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I have come into My garden, My sister, My bride
— Song of Songs 5:1

Question:

In some articles on your site it says the Second Temple was destroyed in 69 CE, and in others it says 70 CE. So what year was it?

Answer:

There are actually three different years found in Jewish sources for the destruction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem:

  • 3828 / 68 CE
  • 3829 / 69 CE
  • 3830 / 70 CE

This discrepancy is based on a number of factors:Before we get in the reasons behind the discrepancy, it should be noted that the civil dates used here, such as 69 CE or 70 CE, are for clarification purposes only. After all, the civil calendar that is in use today was hardly functional in those early years.

How long is 420 years?

The TalmudTalmud, Erchin 12b. states that the Second Temple stood for 420 years.

But the sages debate whether this means that the Temple was destroyed in its 420th year, or after it was standing for a full 420 years. The Temple was destroyed on the ninth of Av, which is toward the end of the Jewish calendar year, so 420 years could mean almost 420 years, or it could mean 420 years and 10 months.The Second Temple was dedicated on the 24th of Kislev (see Haggai 2:18). Following the opinion of Rashi (to Exodus 30:17), and the way the Talmud in general seems to count, years are always counted from Tishrei—hence 9 Av would be 10+ months into the year. See, however, Ramban (to Exodus 30:12), that years are counted from day to day, in which case the time span in question is (420 years and) about 7 months.

Rashi, in his commentary to the Talmud, tractate Avodah Zarah,9b, s.v. v’siman. and MaimonidesSee commentaries to Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shemittah ve-Yovel 10:2–5. are of the opinion that it was destroyed in the 420th year. However, most other Jewish sagesSee, for example, the commentaries of Tosafot, Ramban, Ritva, et al. on Talmud, Avodah Zarah and Erchin loc. cit. are of the opinion that it was destroyed in the 421st year. In fact, Rashi appears to reverse himself, and cites this opinion in his commentary to Talmud, tractate Erchin.12b, s.v. arba; see also Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 9b, s.v. hai. See, however, Chatam Sofer, Responsa, Choshen Mishpat 50, who gives an alternative explanation as to the seeming discrepancy in Rashi.

According to these opinions, the year of the Destruction was either 3828 (68 CE) or 3829 (69 CE), depending on how you interpret 420 years.

But it’s not that simple . . .

The Talmud also gives us another clue about the year of the Destruction: The Temple was destroyed in the year following a shemittah year (the seventh year in the seven-year agricultural cycle, when the land is left to lie fallow).Talmud, Taanit 29a and Erchin 11b; see also Seder Olam, ch. 30.

Seemingly this gives us a simple way to calculate the year of the Destruction. We will take the last shemittah year and count back until we hit the proper year. The last shemittah was 5768The next one will be 5775 (2015). (2008). Counting backwards in increments of seven (5768/2008 - (277 * 7)), we get the number 3829—69 CE. If the year of the Destruction was the year after a shemittah year, that would mean the Temple was destroyed in 3830—70 CE. But that does not accord with either of the opinions mentioned above!

What gives?

To understand this, we need to go back to the beginning of creation. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated on the day Adam was created, which was really the 6th day of creation. Creation itself began on the 25th day of the month of Elul.

This raises the question: Was the first New Year considered the beginning of year one, or was it year two, with year one being shenat tohu, the “year of desolation”? In other words, do we count the years from the creation of man, or do we count from the creation of the world? Although it was merely six days earlier, the TalmudTalmud, Rosh Hashanah 2b. tells us that for counting purposes, even one day is considered a year.

The sages of the “East”—i.e., the Babylonian Talmud, the Seder Olam and their commentators—count from when Adam was created. The sages of the “West”—i.e. the Jerusalem Talmud—begin counting from the creation of the world.

We can now understand the discrepancy about the year of shemittah, and also why the year 70 CE is commonly given as the year the Temple was destroyed. For although the sages of the Babylonian Talmud counted from the year Adam was created, common practiceRabbi Yehoshua Falk Katz, Derishah, Choshen Mishpat 67:9. has become to count from the year the world was created, counting the “year of desolation” as year 1.

This means that to all years given in the Babylonian Talmud and its commentaries, we must add one. Accordingly, the year of the Destruction would be 3830 (70 CE). Now the shemittah years work well: 3829 + (277 * 7) = 5768 (2008), coinciding with common practice.

Maimonides, on the other hand, is of the opinion that since the shemittah year is counted from the month of Tishrei and the Destruction occurred toward the end of the year, the Talmud considers the Temple to have been destroyed after a shemittah year, even though it was actually destroyed in such a year. According to him, the year of the Destruction, counting from the year of the creation of the world, would be 3829 (69 CE) and not 3830, but the shemittah years would still match up.See commentary of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, Gra) on Mishneh Torah, ibid. 10:5

Based on the above, we can now understand why the year of the destruction of the Temple is variously given as 3828 (68 CE), 3829 (69 CE) and 3830 (70 CE).

May we merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple speedily in our days.

Year of Destruction

Temple destroyed in its counting from creation of man counting from creation of world
Rashi on Avodah Zarah and Maimonides 420th year 3828 (68 CE) 3829 (69 CE)
Tosafot and most other commentaries 421st year 3829 (69 CE) 3830 (70 CE)


Question:

My siddur tells me to start saying the prayer for rain in the Amidah on the night preceding December 5 or 6. Why does it use a secular date rather than a Jewish one?

Answer:

Good question! As a rule of thumb, Jewish holidays and customs always follow the Jewish calendar, which is linked to the phases of the moon. One exception to this rule is the special prayer requesting rain, which Jews in the Diaspora begin saying on the night preceding December 5 (or 6).

To understand why, let’s take a look at the history and significance of this small but important prayer.

Praying for Rain

Jews have been praying for rain for millennia. In the ancient land of Israel, rain was a life-and-death concern. A good rainy season meant a good harvest and ample drinking water, while a drought could be fatal to livestock and cripple the economy.

So when the Men of the Great Assembly set out to codify the prayers, they made sure to add a prayer for rain to the daily Amidah (silent prayer).

In fact, rain appears twice in the Amidah.

It is first mentioned in the second blessing, as one of a string of natural and supernatural wonders that G‑d performs. Not least among them is that “He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”

Here we are praising G‑d, who brings rain, but we are not actually asking for rain. It is only later, in the blessing requesting a bountiful year, that we ask G‑d to “bestow dew and rain for blessing upon the face of the earth . . .”

In both instances, the rain-related phrase is said only during the winter (Israel’s rainy season). However, the two prayers follow slightly different schedules. We begin to say “He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall” on Shemini Atzeret. But, as you point out, we start saying the second prayer, the actual request for rain, only at the beginning of December.

Why the differing start dates? It’s an interesting story . . .

In Israel

The Jews of ancient Israel made three pilgrimages to Jerusalem each year, for the holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Now, the official rainy season begins on Shemini Atzeret,

The Talmud (Taanit 1:1) explains that in truth, even this mention of rain should have theoretically started earlier, at the beginning of the festival of Sukkot. However, it was deemed inappropriate to mention rain during Sukkot, when we are obligated to eat in the sukkah.

when the Jews were about to start their journey back home after the festival of Sukkot. As much as they wanted the rain, they chose to delay their supplications in the interests of a safer and easier trip.

That is how the practice of delaying the prayer for rain began. In Israel, the prayer was begun only 15 days after Shemini Atzeret (the 7th of Cheshvan), allowing enough time for even the Jews living near the Euphrates to return home.

Ibid. 1:3.

This custom is followed by Jews living in Israel until today.

Outside of Israel, however, a more complicated calculation became necessary.

In the Diaspora

For much of our history, the primary Jewish community in the Diaspora was in Babylonia (modern-day Iraq), where the climate is much hotter than Israel’s, and the autumn rains do not begin until much later. Therefore, the sages instituted that Jews living in the Diaspora should start praying for rain only 60 days after the start of the halachic autumn, which is known as tekufat Tishrei.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 117:1.

(This should not be confused with the autumn equinox, which is usually September 22 or 23.) I will explain soon when exactly that is.

Nowadays very few Jews live in Babylonia, and the Jews of North America need rain at a different time than the Jews of Singapore. Nevertheless, we all start asking for rain on the day established for the Jews in Babylonia, regardless of when rains are actually needed in our respective locales.

Shulchan Aruch ibid.; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 117:2; Responsa of Rabbi Asher bar Yechiel (Rosh) 4:10. See also Shaarei Halachah u-Minhag, vol. 1, pp. 159–163 for an extensive list of halachic authorities who discuss this.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, explains that even Jews living in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, should follow the schedule established for the Jews of Babylonia, because we pray for the needs of the Jewish people as a whole, most of whom reside in the Northern Hemisphere.

See Torat Menachem 5742, vol. 4, p. 2119, and Torat Menachem 5743, vol. 1, p. 387.

Obviously, this does not preclude us from praying for rain at other times. An individual or community that needs rain at a different time may add a personal prayer into the sixteenth blessing of the Amidah, “Shomei’a Tefillah,” where we add our unique requests.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 117:2.

Now Some Math

We now know that the custom of Jews in the Diaspora is to start praying for rain 60 days after the onset of tekufat Tishrei. But when exactly is that?

In the third century, the Talmudic sage Shmuel calculated the length of the solar year as 365 days and 6 hours. Since the year is subdivided into four seasons, or tekufot in Hebrew, it follows that each tekufah is 91 days and 7½ hours (365.25 ÷ 4 = 91.3125).

See Talmud, Eruvin 56a.

This calculation happens to correspond with the Julian calendar, which was widely used from the year 45 BCE until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE.

Based on this, tekufat Tishrei always began on September 24 on the Julian calendar,

Currently October 7 on the Gregorian calendar.

and 60 days into tekufat Tishrei was November 22.

See, for example, Beit Yosef to Orach Chaim 117, where Rabbi Yosef Caro, who lived before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, gives November 22 as the day we start praying for rain.

Calendar Issues

It eventually became clear that the solar year is actually 11 minutes and 14 seconds shorter than previously calculated, and that the calendar was slowly but surely drifting ahead. In the year 1582, the spring (vernal) equinox—which had been on March 25 at the introduction of the Julian calendar—actually occurred on March 11. This was about 10 days earlier than March 21, which is the day that had been “fixed” as the vernal equinox in the year 325.

To remedy this, Gregory XIII made two changes:

He shifted the calendar back by removing 10 days in October, making October 5 of the year 1582 into October 15. This restored the spring equinox to March 21.

To ensure that the calendar would not shift again, Gregory implemented that every 128 years (or, more roughly, three times every 400 years), one day would be removed from the calendar. (This is because the discrepancy of 11 minutes and 14 seconds accumulates into a whole extra day every 128 years.)

The extra day normally appended to the month of February every four years (causing a leap year)

The leap year is in both calendars to compensate for the fact that a solar year is approximately 365.25 days; thus, every four years there is an extra day.

would not be added to all centaury years, except for those years which are multiples of 400. (Thus, it was not added in the years 1700, 1800 and 1900. However, it was added to the years 1600 and 2000.)

If you’re still following me, it should be clear that the old calendars (Jewish and Julian) drift away from the new (Gregorian) calendar at a rate of three days every 400 years.

It’s important to note that the Jewish sages were well aware that this calculation was not completely accurate. In fact, for most purposes the Jewish calendar follows the more accurate calculations of Rabbi Adda bar Ahavah, who gives the length of the solar year as 365 days, 5 hours, 55 minutes and 25.4 seconds. However, the sages of the Talmud chose to calculate the length of a solar year as 365.25 days for the prayer for rain and for Birchat Hachamah (the blessing of the sun), because it made the calcuations much simpler for the average person to perform.

For more on the accuracy of the calculations, and the reasons why they chose inexact ones, see But the Sun Is in the Wrong Place!

What to Do?

We know that the prayer for rain should be said 60 days after the beginning of halachic autumn. Since this date is based on the calculation of Shmuel (and the Julian calendar), and not the Gregorian calendar, we now have to translate this date into our Gregorian calendars.

Here’s our final calculation: As mentioned earlier, in the Julian calendar, the sixtieth day after the tekufah is November 22. Now, keeping in mind that the Gregorian calendar chopped off 10 days from the Julian calendar, we have to add them back. Thus, the sixtieth day would be—in the year 1582—on December 2.

Additionally, every centurial year (except for the years divisible by 400) the Gregorian calendar loses one day not dropped from the older calendar. Thus, from the year 1700 and onward, the sixtieth day of the tekufah moved one day every 100 years. In 1700 it was on December 3, in 1800 it moved to December 4, and in 1900 to December 5. However, since the year 2000 is divisible by 400, and the Gregorian calendar did not drop the leap day, the day that is considered the sixtieth day of the tekufah did not move, and remains December 5 until the year 2100, in which it will move to December 6.

The reason that we begin saying the prayer on December 6 in the year before a (civil) leap year is that although the Gregorian calendar adds a day to the month of February every four years for a leap year, the extra day has essentially really been accumulated at the start of the winter season. Therefore, every December preceding a leap year, the sixtieth day is adjusted to December 6.

Also bear in mind that since the halachic day starts on the preceding night, we start reciting the prayer for rain during the Maariv Amidah on the night preceding the dates given above.

So, after all that, what you really need to know is that until the year 2100, in a regular year we start saying the prayer for rain on the night of December 4, and in the year before a (civil) leap year, on the night of December 5.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 117:1.

As we begin to recite the prayers for rain this winter, let us have in mind that we are joining Jews all over the world—especially those in our Holy Land, where every drop of water is precious—united in our request for bounty and blessing for all of humanity.

Question:

I think this is a beautiful tradition, and I want to learn all I can about it. However, is it actually written in Torah to light a candle, or does it say only to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy?

Response:

The most precious things in life are said silently. Those who need to understand—those who are not strangers, those who hear the words from the inside—understand. Similarly with Shabbat: when G‑d gave it to us, He did not need to spell out its most precious customs.

Take a look: whenever the Torah mentions Shabbat, it always seems to be assuming that we know what it’s talking about. The Torah admonishes us to “keep the Shabbat” and “remember the Shabbat.” We are to rest on the seventh day from the work of the other six, and so are our servants and domesticated animals. Don’t make a fire.

Exodus 35:3.

There’s a strong implication that we don’t build tabernacles on Shabbat.

Ibid.

From all this we can figure out a lot of things that we are not supposed to do—such as anything that’s involved in building a tabernacle. But regarding what we are supposed to do, not a word. It seems that the Moses crowd just knew—perhaps by intuition, perhaps by tradition.

The prophet Isaiah, however, does elaborate a little on what Shabbat entails. His audience was, after all, a little more distant from the light of Sinai—and so needed things spelled out. He says, “If you restrain your foot because of the Sabbath, from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you will call the Sabbath ‘a delight’ and G‑d’s holy day ‘honored’ . . .”

Isaiah 58:13.

So, Shabbat is a day we are to honor and delight in. But how do you honor and delight in it? Apparently, Isaiah’s audience needed no further explanation. But in Talmudic times, things got to the point that it was necessary for the rabbis to spell out every word: you honor the Shabbat with clean clothes, and delight in it with fine food and drink.

Talmud, Shabbat 113a and 118b; Mishneh Torah, Hil. Shabbat 30:1; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 242 and 262.

Now, here’s where the Shabbat candles come in:

Mishneh Torah (ibid. 5:1) describes ner Shabbat in terms of delight. In 30:5, however, it is described in terms of honoring Shabbat. The Rebbe (Likkutei Sichot, vol. 11, p. 295) resolves this: lighting before Shabbat honors the Shabbat by preparing for it. Once Shabbat has entered, the light provides delight. I focus here on the second aspect, since (see Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, 263:11, end) the main mitzvah of ner Shabbat is not the lighting, but the enjoyment of the light on Shabbat (and for this reason, a woman who has not made the blessing at the time of lighting can make a blessing later on Shabbat, when she benefits from the light).

Have you ever sat down to a delicious meal in the dark? Not too much fun. Who knows what that fork may end up piercing? But, worst of all, even the finest cuisine becomes a drab affair when you can’t see the colors, textures and forms of those delicious morsels. We are visual creatures, and even our capacity to derive pleasure from our food is tied to our visual experience. “A blind person,” the rabbis say, “is never satisfied from his food.”

Yoma 74b.

And so, as long as Jews were interested in “calling the Shabbat a day of delight,” they must have had a lamp lit for the nighttime meal. It had to be lit beforehand, since—as we are told explicitly

Exodus 35:3.

—we cannot create a fire on Shabbat. And since it is the woman who generally takes the responsibilities of the home, presumably she took the responsibility for the lamp.

Yet it seems that later down the line, there were Jews who felt okay skimping on the visual experience. Maybe the cost of oil was escalating. True, you can’t eat a meal without light and enjoy it. But people said, “Let’s just eat it that way anyway, and say we did.” Now, if people don’t want to enjoy, it’s hard to tell them, “You must enjoy!” But sitting in a dark home all Shabbat creates other problems. Shabbat is meant to be a day of peace and harmony. A dark house, with people tripping over every unseen obstacle

Rashi to Shabbat 25b, s.v. hadlakat.

and falling all over each other is not conducive to peace and harmony.

So, at some unspecified point in history, for the sake of shalom bayit (family harmony),

Shabbat 23b. Rambam appears to consider ner Shabbat to be principally for the sake of enjoying Shabbat. Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, however, seems to consider shalom bayit the chief factor. See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 16, p. 374.

the spiritual leaders of the generation made a distinct requirement that every home must have a lamp lit before Shabbat in every room where people may walk and bump into things.

Mishneh Torah, ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 263:1.

They declared that anyone who would be careful with it would be blessed with children who would be Torah scholars, as the verse states, “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah is light.”

Proverbs 6:23.

They interpreted this to mean that through the mitzvah of the lamp would come the light of Torah.

Shabbat 23b and Rashi ad loc.

Nevertheless, the principal lamp is the one that shines over the Shabbat meal.

Ohr Zarua, Hilchot Erev Shabbat 11; Rema, Orach Chaim 263:10; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 263:1.

The other lamps can be replaced today with electric lights, but the light by the meal should be a burning flame—unless that’s just not possible (e.g., in a hospital).

Now you can see that the Shabbat lamp, even though it is technically a rabbinic institution, has always been an integral part of the Shabbat. Our tradition is that Abraham and Sarah kept the entire Torah even though it was not yet given. They knew the Torah from their understanding of the inner mechanics of the universe. Sarah lit the Shabbat lamp, as did Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. It’s reasonable to believe that at no time in our history did a Friday night pass without that light. And with that light we will enter into the “day that is entirely Shabbat and rest for eternal life.” May that time come sooner than we can imagine.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

 
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