Sharing in the sadness of Tisha B’Av – Why all Jews owe our people the lamentation of the saddest day of the Jewish year.

Posted: July 26, 2012 in Because I love Judaism I can never be a pure rationalist, My moral code, On Compassion, Politics
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For many years, we Reform Jews paid little attention to Tisha B’Av. The theology of Classical Reform Judaism had no place for a desire to see the Temple rebuilt and the reinstatement of the sacrificial cult. So, the Reform movement basically ignored the mourning of the Temple’s destruction. Personally, I have no interest in going back to all that wide variety of animal sacrifice, either; I have enough problems just dealing with Shabbat, prayer, Torah study, and a few mitzvot. Still, even while my movement did not gather for Tisha B’Av, I have always recognized it as an extraordinarily powerful day. It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar and the pure act of sitting on the ground and chanting the book of Lamentations is a transformative experience. For that reason, I’ve been very pleased that the newest generation of Reform Rabbis, and the congregations they lead, now make an effort to acknowledge the importance of the 9th day of Av.

Tisha B’Av is the day that commemorates the destruction of both the first and second temples. I honestly have difficulty believing that the 2 temples, destroyed 656 years apart, were really both demolished on exactly the same day. But, it’s fine with me if people believe that. To me, the date is not really the point. The point is that the most sacred space in early Judaism was twice destroyed and now serves as the home of the Muslim Dome of the Rock. It’s not that I care so much about the Temple but, rather, that I care about the general realm of Jewish Tragedy. This is the same reason that Reform Judaism now cares about Tisha B’Av: It represents every tear, in the monumental sea of tears, ever shed by our beloved people in the face of disaster and calamity. Many terrible things have supposedly occurred on the 9th of Av. Again, I’m not really sure I buy into the exact date thing. But I AM sure that our people has suffered to such an extent that we are well served by using Tisha B’Av to remember it all.

The first event that is supposed to have occurred on the 9th of Av is found in Numbers 13 – 14. Here is the story of the twelve spies sent by Moishe Rabbenu to reconnoiter the promise land before entering.  Joshua and Caleb returned with a positive assessment. The 10 other spies were simply scared. For their lack of faith, the Hebrews were punished by Adonai with the curse that their generation would not enter the promise land. But that’s insufficient. Some of the other supposed 9th of Av horrors include:

  • 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 132 CE
  • Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and its environs in 133 CE

Did they really all occur on Tisha B’Av? The Rabbis say “yes”. I don’t know. But, in any case, these are only the earliest of Jewish calamities. Forget about the 9th of Av for a moment and just consider Jewish history, in general.

  • 1066: The Granada massacre took place on 30 December 1066 when a Muslim mob stormed the royal palace in Granada. They assassinated the Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacred most of the Jewish population.
  • 1095: 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.
  • 1190: The ninth of Av marked the day that the Jews of York, England were slaughtered
  • 1290: The Jews were expelled from England.
  • 1305: A mass imprisonment of the Jews in France
  • 1492: The Jews were expelled from Spain.
  • 1493: The Jews expelled from Sicily. About 137,000 Jews were exiled.
  • 1496: The Jews expelled from Portugal and from many German cities.
  • 1571: Italy ghettoized the Jews of Florence
  • 1648: The Chmielnicki massacres occurred from in 1648-58. Tens of thousands of Jews were murdered throughout Poland and the Ukraine
  • 1660: The destruction of Safed by the Druze occurred during the rein of sultan Mehmed IV. Both Safed and Tiberias had large Jewish communities that were destroyed entirely,
  • 1670: Austria forced all Jews out of Vienna.
  • 1775: Mob violence against the Jews of Hebron.
  • 881–1884, 1903–1906, and 1918–1920: Three huge series of pogroms resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Russia and Ukraine.
  • 1914: On Tisha B’Av 1914 World War I began.
  • 1942: On Erev Tisha B’Av the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.
  • 1994: The Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina was bombed on July 18th, killing 85.
  • 2006: The Seattle Jewish Federation shooting occurred on July 28, wounding 6, killing 1
  • 2012: In Toulouse in the month of March 4 Jews were murdered
  • 2012: Just this very month in Bulgaria, an  Israeli tour bus was bombed killing 7 and wounding many more.

The point is this: Even if you could care less about the first and second temples; even if you don’t believe that their destruction, the overthrow of the Bar Kokhbah rebellion, the Spanish expulsion, and the start of WWI all happened on the very same day; even if you see no reason to pray for a return of the sacrificial cult; there are thousands of years of Jewish tragedies to mourn. And, to nip one question in the bud: “NO, it’s not enough to mourn the Holocaust only on Yom ha Shoah”. That is the most vile thing ever to happen to the Jewish people but it was not the first and, sadly, is was not the last.

In Lamentations 5:1-3 we read:

“Remember, O Adonai, what has befallen us; behold and see our disgrace! Our heritage has passed to aliens, our homes to strangers. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows”.

Know this; and ponder it well, my friends – As long as those words are an àpropos part of our liturgy, we must never forget the murder of a single Jewish soul.

And, as long as we can experience Jewish tragedy RIGHT NOW IN 2012, with bus bombings and southern French antisemitic murders, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our people to grieve with all our tears, and all our hearts, and all our souls, every one of the tragic horrors throughout the centuries of anti-Jewish hatred.

We owe it to ourselves to share in the sadness of Tisha B’Av!

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