Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi
There were 5 tragedies that took place on the seventeenth of Tammouz (Mishnah Taanit 4:3):
1. The first tablets were broken by Moshe Rabenou when Moshe descended from the mountain and saw the golden calf; 2. The daily sacrifice was suspending during the first Bet Hamiqdash; 3. The wall of Yerushalayim was breached during the second Bet Hamiqdash; 4. Apustamus the wicked burned the Torah during the second Bet Hamiqdash; 5. A pesel (idol) was placed inside the Bet Hamiqdash;
The first tablets were broken by Moshe Rabenou
The first tablets were broken by Moshe Rabenou on this day, after the Torah was given. Before Moshe ascended Har Sinai, he told Bnei Yisrael: "After forty days have passed, in the beginning of the sixth hour, I shall return and bring you the Torah." Bnei Yisrael assumed that the day on which he ascended was to be counted as the first of the forty days. But this day was to be counted as a partial day and thus, he was due to return on the seventeenth of Tammouz.
On the sixteenth of Tammuz, due to their miscalculation, the nation believed the image that the Satan showed them, of Moshe's deathbed. Bnei Yisrael believed that Moshe was late, maybe even dead. This confusion led a small group of Bnei Yisrael to seek a new method to connect with God, for their great emissary Moshe was gone. They approached Aharon, and the result was the sin of the Golden Calf.
When Moshe descended on the seventeenth of Tammouz, he saw the calf and destroyed the tablets.
The daily sacrifice was suspending during the first Bet Hamiqdash
At the time of the destruction of the first Bet Ha'miqdash, the walls of Yerushalyim were breached on the ninth of Tammouz. The enemies stormed the city and spread destruction. They were unable to enter the Sanctuary, where the Kohanim fortified themselves and continued with the performance of the Divine service until the seventh of Ab.
With the enemy's entry into the city, there was a shortage of sheep for the daily sacrifice, beginning from the thirteenth of Tammouz. Until that day, there were sufficient animals, for it had been the practice to have a four-day supply on hand. On the thirteenth of the month, the Jews in the Temple courtyard began to bribe the soldiers standing below - passing money down to them for which the soldiers would send up sheep. They continued doing this until the seventeenth of Tammouz, when the daily sacrifice was ultimately suspended.
The wall of Yerushalayim was breached during the second Bet Hamiqdash
On the seventeenth of Tammouz, during the second Bet Hamiqdash, Titus and his legions broke into the city of Yerushalayim.
Apustamus burned the Torah during the second Bet Hamiqdash
This story is recorded in the Talmud Yerushalmi, that Apustamus burned the Torah at the crossroads of Lod, while Hachamim say it was at the crossroads of Tarlusa. Regarding that period, Josephus Flavius writes:
"After this calamity [in which 10,000 men were slaughtered on the Temple Mount during a riot which the Romans provoked] new unrest began in the aftermath of a robbery. On the royal road near Bet Horon, robbers attacked the cortege of Stephanus, a royal official, and thoroughly plundered it. Camanus dispatched an armed force to the nearby villages, ordering his soldiers to arrest the inhabitants and bring them before him. He saw them as being culpable for what had happened, for they had failed to pursue the thieves to try to apprehend them. One of the soldiers seized a Torah scroll in one of the villages, tore it, and set it afire."
"From every corner, Jews were seized with trembling; it was as if the entire country had been set ablaze. Upon hearing the first reports, they gathered in their spirit of great zeal for that which they hold holy and, like arrows shot from a bow, hurried to Caesaria to appeal to Camanus that he not save from retribution the man who had so greatly blasphemed their God and their Torah. The procurator understood that the people would not easily be placated. He therefore ordered that the guilty soldier be brought before him and hung on the gallows in front of his Jewish accusers. The Jews then returned to their cities.