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The Iran Deal and the Hebrew Calendar

July 19, 2015 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

It’s no accident that the deal was finalized only last week.

Deadlines came and went before the deal with Iran was finalized last week.

The initial interim agreement set a July deadline in 2014. That was extended to November, then to April 2015, followed by a “final deadline” of June 30, ignored once again and pushed off to July 7. But even that didn’t happen. It wasn’t until Tuesday, July 14 that Iran and the world powers announced they had sealed a final nuclear deal with Tehran that will lift most economic sanctions on the country and permit it to continue many of the most controversial aspects of its nuclear program, as well as its missile development.

And for those of us sensitive to divine messages implicit in seemingly meaningless “coincidences” of the calendar this almost bizarre aspect of the date on which the deal with Iran was at long last finalized represents perhaps one of the most powerful verdicts of this agreement’s place in history.

Jewish tradition acknowledges that God makes his voice heard in many different ways. One of them is by way of the connection between events and the calendar, between the linkage of a day’s meaning to its historic significance.

In just a few days Jews around the world will be observing Tisha b’Av, the fast of the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is a day of tragic remembrance. On that day the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. That alone would have been enough for it to become marked as a day of fasting and mourning. But history reconfirmed Tisha b’Av’s tragic reality five centuries later. When the Romans approached the second temple and put it to the torch, the Jews were shocked to realize that their second temple was destroyed on exactly the same day as the first.

Jews are meant to understand that history has divine meaning and incorporates heavenly messages. Coincidence is a concept utterly foreign to those who believe that God governs the universe.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 135 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Beitar. The date of the massacre? The ninth of Av!

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, once again, the ninth day of Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land “for the greater glory of the church and the Christian religion.” The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jews were allowed any longer to remain in the land where they had enjoyed welcome and prosperity for centuries? By now you know it – the ninth of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, were actually the long drawn out conclusion of World War I which began in 1914. Barbara Tuchman wrote a book about that first great world war, which she called The Guns of August. Had a Jewish scholar written the book, perhaps it would have been titled with a date more specific than just a month. Yes, amazingly enough, the First World War also began according to the Hebrew calendar on Tisha b’Av.

What are we to make of all this? For Jews it is a profound confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard. Events have spiritual meaning. Their calendrical correspondence defines them.

And what is important to note is that the mourning period associated with Tisha b’Av is not limited to one day but is in fact but the close of a three week period of sadness and sorrow. The time of our grief begins with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. That was the day on which the walls of Jerusalem were breached. That was the beginning of the end – and the sages were smart enough to recognize that the wise mourn the imminence of a catastrophic event even before its actual occurrence. Tragedy is not only the day when the temple physically burns to the ground; we need to weep when the potential for its destruction becomes obvious as well.

The three weeks in Jewish history which serve as prelude to Tisha b’Av represent the time to mourn for the breakdown of those walls which protected the Temple and the source of the world’s spiritual sanctity. And that, I believe in all certainty, is why the deal with Iran – a deal which Charles Krauthammer called “the worst agreement in United States diplomatic history” and a deal which Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu believes has the grave potential to bring about a nuclear Holocaust of global proportion – wasn’t concluded until its connection to the mourning period of the three weeks was clearly established.

It is the Jewish calendar which delivers a clear warning of the deals disastrous potential. We can only pray that the world’s leaders heed its message.

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