Saturday night, July 21, as Shabbat ends, the Jewish calendar turns to Tisha B’Av; the commemoration of the destruction by the Babylonians of the 1st Temple in @586BCE and the 2d Temple in @70CE by the Romans. In some communities the day will be observed by prayers and meditations, the reading of the Book of Lamentations (“Eichah”) and a fast. Indeed, according to tradition, the preparation for this observance begins days ahead. We are called to reflect upon and mourn the loss of the Temple and the associated sacrificial cult. As history evolved, Tisha B’Av also was seen as a way of remembering the countless hardships, persecutions and tragedies that have impacted Jewish communities.
How do you observe this day? At the risk of sounding somewhat cynical, my sense is that, for the overwhelming majority of the non-Orthodox community in North America, the day is NOT observed at all. Indeed, I have a feeling that the same majority may not even know what the day means. One of our challenges with days like this is how do we make it relatable to a community that has no relationship to history or sense of a need to bring back that Temple or the cult of animal sacrifice. Ask your friends, your family and others if they mourn for the loss of that Temple or that cult? Do we have days and moments that remember past atrocities? Yes. The annual day of remembrance for the Holocaust (Yom Ha Shoah) is perhaps the most well known and observed. It also has taken on the context of other moments of persecution that Jewish have experienced.
For what do we mourn if this historical link is so distant for so many modern Jews? Do we just assign this to the observant aspects of our community as something that “they” do but which has no meaning for most of our community? Do we need a day to be reminded of the sadness that so often encompassed us? Is this divide symptomatic of the growing division between the Orthodox and non-orthodox worlds?
Rabbi Lindsay bat Joseph, of Canada, in a posting on the World Union for Progressive Judaism site (wupj.org) suggest that for us the lesson of Tisha B’Av may be “the strength and indomitable spirit of our people…We have not only survived but thrived in many different lands around the world and returned to rebuild and re-establish Israel as our home”. Rabbi ben Joseph is correct in shifting the focus from tragedy and victimization to a message of hope and spirit. In truth, we have survived. Let me also suggest another approach to this day. It is very personal and not communal. Tisha B’Av may also serve as a reminder of our own transitions. If we have a sense of communal spirit that serves as a survival mechanism, we also have that same spirit as people. We may mourn for that which we have lost. It may be a moment in time, a person, lost physical abilities or such. As we get older, we have these losses and, gradually, we come to realize and then, hopefully, understand that this is part of living. We may mourn past decisions and lost opportunities, but, as with the communal Jewish world, we are still here, still able to praise the gift of life and rise to meet a new day with the possibility that new ideas, people and gifts will be brought our way. In the end, we may mourn for the loss of a past self, but, we can celebrate the life that is now before us and the self that is evolving.
Rabbi Richard F Address