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Tisha b’Av 5770

Jslem destruction Below you will find a "recycled" post, something I wrote about Tisha b'Av a few years ago.  I think many people can use the reminder of what this holiday is about–as well as some thoughts appropo to the holiday this year.

I am already in the depressed mood of the day.  As you can read below, I fast as much — if not more — because of the problems of the present as to remember the calamities of the past.  And every year, there is something going in Israel or among the Jews that makes fasting on Tisha b'Av meaningful.

This year what weighs on my heart is sinat chinam, "gratuitous hatred."  The Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE because of gratuitous hatred between Jews.  This year, it seems, gratuitous hatred is all around us.  A woman, Anat Hoffman, arrested for the "crime" of "praying with a Torah." The charedim trying to push through a bill that would have the effect of delegitimizing conversions the Chief Rabbinate does not approve of (e.g., Reform and Conservative).  Gender segregation on Israeli buses.  Vandalism of Conservative and Reform synagogues in Israel. Charedim holding violent demonstrations over bones, over parking lots, over business that need to run on Shabbat.  And the gratuitous hatred isn't limited to intrafaith issues, don't worry, we have plenty left over for Palestinians.  We still have many reasons — too many reasons — to fast today and reflect on our national shortcomings.  May the fast serve not just to make us depressed, but may it strengthen our will to work harder to make the world a better place, to bring the coming of the Messiah, so that next year Tisha b'Av can be a day of feasting, not fasting,


Tisha b’Av—the ninth of the month of Av—is not one of the most widely observed holidays in the “progressive” movements of Judaism.  Many modern Jews don’t connect with the disasters the holiday commemorates—the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the fall of Betar (signifying the end of the Bar Kochba rebellion in 135CE), the expulsion from Spain in 1492.  The centerpiece of Tisha b’Av observance is certainly mourning for the loss of the Temple.  Which can make it a difficult commemoration since many Jews feel at least ambivalence, if not outright opposition, about the idea of the restoration of the Temple if it also means the restoration of animal sacrifice.  Many Orthodox Jews don't understand the ambivalence many more liberal Jews feel about the Temple;  a blogger, Bec, wrote "please, please tell me that all of conservative judaism doesn't believe that there's no need for the templeplease, please tell me that all of conservative judaism doesn't believe that there's no need for the temple."  This Conservative rabbi at least does pray for the restoration of the Temple–my vision of what that time of the restored Temple woud look like can be read here.

The annual cycle of Jewish holidays is designed to cover the range of human emotions—joyous, sad, reflective, commemorative, and so on.  Tisha b’Av is the time for mourning.  However, I believe that for Tisha b’Av to accomplish its purpose, it needs to be more than a time for commemorating disasters that have befallen our people.  It needs to be a time to inspire us to do something to prevent more disasters from occurring. 

Kabbalah teaches that the Messiah will not come until we have done “tikkun olam,” healing or repair of the world.  Velveteen Rabbit brings a nice teaching about Tisha b'Av and the "four worlds" model of Kabbalah, suggesting that the on the level of atzilut, emanation, Tisha b'Av represents our distance from God; I would say instead perhaps that Tisha b'Av represents not the brokeness in our relationship with the infinite, but rather the brokeness in our relationship with the part of the infinite that consists of our fellow man.

There’s a teaching that says the Messiah won’t come until three days after he’s no longer needed.  According to this view of the Messianic age, the Messiah doesn’t come to make everything perfect—instead, the Messiah’s arrival is sort of a “graduation ceremony,” an acknowledgement that we created the kind of world into which the Messiah could come.

If we are observing the holiday of Tisha b’Av, it means we have failed.  It means that once more, we have not done the work to create the kind of world into which the Messiah could come.  The Temple has not been rebuilt.  There is still strife and senseless hatred in the world.  I fast on Tisha b’Av not so much in mourning for the destruction of 2,000 years ago, but to remind myself that we have not accomplished our work of making the world a better place.  Given the realities of the “neighborhood” Israel lives in, the Temple will not be rebuilt until our Arab cousins decide to invite us to do so—and today we seem further away than ever from such an eventuality.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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