Reprinted with permission from the website of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
The fast day of the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tevet symbolizes the first of a series of events which led to the destruction of the First Temple: the beginning of the siege of the Babylonians on Jerusalem, the capital city of Judea, as the Book of Kings relates:
“Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. And in the ninth year of his reign, on the 10th day of the 10th month Nebuchadnezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. He besieged it; and they built towers against it all around. The city continued in a state of siege until the 11th year of King Zedekiah” (Kings II, 25 verse 1-2).
The prophet Yeheskel [Ezekiel] was instructed by God to turn this day into a day of memory:
“O mortal, record this date, this exact day; for this very day the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem” (Yeheskel 24, verse 2).
Other Mourning Days
Later on, additional memorial days commemorating events of mourning were connected to the Tenth of Tevet, which was named by the prophet Zechariah as “the fast of the 10th month” (Zechariah 8, Verse 19).
It was on the fifth of Tevet when Yeheskel, together with the Jewish community forced into Babylonian exile, received news of the destruction of Jerusalem: “In the 12th year of our exile, on the fifth day of the 10th month, a fugitive came to me from Jerusalem and reported, ‘The city has fallen’ ” (Yeheskel 33, verse 21). The Babylonian Talmud in Rosh Hashanah tractate 18B even purports that the fast should be held on the fifth of Tevet and not on the 10th: “And they equated receipt of the report of the destruction with that of Jerusalem’s burning.”
Two other events which are related to the first days of Tevet are the completionof the translation of the Torah into Greek on the Eighth of Tevet by the “Seventy Scholars” in the days of Ptolemy and the death of Ezra on the ninth of Tevet.
The public fasts associated with the Temple’s destruction, among them the Tenth of Tevet, are part of recent research known as the “Memory Place.” The term “Memory Place,” attributed to the French historian Pierre Nora, includes not only spatial but temporal places as well, i.e. days of commemoration around the calendar. Those days, like the physical monuments, help the collective–in our case the Jewish people–to preserve the memory of formative events in its past, which are meaningful for its future.