Tisha b'Av

Tisha b’Av 5775 – Feast or Fast?

Every year on Tisha b’Av I struggle with a sense of cognitive dissonance between the traditional liturgy and the reality I see around me as a resident of Jerusalem.

On Saturday night my community will gather at the Haas Promenade, and with an eye on the lit up, golden, Dome of the Rock, the place where the holy temple once stood, will chant the book of Lamentations, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. They will speak of

the city laid waste, despised and desolate. In mourning for she is childless, her dwellings laid waste, despised in the downfall of her glory and desolate through the loss of her inhabitants….

I just cannot bring myself to say those words when I am living in a very vibrant and alive Jerusalem with over half million Jews. There are those who argue that redemption is here, foreign nations no longer rule over us, and it is time to stop fasting and start feasting on Tisha b’Av.

There is an opinion in the Talmud that says there is no difference between the days of the Messiah and the current time other than there will be no more foreign domination over Israel (according to Shmuel in Brachot 34b). According to that opinion, one could argue that David Ben-Gurion was the messiah, and we are living in the messianic age. Another opinion says that in the messianic age we will be feasting on Tisha b’Av, not fasting. My colleague and classmate, Rabbi Daniel Greyber, wrote in a blog post

Could Tisha B’Av become a Jewish festival? Could Jews knowledgeable of Jewish history and dedicated to observance of God’s laws gather around the table on Erev Tisha B’Av, recall the suffering of our ancestors and, over a glass of wine and a sumptuous feast, recite blessings of thanks for returning us to our land? I don’t know. I have yet to find – or foster – a community with which to do so and, heeding Hillel’s injunction, I remain part of the community and continue to fast. But I wonder about what could and should be.

Personally, I’m not yet ready to feast. The world is still a broken place. Israel is very much a work in progress, with much work yet to be done before we are living in a place with the peace and harmony that for me symbolizes the messianic age.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to a learning session at the President’s Residence. It was an interdenominational study session on the destruction of Jerusalem and Jewish unity, in preparation for Tisha b’Av.

The Talmud tells us that the reason for the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 was because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. The panelist from the Conservative movement, Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker, made an interesting point. She said is no such thing as baseless hatred. When someone hates, they know why they hate. The other person does the wrong thing, or believes the wrong way. Of course if someone else hates us, it is baseless. But our hatred, well, there’s always a reason for it.

There is far too much hatred in the world in general, and an Israel in particular. And so I will fast Saturday night to Sunday night to remind myself of the need to redouble my efforts to help fix the world. Or as the Nerdfighters would put it, to help increase world awesome and decrease world suck.

While I will still fast, I still can’t get my head around traditional liturgy. So instead of reciting Lamentations I will say my own prayer, and study teachings that seem relevant to the day. Here’s my prayer:

Ribbono shel olam, Master of the Universe!

Help us learn the lessons of the past.

Help us avoid the sins of gratuitous hatred and chutzpah.

Help us learn to get along with all of our brothers, sisters, and cousins.

Help us complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Help us turn it truly into the “City of Peace.”

May we merit to rebuild our Temple next to their Mosque.

May all of your children feel free to come to Jerusalem to offer prayers to you.

May our prayers suffice with no killing, not even animals, as it says in the psalm: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

May that time of peace come bimheira v’yameinu, speedily and in our days.


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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