Mordechai II of Zolkiew
Bezalis the Court Jew
“How daring and spoiled are the Jews of Poland… for example, what happened in 1693 at the Horodna Reichstag (parliament). A certain suspected Jew, Bezalis, who was the crown’s tax collector, and brought in some great sums of money, was criminally indicted on the following claims: 1) He robbed the treasury 2) He purposely blasphemed oso ha’ish.
“As for the first claim, being a patron of large sums of money, it was understood that he could minimize the damages and easily correct himself.
“As for the second claim, this one was something not so forgivable, since the believers testified that he forced them to throw a crucifix into a corner under a bench, and with this act, shamed oso ha’ish.
“Supposedly, it is said that he shouted out along with this, ‘He’s not worth any better!’ Even though he purposely blasphemed, with the power of his wealth, he managed to lessen the claim, and got himself back in his position!”
- This passage, taken from a Polish flyer anonymously printed and distributed in 1694, is a textbook example of the vicious anti-Semitism that existed in Poland in that era. The accusations it contains were also reprinted in two books that appeared in 1699 and 1714, respectively.
Bezalis and Sobieski1The major historical source for this article: Prof. Majer Balaban, Adam Kaźmierczyk, Jakub Becal; King Jan III Sobieski’s Jewish Factor. Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization 2002, Volume 15, pages 250-266.
The Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, once told a story that took place in the Polish town of Zolkiew (Zhovkva), during the youth of the future Polish king, John Sobieski.. “It once happened that John had a fight with his father, Pan Jakub Sobieski, and he ran away from home. He found refuge in the home of a Jew known as R’ Bezalel Muchsan, (which is the Hebrew word for “tax collector,”) where he paid for his lodgings by working as a servant.
At that time, R’ Bezalel had in his employ a melamed who taught his sons, as was customary in those days. This melamed later became known as the great gaon, Rabbi Ozer from Klimontów, Poland, author of the sefer Even HaOzer. Rabbi Ozer observed the new servant in R’ Bezalel’s house, and noticed this young lad, John, exhibited a most regal kind of behavior. He called him over and said, “I see that you have some impressive qualities. I advise you to join the army. There, you will rise up through the ranks, until, I believe, you will one day reach the position of King of Poland.”
John answered, “Fair enough, but there’s no way for me to succeed without funds. I would need at least 1,000 gulden, so that I can enter the army as the wealthy son of Pan Sobieski from Zolkiew.” Rabbi Ozer replied, “You have a point there. Let me see what I can do for you!”
Rabbi Ozer approached R’ Bezalel, and asked him for a loan, which he in turn provided to John. Good fortune shone upon the young man, and he easily rose through the ranks, displaying great military skills, until he reached the Polish throne.2 Otzar Yad HaChaim, Lwow 1934, no. 470. A similar tale is told by Barącz Sadok in his Bajki, fraszki, podania, przysłowia i pieśni na Rusi, Tarnopol, 1866, page 19.
Otzar Yad HaChaim, Lwow 1934, no. 470. A similar tale is told by Barącz Sadok in his Bajki, fraszki, podania, przysłowia i pieśni na Rusi, Tarnopol, 1866, page 19.
Not much is known about R’ Betzalel’s origin or his youthful years. We do know that his father was R’ Nosson from Ruthenia, who is believed to have been killed during the 1648 massacres of Jews known as Gzeiros Tach veTat.3Kiryah Nisgavah, Cracow 1903 , page 19.
The first historical record of R’ Bezalel is as an inhabitant of the Jewish quarter in Lemberg (Lvov). Based on the reference to him in the local records, it appears that he hailed from Toruń, a city on the Vistula River in north-central Poland.
Not long thereafter we find him in Zolkiew, where he bought a house for 1,800 Zloty.
During the years 1685-1691, he also rented an estate in Krzeszów, a village not far from Zolkiew, for which he paid a yearly rent of between 10,000 and 11,000 zloty. He, in turn sublet it to several local Jews, R’ David, R’ Shmuel and R’ Gumprecht (the latter likely being the father of Rabbi Itzik Zolkiewer, who was mentioned in the previous issue of Kankan), for a rental fee of 100,000 zlotys. He also rented another three estates in Turzynka, Kolyava and Lubell for 5,000 zlotys per year, and various businesses, such as a tavern, glass shops and a Turkish tapestry.
Mordechai II and the Queen
This, however, wasn’t all that R’ Bezalel kept busy with. In those days, people would bid to secure leases for certain positions and occupations, one of which was tax collector for the government treasury. R’ Bezalel succeeded in leasing the position of tax collector of Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie), Lesser Poland (Małopolska), Ruthenia, Podolia and Ukraine.
To get a sense of the far-reaching extent of that system, it is interesting to note the account of a certain Mr. Polski, who was a delegate from Ciechanów County in the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1748:
In the time when Podolia and Ukraine were desolate after the wars with the Turks and the Swedes, [the tax collector] didn’t bring in much of an income for the treasury, only a mere 300 and several tens of gulden…whilst there is a Jew, by the name of Becal [sic], who offered to pay the fantastic sum of 400,000 gulden [for the position].
The treasury officials were obviously very excited upon receiving this offer, and awarded the office to R’ Bezalel.4Majer Balaban, Shalsheles HaYachas shel Mishpachas Orenstein – Broda, Warsaw 1931, page 11.
What was R’ Bezalel’s connection with the royal palace of Poland? For one thing, it was known that the king, John Sobieski, was an extraordinary ohev Yisrael. Additionally, both he and R’ Bezalel originated from the same town of Zolkiew.
R’ Matisyahu Strashun of Vilna, in a letter to R’ Shmuel Yosef Fuenn, author of the sefer Kiryah Ne’emanah, writes:5Printed in Kiryah Ne’emanah, Wilnius 1860, page 302.
I’d like to mention what I saw in some history books, that a certain Jew… won his grace and favor in the eyes of the King Sobieski, and he had connections in his court, and all things there were presented to him. The Pollacks called him Mordechai II, since the queen also spoke well of him!
For R’ Bezalel, being in control of such a vast business venture wasn’t without its perils. As a result, he always surrounded himself with guardians, and when traveling, he was accompanied by 30 marshals.
In the sheilos u’teshuvos literature, we find responsa dealing with cases in which Jewish men were found dead in the forests. Such episodes were, unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence, largely due to antisemitism or jealousy. R’ Bezalel, then, was wise to travel with bodyguards.
As mentioned above, R’ Bezalel initially lived in Lemberg. As an influential person, he was given a leading position in the Jewish community there.
In 1685, when R’ Bezalel rented the big estate in Zolkiew, he relocated to that city, although he continued to spend quite a lot of time in Lemberg as well. He is mentioned in the Zolkiew communal register, signed 10 Tammuz 1685, as ‘the General and Officer, Moreinu Harav R’ Bezalel, son of the holy R’ Nosson z”l.’ At this time the community obliged him to pay its taxes.
Not long thereafter, we find him being promoted to the position of Gabbai Tzedakah, and gabbai in the shul. As one can imagine, he didn’t have much time to actually serve as gabbai, and it was largely an honorary title, with the actual functions of gabbai being performed by his son-in-law. Thanks to R’ Bezalel’s involvement, the community received much-needed permission to build a shul in the year 1687, and in 1689, he was appointed as a leader of the Zolkiew community.
Targeted, But Why?
Returning to the accusations against R’ Bezalel cited at the article’s outset, the question arises: What did he do to anger so many people?
Picture the situation: R’ Bezalel was a Jewish tax collector and a frequent visitor to the royal court, where he was very influential and was accorded much honor. He was very wealthy, and when he travelled, it was with a retinue of 30 officers. Although this was merely done to ensure his safety, it certainly must have looked very prestigious. This made him an obvious target for anyone harboring even a hint of jealousy or Jew-hatred.
Additionally, the fact that he exercised some control over the taxes of the treasury irked his opponents, and it was simple enough for them to accuse him of adjusting the taxes for his own personal benefit.
In the larger picture, it was actually the king, John Sobieski, who was being targeted by anti-royalists. The fact that Sobieski and R’ Bezalel enjoyed a close connection was also a source of animosity towards R’ Bezalel amongst the anti-royalists.
In 1689, a Polish nobleman named Rafal Leszczyński, spoke his mind against R’ Bezalel at a parliamentary assembly in Środa, known in Poland as a Sejmik. He was followed by the voivode,6As in: A non-military governor or official of a territorial voivodeship. A voivodeship is the area administered by a voivode (Governor) in several countries of central and eastern Europe. (Wikipedia) or governor, of Poznan, who claimed that the pacta conventa7Pacta conventa (Latin for “articles of agreement”) was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764, entered into by the Polish nation and a newly elected king upon his “free election” to the throne. Royal elections in Poland were held for the elevation of individual kings, rather than of dynasties, to the Polish throne. (Wikipedia) was being violated by leasing the collection of the Wielkopolskie taxes to R’ Bezalel.
Two years thereafter, the financial accusation against R’ Bezalel was joined by the accusation charge against him of blasphemy against the Christian deity, leveled, at a Sunday morning service in a Jesuit church in Lemberg. The priest told his congregation,8The Jesuits in Lemberg had a long history, worthy of a future article. that a certain Jew had allegedly committed blasphemy.
The priest didn’t reveal any more information, claiming that he was protecting the informant from the Jews who would take revenge on him. However, he did say that the following week, he would reveal more information.
The next Sunday, the priest made further accusations, inciting his flock against Jews ‘who were administering the tax customs and tax collection.’ He claimed that they held the crucifix in contempt, and threw those used for administering oaths under the beds and benches.
Although he hadn’t named the culprit, it was clear they were targeting the one handling the taxes — R’ Bezalel.9Jakub Becal: King Jan III Sobieski’s Jewish Factor, page 255.
It was at this point that the pamphlet mentioned at the outset was printed and distributed, reaching as far as Frankfurt, Germany. The anti-Semites had a field day, and the story became the talk of the day in Poland and its surroundings.
The leaders of the Polish opposition, who did not support the elected king, also took advantage of the situation. Jan Odrowążek Pieniążek, the voivode of Sieradz, declared: “In my opinion, if the blasphemer Bezalel will not be brought to justice and punished, we cannot expect a calm session in the Sejm.”
He decided to act at once. On July 12, 1691, he sent a letter to the king with a request for Bezalel to be brought to justice. He also wrote many letters to other members of the Polish Sejm. His deeds had an effect, as requests came in from Polish counties, including Warsaw, Holich, Kiev and Brest, to stop renting the tax collection to Jews. From the capital, Cracow, the request was even harsher: A demand to have R’ Bezalel executed.
As mentioned above, it wasn’t only R’ Bezalel they were targeting, but also the king himself. R’ Bezalel was the perfect vehicle to prove the king’s disloyalty to the Christian faith. If he would protect the Jew, it would expose him as one who wasn’t the devout Christian he claimed to be.
This all occurred before any legal case had been formally brought and before R’ Bezalel had a chance to prove his innocence. It was all founded on an unknown, so-called testimony given to a priest. Finally, the Sejm began to look into the case against R’ Bezalel.
Fiery Accusations Against
R’ Bezalel and the Jewish People
“From where do you get this boldness towards the Jews… how is it that this republic has been taken over by this man and other Jews?”
“How can the Jew, who was accused of blasphemy against our gods, [during his work in the royal treasuries], get away with the court in Lemberg and in Radom, and be protected?”
These questions, addressed to the Polish King John Sobieski, are excerpted from hate pamphlets written in the beginning of the winter of 1692 by the above-mentioned Pieniążek from Sieradz.
There were further complaints:
“How is it, that in this strong province, the Jews have won the hearts and have become liked by so many of the great ministers, and as a result, took over so many parts of our lives? They are the ones serving the Polish estates, they are getting positions as doctors, they are more protected, they receive the most pardons, and the court is in their favor!”10Adam Kaźmierczyk, page 457.
These wild accusations were emblazoned in huge lettering across a pamphlet in which R’ Bezalel and the Jews were ill-accused not only of robbing the royal treasuries, but of stealing from all the Polish citizens as well!. The main allegations were the issues which were to be debated against R’ Bezalel in a parliamentary meeting in the forthcoming Sejmik in 1692.
The writer of the pamphlet also targeted the King, John Sobieski and his men, accusing them of aiding R’ Bezalel. Sadly, the fiery campaign worked and found its mark. The more time that passed, the more heated and angry the rhetoric in Poland became. This was definitely not to the benefit of the Jews.
The Sejmik assembly in Horodna (Grodna) took place on Wednesday of Parshas Vaeira 1692, where they established 13 resolutions. All but one targeted R’ Bezalel either directly or indirectly.
Every topic in the Sejmik was about the estates and leasing of the estates. They demanded a change whereby only the owners of estates – which did not include Jews, who were not allowed to own estates – could rent out the tax collection. They also demanded that officials should immediately conduct a systematic investigation of all the issues concerning R’ Bezalel.
A Little Light in the Darkness
The king, John Sobieski, could easily have extricated himself from the situation by severing his connection to R’ Bezalel. But he was not that sort of person. It hadn’t even occurred to him to abandon the Jew, and he continued to support R’ Bezalel throughout the entire ordeal. In 1692, Sobieski wrote a document of support with these words:
“We take upon ourselves to protect Jacob Bezalel with our protection, against any attacks.”
On Monday, Parshas Yisro, 12 of Shevat 1692, Opaliński, the Bishop of Chelmno, spoke up in the Sejmik, but his delivery was not as fiery as was expected, and instead of regaling the parliament with hateful words, he related the story in a mild fashion.
The reasoning for this was unknown at the time. Some speculated that his speech was just the introduction to something much more powerful that was yet to come from him, befitting from his character. Others claimed, however, that the accusation against R’ Bezalel was very flimsy and the bishop was afraid that any proof against R’ Bezalel would be held against the king as well, endangering the bishop’s position.
Opaliński ended his speech by saying, “Who, even a Jew, is the one who leads the taxes, only because he knows the king will protect him?”
Exile from Poland, Planned in 1692
We read in Megillas Esther:11Esther 3:6. “But he disdained to lay hands on Mordechai alone, having been told of the people of Mordechai. So, Haman plotted to do away with all the Jews, Mordechai’s people, throughout the kingdom of Achasverosh.”
We can observe the events in Poland of 1692, a close parallel to the verses of the Megillah. In the royal court, after all, R’ Bezalel was referred to as Mordechai II. Therefore, the passuk could be read differently:
But he disdained to lay hands on Mordechai alone, having been told of the people of Mordechai. So, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, Mordechai’s people, throughout the kingdom of…Poland!
And as we shall see, this is precisely how things unfolded.
The Deputy Crown Chancellor, Karol Tarlo, fiercely argued:
“We shouldn’t allow this opportunity to rest. Hence, Bezalel the Żyd, is guilty of the accusations of belittling the honor of our gods!”
He demanded that the taxes due from the Jewish people should be raised. This led the subsequent speaker, John Franciszek Chrapowiecki, the deputy from Smolensk, to proclaim:
“We shall send out all Jews from the Polish kingdom!”
There were many other demands made as well:
“We should insert a clause in the Polish Constitution that ‘if a Jew rents the lease of tax collection, then he should be sentenced to death, without a chance to appeal the ordeal’!”
“Jews should send 2,000 soldiers yearly to the Royal Artillery, who are fighting against the Turks, and this is how they will be eliminated!”
“We should destroy the Jewish shuls!”
“We should send away all the Jews that rent private taverns!”
What was the seed of all these wicked suggestions?
All these demands had snowballed from the accusations of one individual that R’ Bezalel had degraded the cross, or embezzled tax money. These claims were publicized through the words of the priest, who had heard them from an unidentified source and had nothing to do with these new evil pronouncements.
Sowing the Seeds of Redemption
On Wednesday, two days after that assembly, there was a very heated debate in the Sejmik, about the proposed changes in the constitution to limit the Jews. The extremists demanded all the above and more. The front-benchers tried to add in qualifying phrases which would make it impossible to carry out all the evil designs, although this was motivated not by love of the Jews but concern for the economy.
The situation was very worrying, and the future looked very bleak for the Jews. However, we know that Hashem always creates the cure before the plague, and Divine Providence can even cause the cure to come from the plague itself. This happened in Haman’s times, and we see it clearly here too.
The Jew-haters had overlooked an important point, and one of R’ Bezalel’s good friends, Stanislaw Godlewski, head of the Crown Chancery, brought it up and supported it with proof. It was a claim anyone in the upper echelons of government would understand.
He countered: “So, you want to get rid of the Jews in Poland? Do you know what this means for us? Take a look at Spain, where the ‘wise people’ decided to expel all the Jewish people about two hundred years ago. It caused an unimaginable disaster for the country!”
He reminded them that the economic situation in Poland had looked very different just a few years ago: “When Podolia and Ukraine were barren after the Swedish war, they had no income, only a few hundred gulden, and there was one Jew, Bezalel, who managed to bring in a huge sum of four hundred thousand gulden. If the accusations against R’ Bezalel are to be credited and acted upon, it will ruin the economy of Poland! The extremists don’t comprehend the economy. They say ‘It shall be neither yours, nor mine.’ They say, the economy might suffer, but as long as the Jews go down too, it is worth it! “What does a priest understand about the finances and the economy of a country?”
In the Bureau from the Secretary
The debate continued until Thursday, 15th Shevat, 1692, when the claims were transferred to the court of the Sejmik. At this point, R’ Bezalel tried to overcome the system using a clever stratagem. Under the prevailing system, each accusation against R’ Bezalel was written down by the secretary, and so R’ Bezalel headed off to the secretary.
Their conversation went something like this:
“Good evening, how can I help you?”
“Good evening, I have come to report an accusation to the court.”
“Are you the prosecutor?”
“No, I am the defender, Bezalel from Zolkiew.”
“Who are the prosecutors?”
“That’s not important for now. Just report the accusation, and write that I am the defender.”
“Hmm, I am not sure how to record an accusation without a prosecutor. Why do you want to do this?”
“If the prosecutor isn’t recorded in the book, the court must automatically discard the matter. A tribunal can’t take place without recorded prosecutors!”
“I don’t understand, why are you coming at all? Just don’t report the accusation, and the case won’t come to court!”
“Ah, but the prosecutors will eventually arrive. If their names are not written in the report, they can’t accuse me anymore and the entire episode will be history before it even starts!”
The secretary, now completely confused, probably did not understand what R’ Bezalel wanted from him. However, with a little monetary “encouragement,”, the secretary sat down to write his report in the court records.
Perhaps for a minor matter, this maneuver might have worked, but, as soon as the case came to court, the prosecutors realized what R’ Bezalel had done. Incensed, they weren’t about to step back from their evil plan because of a ‘minor technicality,’ and so they protested: “This is corruption at its most blatant! Who ever heard of an accusation being reported without the prosecutors being present!” And with that, R’ Bezalel’s report was disregarded. The king did, however, appointed an advocate for R’ Bezalel named Sebastian Rybczynski.
In Court on Erev Shabbos
On Friday, erev Shabbos Parshas Yisro, the court session began. The chamberlain from Wyszogrod, Michael Lasocki, took the stand and proclaimed: “I believe that we need to increase the number of investigators who are investigating this case!”
No sooner had he finished speaking, when two uninvited anti-Semites walked into the courtroom. They were none other than the aforementioned Opaliński and Pieniążek, who were more than happy to fill the positions of investigators. They made their opinions against R’ Bezalel known, and also demanded that further investigation be assigned for the case. With that, they left the courtroom.
This was a premeditated trick, and it worked. An immense debate began in court over the demand that more efforts be put into investigating the case.
The supporters of the king claimed that the number of investigators was quite sufficient, and in keeping with what the law prescribed. To argue that more investigators were needed, meant that the law was flawed and implied a disloyalty to the king himself. Additionally, it was argued, the unsolicited entrance of the two anti-Semites was against the law and had been done without the permission of the king. The other side, however, argued strenuously on behalf of Lasocki’s call for more investigators.
The court debated the issue in this manner, all day Friday and Shabbos. R’ Bezalel was obviously not present himself, but was represented instead by his advocates.
The defense mounted by R’ Bezalel’s advocates worked very well, and the violators were forced to apologize to the king.
The apology came on Monday, and with it, R’ Bezalel’s two main antagonists, Opaliński and Pieniążek, had been vanquished.
On Tuesday, R’ Bezalel’s advocates requested a delay in the court case until the following day, on the pretext that the prosecutors still hadn’t put forward their claims against R’ Bezalel.
R’ Bezalel’s Oath
On Thursday of Parshas Terumah, erev Rosh Chodesh Adar Aleph, the prosecutors presented all the proofs they had gathered against R’ Bezalel. On Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh Adar Aleph, the lead instigator, Opaliński presented his ‘proofs,’ while admitting that every accusation against R’ Bezalel was only a speculation not backed by any solid proof. One by one, all the other troublemakers did the same, and they were left with no choice but to withdraw their claims.
R’ Bezalel was on the verge of being completely exonerated, but the prosecutors were not ready to let R’ Bezalel go free. They had one more option, which was to force R’ Bezalel to confess.
They plotted to torture R’ Bezalel and extract a confession, which would do away with the need for any further witnesses or evidence. The plan could progress smoothly from there.
But there was something those wicked people forgot to take into consideration. The sessions in court had been so delayed that Rosh Chodesh Adar had arrived. They knew not the words of the Magen Avraham: “‘Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha!’ When Adar comes, everyone becomes happier, Therefore, anyone who has a court case with an idol-worshipper should have it in Adar.”
And indeed, it was on Rosh Chodesh Adar I that the court decided that there was no solid proof or evidence against R’ Bezalel and declared him innocent!
Yet, the court still demanded an oath from R’ Bezalel to prove his innocence. Four days later, on Wednesday, 5th Adar, 1692, R’ Bezalel arrived at the shul, barefoot. He swore the required oath to confirm his innocence in the presence of two Jewish witnesses and three Christian witnesses. Also present, were the Bishop of Lovinia, Nicolaus Poplawski and the castellan12The governor of a castle. from Przemysl, Jacob Blezynski.
Description: The text of anonymous flyer
Source: Das schwer zu bekehrende Juden-Hertz nebst einigen Vorbereitungs-Mitteln zu der Juden Bekehrung…
Author: Sigismund Hosmann
Publicaion: Zelle 1699
Description: Polish Sejm – Parliament
Artist: Kazimierz Wojniakowski (?–1812)
Collection: National Museum in Warsaw
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Death of R’ Bezalel
The prosecutors claimed, of course, that the judge had received bribery from R’ Bezalel, and the Sejmik continued doing research, trying to accumulate more evidence to prove R’ Bezalel’s guilt.
With praise to Hashem, on the 7th of Iyar 1692, R’ Bezalel’s name was completely cleared and the whole case was laid to rest. It was finally all over. Several years later, on Chol Hamoed Sukkos, 19th Tishrei 1697, R’ Bezalel was niftar, and was buried in the town of Zolkiew.
Pieniążek did not learn of R’ Bezalel’s passing, and for more than two years he continued searching for ways to prove R’ Bezalel’s guilt.
Although R’ Bezalel had indeed died, the effects of the accusations against him lingered on, and it became much harder for Jews to rent the positions that he had previously held.
King John Sobieski was also affected by the saga, and the throne did not pass from him to his descendants.
When the “Night of Bavel” Occurred
We do not yet know, on which date “the Night of Bavel” occurred. If we can discover the exact date that Nevuchadnezzar succeeded to the throne, we would automatically know when the “Night of Bavel” took place.
We find a clue in the Midrash, when it discusses the fact that the only time we fast at night is on Tisha B’Av. We also fast at night, of course, on Yom Kippur, but it could not have been Yom Kippur, as that would contradict the verse mentioned in the Midrash that Daniel went to his fast, to seek out compassion regarding the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Yom Kippur night is not the time to mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
Was the Night of Bavel, then, on Tisha B’Av eve?
The Feast That Took Place on the Fast
Our sages do not tell us when Nevuchadnezzar was crowned. However, Divrei HaYamin LeMalchai Bavel – the histories of the Babylonian kings, provides a date.
In the Jerusalem Chronicle it says:
For twenty-one years Nabopolassar had been King of Babylon, when, on 8 Abu [Av] he went to his destiny; in the month of Ululu [Elul] Nevuchadnezzar rturned to Babylon and on 1 Ululu [Elul] he sat on the royal throne in Babylon.13https://www.livius.org/sources/content/mesopotamian-chronicles-content/abc-5-jerusalem-chronicle.
The above-mentioned Nabopolassar, according to the chronicle, is the father and predecessor of Nevuchadnezzar.
The chronicle clarifies the date of Nabopolassar’s death, and this identifies the date of the beginning of Nevuchadnezzar’s reign to be the 8th day of Av.
Therefore, Belshazzar’s feast, which was on the 70th anniversary of this date, was also on the 8th day of Av, at midnight. According to Jewish law, that is the night of Tisha B’Av!
Tzafoh HaTzafis, Aroch HaShulchan
Let us revisit the scene that took place in Babylon,
on Tisha B’Av at midnight, 3391 AM.
It is the 70th anniversary of Nevuchadnezzar’s reign.
52 years have passed since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
Daniel is wandering the dark roads of Bavel, and his Jewish brethren are on the lookout for him. Most probably, he is going home after reading the Eichah.
“Hey! There he is! Rabbeinu Daniel, all the bad and harsh prophecies which Yirmiah the prophet prophesied have already come upon us. The one good prophecy which he prophesied has yet to come about!”
They ask him, “Rabbeinu Daniel, where are you going?”
He is surprised. Don’t they know? He answers, “To fast, it’s Tisha B’Av, isn’t it!?”
Moments later, the Chaldeans spot him, since they too are on the lookout for him.
“Hey! There he is! Belteshazzar [Daniel], you are coming with us. The King has ordered your presence!”
His Jewish brethren call out to him, “Rabbeinu Daniel, where are you going?”
He answers, “To the feast, I guess. History is about to happen! The prophecy of Yeshaya the prophet is about to be fulfilled!”
What does Yeshaya the prophet foresee for that very night?
“Tzafoh hatzafis, aroch hashulchan – set up the watch, set the table.”14Yeshaya 21:5. This refers to Belshazzar’s feast, for Yeshaya prophesied that Bavel would fall at the time of the feast.
As the verses continues, “And there they come, mounted men – horsemen in pairs!”
“Then each spoke up and said, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon! And all the images of her gods have crashed to the ground!”
“That very night, Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed, and Daryavesh the Mede received the kingdom.”15Daniel 5:30–6:1.
We now understand what the Midrash means by the “Night of Bavel”. We also know the date of the fall of Babylonia. That was the night on which both a fast and a feast took place, and a most pivotal night in the making of Jewish history.