Tisha b’Av is the most significant day of national mourning on the Jewish calendar. Tisha b’Av commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and the forced exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. Traditional Jewish practice requires a full day of fasting (no food, no liquids), foregoing pleasures and reciting the book of Lamentations (Eichah), which vividly recounts the destruction of the Temple. From a Jewish legal perspective, although the last Jewish Temple was destroyed almost 2,000 year ago, the destruction of the Temple is given greater weight than the destruction of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust in contemporary times.
If you’re an Orthodox or traditional Jew, Tisha b’Av is straightforward. You observe its laws either because you believe that God commands you to do so or because you recognize that when you adopt an Orthodox or traditional Jewish life, you commit to practicing all of it and not some of it.
But I admit to having problems with Tisha b’Av. If I want to return to Israel, I can. If I don’t want to live there permanently, I can visit there. If I can’t afford to visit there, I can follow the daily news of Israel and view pictures and videos of a beautifully rebuilt Jewish State. And, I think that rebuilding the Temple and offering sacrifices would be a theological leap backwards-not to mention the political and military fallout that would occur by rebuilding a Temple on the current site of the Dome of the Rock, which has tremendous religious significance to Muslims. Besides, I don’t want to support Jewish religious fundamentalists who are serious about rebuilding the Temple, another reason that I have problems observing Tisha b’Av traditionally.
Some of my rabbinic colleagues try to reinterpret Tisha b’Av by lightening the laws or reinterpreting them with a contemporary twist. That works for some, but not for me. Neither approach acknowledges these fundamental shifts in Jewish history or the dangers of supporting fundamentalists. Sure, I’m inspired by Tisha b’Av’s message of renewal after devastation, and I believe that Jewish history and Jewish memory are essential to fostering Jewish peoplehood. But can’t we find another way to make this point?
If not, does that mean that Tisha b’Av is no longer relevant? Or should this day take on new significance? How do YOU connect to this day? Please share your comments below.
Rabbi Hayim Herring