaysia on Ramadan, it is common to see "Ramadan bazaars." These are Ramadan counterparts to the year-round Malaysian night markets (pasar malam). Instead of opening at night, though, the Ramadan markets open in the late afternoon as people buy their food for the evening post-fasting meal. It should be noted that in Malaysia's multicultural society, the Ramadan bazaars are very popular with non-Muslims and Muslims alike.


Qatari children dressed for Garangao
Qataris celebrate the 14th day of Ramadan with a special celebration called Garangao. The night of  Garangao is a children's celebration. Children dress in traditional clothing, sing a special Garangao song for their families at home and are rewarded with sweets.

After this, the tradition is somewhat akin to the North American Halloween as the children go door to door for what is called a "nutting night out" as the children collect nuts and other treats from neighbors. Some Kuwaiti children, like their counterparts in Qatar, also celebrate Garangao in the middle of the holy month.


Firing the cannon
at Naif Palace
Since the arrival of the first cannon in Kuwait in 1907, it has been a tradition at Naif Palace in Kuwait City to fire a cannon shot to mark the end of the fast. It is customary to bring children to the gather around the cannon before iftar so they can celebrate in the blast. In recent years, the children have been joined by tourists -- both Muslim and non-Muslim alike -- for whom the blasts have become a Ramadan attraction.

Luqmat Al-Qadi
On the eve of the first night of Ramadan, Kuwaitis celebrate with a pre-Ramadan festivity called Graish. At Graish, people gather with family and friends and welcome the holiday with the foods traditional to Ramadan in Kuwait. These include dates and special sweets such as Luqmat Al-Qadi. Luqmat Al-Qadi are balls of dough mixed with saffron, cardamom, milk and butter that are boiled in fat and then rolled in syrup or sugar.  A recipe for Luqmat al-Qadi can be found at:

Incidentally during Ottoman times,  Luqmat al-Qadi made its way from the Gulf countries to Turkey as lokma and Greece as loukmades.   Luqmat al-Qadi is also the source from which the Indian and Pakistani gulab jaman originally derived.


Traditionally at Ramadan, the Kyrgyz accompany their evening meal with drinks made from special Ramadan kurut. A kurut is a dried yogurt ball.

Ramadan kurut balls
Osh Bazaar, Bishkek
Normal kurut are fairly small and extremely salty. By contrast, the special Ramadan kurut are roughly the size of someone's fist and are much salty. While regular, small-sized kurut are available all year long where they are sold throughout the country in plastic jars, the special Ramadan kurut are much harder to come by, and as a result are a special thing for most Kyrgyz.  These special Ramadan kurut are sold only in the Osh Bazaar in the capital city of Bishkek.

The Kyrgyz use Ramadan kurut to make a variety of Ramadan beverages. The balls are dissolved in carbonated water and mixed with tomatoes and onions for a savory drink. The balls are dissolved in hot water and mixed with sugar and creamy oil for a dessert drink. In either case, the kurut drinks are special for the holiday and represent a one-time-a-year tradition.


Ramadan in Mauritania is a time when traditional games are played, especially among women. 
What is particularly unusual in this tradition is that the games are primarily played by women in what is otherwise a primarily male-oriented society when it comes to competitions.

As the Mohamed Yahya Abdel Wedoud in his article "Mauritanians mark Ramadan with traditional games and neighbourly visits" explains:
After prayers, traditional games such as ekrour and essik dominate the Ramadan nightlife, especially for women. Women throughout the country form teams and compete with each other.

Mauritanian woman playing traditional Ramadan game  

A Morrocan n'far blowing his horn
In Morocco, a tradition exists in which a n'far (a special Ramadan equivalent to a town crier) walks down the streets playing a long, one-note n'far horn (similar to a brass vuvuzela) in the morning to wake everyone up in time for the last meal before sunrise. In many towns, being selected as the n'far is a high honor and usually bestowed upon an individual who knows everyone in the neighborhood well.

Moroccan chebbakia
Morocco is famous for its many special Ramadan treats, especially sweets. These include the anise and sesame-seed bread called qrashel, the turnover-like briwat, the crepe-like baghrir, and especially that most famous of all Moroccan sweets: the honey-soaked, sesame-sprinkled chebbakia. 
One recipe for chebakkia can be found at http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/tipsandtechniques/ss/How_to_make_Chebakia.htm


Ramazan (the Turkish name of Ramadan) is generally a festive time throughout Turkey. Buildings and trees, especially in rural areas, are decorated with colored lights and booths are set up for the month selling traditional foods, religious books and a wide variety of Ramazan specials.

 Lokum (Turkish delight)
Throughout the small towns of Turkey and even in some larger cities, special Ramazan drummers go through the street banging on drums. Their purpose is  to wake people before the sun rises so they have time to eat.
The three days after Ramazan concludes is celebrated with the Sugar Festival (Şeker Bayramı) when -- as the name suggests -- sweets and candies are eaten. Traditionally, in addition to offering sweets to friends and family at home, children go from door to door ask for candy.  Most famous of the many sweets offered is lokum, known through most of the world as "Turkish delight."  A recipe for the treat can be found at

Concluding Comment

As with all of my commentaries, this overview is meant only as an informational message. It in no way is meant to suggest that one interpretation is in any way better than another regarding how to celebrate Ramadan  

That said, I am open to your input. Please feel free to share your comments for improvement (or support for that matter) with me. Ramadan Mubarek!

Want To Know More?

Murray Candle, "Ramadan: A Mosaic of Traditions Around the World," http://murraycandle.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/ramadan-a-mosaic-of-traditions-around-the-world/

Emel, ""Ramadan Across the Globe," http://emel.com/article?id=88&a_id=2446

Michael A. Fredericks, AllMalaysia.com, "Ramadan," http://allmalaysia.info/2011/08/19/ramadan/

Holidays.net, "Ramadan," http://holidays.net/ramadan/

Huda, About.com, "What is Ramadan?" http://islam.about.com/od/ramadan/f/ramadanintro.htm

Living in Indonesia, "Ramadan and Lebaran in Indonesia," http://www.expat.or.id/info/lebaran.html

Muhajabah.com, "Ramadan FAQ http://www.muhajabah.com/ramadan-faq.htm

Juliette Schmidt, OnIslam.net, "In Ramadan: A Journey Around the World," http://www.onislam.net/english/culture-and-entertainment/traditions/448896-ramadanaroundtheworld.html

TheEid.com, "Ramadan," http://www.theeid.com/ramadan/

Morocco World News, "Ramadan Life and Traditions in Ramadan," http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/06/132599/ramadan-life-and-traditions-in-morocco/

Clip-Art Credits

Opening clip art: http://i1.squidoocdn.com/resize/squidoo_images/250/draft_lens19160628module157196200photo_1330258970aaa__a.jpg

Ramadan fast clip art (adapted from): http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs71/f/2010/224/f/3/RAMADAN_MUBARAK_1431h_by_bx.jpg

Mosque clip art: http://www.clker.com/cliparts/8/2/2/f/1282647222988584111mosque.svg.med.png

Lailat ul-Qadr clip art: http://sapnamagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/laylat-al-qadr.jpg

Radio Tirana lodra: http://web.mclink.it/MJ0350/libera/tirana/tiran19.jpg

Albanian byrek: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Evb%C3%B6re%C4%9Fi.jpg
Egyptian fanoos lanterns for sale: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/ramadanlanterns.htm

Henna hands: http://www.america.gov/multimedia/photogallery.html#/30145/multi_ramadan/

Samosa: http://recipesnest.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/samosa.jpg

Bedug drum: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_kXYte55FGyo/SKQqfZtVKkI/AAAAAAAAAN8/wTs3t3m6iMo/s320/bedug.jpg

Panjat pinang pole climbers: http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/panjat-pinang-a-slippery-tradition-of-thailand.html

Indonesians trapped in traffic in Karawang at conclusion of Eid al-Fitr: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01712/ramadan-indonesia2_1712808i.jpg

Ramadan flowers for sale in Malaysia:  http://www.america.gov/multimedia/photogallery.html#/30145/multi_ramadan/

Ramada Bazaar, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: http://allmalaysia.info/2011/08/19/ramadan/

Qatari children dressed for Garangao: http://www.cbq.com.qa/NewsDetails.aspx?id=344

Iftar cannon, Naif Palace, Kuwait: http://www.q8nri.com/home/2010/08/17/iftar-cannon-a-source-of-attraction-in-kuwait-in-ramadan/

Luqmat al-Qadi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Loukoumades.jpg

Ramadan kurut balls, Osh Bazaar, Bishkek: http://students.sras.org/what-bishkek-eats-for-ramadan/