Titus Destroys the Bais Hamikdash

Leaving for Rome to assume power, Vespasian transferred control of the army to his son Titus. After Pesach 70 CE, the final battles for Jerusalem began. The emaciated Jews fought bravely and tenaciously, but Roman assault teams eventually overwhelmed them.

On the 17th of Tammuz, the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem. The fast day of 17 Tammuz marks this and other tragedies that occurred on that day throughout history.

On the 9th of Av, Tisha B'Av, the Romans entered the Bais Hamikdash, late in the afternoon setting it on fire. Josephus graphically describes the carnage:

“As the flames caught, a fearful cry welled up from the Jews, who rushed to the rescue, caring nothing for their lives...Around the Altar were heaps of corpses, while streams of blood flowed down the steps of the sanctuary...While the Temple was in flames, the victors stole everything they could lay their hands on, and slaughtered all who were caught. No pity was shown to age or rank, old men or children, the laity or priests — all were massacred. As the flames roared up, and since the Temple stood on a hill, it seemed as if the whole city were ablaze. The noise was deafening, with war cries of the legions, howls of the rebels surrounded by fire and sword, and the shrieks of the people. The ground was hidden by corpses, and the soldiers had to climb over heaps of bodies in pursuit of the fugitives."

The Bais Hamikdash started burning late on Tisha B'Av, and burned throughout the entire day afterward. For this reason, Rabbi Jochanan was of the opinion that the 10th of Av be designated as a fast day. However, because the Bais Hamikdash began to burn on the 9th of Av, other rabbinic authorities fix the fast then. Current practice accepts the latter view. Nevertheless, Rabbi Jochanan's view is also taken into account, as the mourning practices of the Nine Days commence at the beginning of the month of Av and end midday on the 10th.

After the destruction, the Romans emptied the Temple treasuries, with gold becoming so commonplace that its price dropped by 50%. Drunk with victory, the soldiers entered the Temple courtyard, offered sacrifices to their gods, and praised Titus. Titus himself entered the Kodesh HaKodoshim, committed a lewd and despicable act, and disdainfully slashed the holy curtain, the paroches, with his sword. Miraculously, blood spurted from the curtain, causing Titus to believe that he had killed the Almighty, G‑d forbid.

The destruction was so complete that only the Western Wall, the Kosel HaMa’aravi, was left standing, for G‑d had promised that the Holy Temple would never be entirely destroyed. After the fall of the Temple, the Romans spent the next four weeks crushing the remaining resistance; by the 7th of Elul they had complete control of Jerusalem. Thousands of captured Jews were executed, while those that remained alive envied the dead, for the survivors were sent to the mines of Egypt or became gladiators, fighting each other or wild beasts for the amusement of the Romans. Finally, so many Jews were available as slaves that there was no need for slave markets. Overall, Jewish casualties were enormous – more than one million killed in Jerusalem alone, with nearly 100,000 taken captive.