Traditionally Reform Judaism has largely ignored the Jewish day of mourning and lamentation called Tisha B’Av. This is because, traditionally, the day marks a day of great sadness at the destruction of the first and second Temples and in Reform Judaism no one wants to go back to the “good old days” of slaughtering animals and engaging in the Temple cult. In Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, they do mourn this loss; and they do so with the unbelievably powerful act of sitting on the floor and chanting the book of Lamentations. Recently, even Reform Judaism has begun to pay attention to Tisha B’Av and the other movements have expanded its meaning. This is because, despite why one may think of the Temple cult per se, there is plenty of Jewish tragedy to go around.
According to Mishnah Taanit 4:6, there are five specific events which occurred on the ninth of Av for which we should fast in mourning. In addition, there is no shortage of post biblical tragedy for which the Jewish people grieve. This is not a comprehensive list but it pretty clearly demonstrates what we have had to mourn over the generations. Please remember that I personally don’t take all this biblical history too literally. But remember, too, that I view it as the quintessential foundational story of my people and I cherish what we can learn from it.
The Mishnah calls for fasting because:
- In Numbers 13 – 14, we find the story of the twelve spies sent by Moses to observe the promise land before entering. Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report. Everyone else was just fearful. For this, the people were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land.
- The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
- The Bar Kokhba’s revolt was overturned and over 100,000 Jews perished in 132 CE
- Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and its environs in 133 CE
- The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095, killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities through Western Europe.
- The Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
- The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.
- On Tisha B’Av 1914 World War I began.
- On Erev Tisha B’Av 1942 the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.
These last 2 items lead up to something so profoundly evil that it alone has its own day of mourning. That is The Holocaust. Over 10 million people died in that period of WWII. I will not downplay the significance of the 4 million who were murdered for reasons other than their Judaism, like homosexuals, political prisoners, 7th day Adventists, Roma, and the disabled; their tragedy is as great as is ours. But our tragedy has a special meaning because it follows in the direct lineage from the first Temple, through Masada and the Bar Kokbha rebellion, to the Crusades and the Inquisition, to the state sponsored mass expulsions, right up to our day.
Our Tragedy of the Shoah is but one more point in a 2500 year history of being isolated, confined, disrespected, devalued, tortured, and killed. The tears shed for our Tragedy of the Shoah make up much of the ocean of tears I’ve referred to before. For that reason, if none of the others, we must mourn on Tisha B’Av.
But why is limiting our mourning to Yom ha Shoah insufficient; why must we also mourn the Shoah on Tisha B’Av? To me, that question has a simple answer: “Because the Shoah is the most recent horror in a 2500 year string of horrors but there is nothing that indicates it will be the last”. After all, we lost an entire team of Israeli Olympic athletes in the 70’s, a JCC in Argentina in the 90’s and on and on. And, right now, TODAY, we face a rising tide of European and Middle Eastern antisemitism with an unprecedented growth rate. We have the responsibility to try to stop that. And, we have a responsibility to remember the 2500 years of tragedy that has led up to it because there is no reason to think that the past will do anything other that repeat itself unless WE stop it from doing so.
So when the 8th and 9th of August 2011 arrive, let us remember the horrors and tragedies that have repeatedly befallen the Jewish people. Let us mourn our many losses and rededicate ourselves to insuring that, one day, the horror will give way to peace, love, tolerance, respect, and compassion!