The Tenth of Tevet
The Babylonian empire first laid siege to Jerusalem on the Tenth of Tevet, in about the 5th Century BCE, cutting it off from the outside world. This not only laid the groundwork for the destruction of the Temple but also caused horrific suffering for the besieged population of Jerusalem, thousands of whom died from starvation and disease. This tragedy, in and of itself would be sufficient reason to mourn and fast.
Another, less obvious tragedy, however, lies within this day. Jerusalem is meant to be the source of inspiration to the world and the place from which Torah and the word of God reach out to everyone. As the verse tells us, “From Zion shall come forth the law and the word of God from Jerusalem.” A siege not only prevents supplies from entering a city, but it also prevents any communication from the city reaching the outside world. Ever since Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to Jerusalem, the voice of this Holy City has been muted and often distorted. It ceased to be the spiritual beacon for the world, it lost its role as the primary center of Torah study, and the “word of God” could no longer be heard coming forth from its gates. Other voices now issued from Jerusalem — the sounds of the Romans, the Christian Crusaders, the Moslems, the Saracens, the British, and all her other conquerors and their cultures drowned out the sounds of Judaism. Even though the physical siege ended with the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem remained under a spiritual siege.
Now, thank God, Jerusalem is once again a thriving city, full of Jewish life and learning, but we still fast on the Tenth of Tevet, because the glory of Jerusalem as the moral and spiritual center of the world has not been fully restored — it is as if the siege of the Babylonians still continues to this day.