Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Napoleon and Tisha Be'av Myth

Napoleon is the star of one of the most famous Tisha Be'av stories, as told by

The story is told that Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'Av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple.Napoleon was indignant! "How come I wasn't informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?"The aide responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1,700 years ago."Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"

This story is so famous, I was sure it was true. However a furious Google search has yet to provide a source for this tale. I did however come across this very same question, posed to J. David Markham - President of the International Napoleonic Society and one of my favorite podcasters. The noted historian of Napoleon answered that he had never heard that story. You can draw your own conclusions.  

A similar discussion in Bechadrei Haredim lists many different versions of the same story. It does however add one unusual version of the story, which might even prove to be the origin.

 According to the book פרחי אהרון

:ספר פרחי אהרן (ניו יורק תשי"ד) : "נפוליון בא לווילנא בתשעה באב וראה שיושבים על הארץ, ותמה האם בזה יבנו את ארץ ישראל. הוא לא הבין כי אלו המתאבלים על חורבנה יזכו גם כן לבנותה."

 Roughly translated: Napoleon came to Vilna on Tisha Be'av and saw them sitting on the earth. He asked whether that would help to build the land of Israel. He didn't understand that those who mourn its destruction will live to see it rebuilt.

The same book has another interesting though somewhat unrelated Tisha Be'av story,
 כשהיינו בירושלים בשנת תרפ״ז, וזכינו בתשעת באב לעמוד ולהתפלל אצל ״כותל המערבי״ במקום המקדש, ראינו מים נוטפים מן הכותל ונשתוממנו
 מאד. המשכילים אמרו שזה בא מתור הזוועות שהיתה רעידת אדמת ביום
 ד אב׳ ומזת נפתח מעין של מים אצל הכותל״ אך ההחסידים והספרדים שאמרו
 קינות אצל הכותל התחילו לשיר ולרקוד׳ באמרם, הכותל בוכה׳ וישראל
 בוכים, והקב״ה בוכה׳ סימן טוב הוא שהקב״ה רוצת לגאול את בניו׳ כי
 איתא במדרש, בשעה שיעקב יושב ובוכה ויוסף יושב ובוכה׳ וישראל בוכים׳
 הקב״ה יושב ובורא אורו של משיח 

When I was in Jerusalem in 1927, and we were lucky to be on Tisha Be'av at the Western wall – the place of the temple, we saw water dripping from the wall and we were awed. The maskilim said it was because of the tremors of the earthquake on Daled Be'av and from that a streamlet of water opened in the kotel, however the Hasidim and the Sephradim who were saying "Laments" at the wall started dancing and singing saying "the wall is crying and Israel is crying and God is crying. It is a good sign that god want to redeem his sons, as is found in the midrash that when Jacob sits and cries, and Joseph sits and cries, and Yisrael cries, God sits and creates the light of the messiah.

See this On The Main Line response to this post.

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