Caring About Tisha B’Av: 21st-century lamentation is important on what is still saddest day of the Jewish year.

Posted: July 17, 2021 in Because I love Judaism I can never be a pure rationalist, Essay, My moral code, On Compassion, Politics
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Classical Reform Jewish theology has no mandate to see the Temple rebuilt because we have no need for the sacrificial cult. For this reason, when I was growing up, our movement rejected mourning the Temple’s destruction.  Frankly, I don’t want to return to animal sacrifice, either.  After all, I do call myself “Almost Rational” not “Wildly Irrational” (although there are plenty of others who could write that blog just fine).

My movement did not gather to pray or to chant the book of Lamentation on Tisha B’Av; we did not even fast. But, I have always approached this powerful day with awe. It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, for good reason aside from the temple cult. Sitting on the ground and chanting the book of Lamentations is a transformative experience.

The ninth day of the month of Av commemorates the destruction of both the first and second temples. I don’t care whether both temples were destroyed on the same day. What matters is that the most sacred space in early Judaism was twice destroyed and is now crowned with the Muslim’s Dome of the Rock. The Temple is not my big concern. I care more about the history of Jewish Tragedy. Reform Judaism now cares about Tisha B’Av: because, to us, it represents every tear, in the vast ocean of tears, ever shed by our people. We remember every disaster, calamity, show of hatred, murder, antisemitic act, genocide. and horror . Many horrific events and lamented on the 9th of Av because our people has suffered to a greater extent than nearly any other Western culture.

So, momentarily, let’s set aside 586 BCE and 70 CE and think about the bigger picture..

We find the first event that is supposed to have occurred on the 9th of Av in Numbers 13 – 14. Twelve spies are sent by Moses to reconnoiter the promise land and all but two come back scared as hell.  Only Joshua and Caleb  have faith in Adonai and, lacking faith, an entire generation missed out on the promise land. I’m going to be heretical and say that I won’t believe that story until I see grapes as described therein that are organic and non-GMO (but that’s another story).  I also have no reason to believe that it happened on the 9th of Av. Still, we Jews have no shortage of lamentation worthy historical events!

Here is a partial list of subsequent 9th of Av tragedies:

  • 586 BCE: The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.
  • 70 CE: The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
  • 132 CE: The Bar Kokhba’s rebellion was overturned.
  • 133 CE: Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and everything surrounding it.
  • 1066 CE: 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 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.
  • 1190 CE: The day that the Jews of York, England were slaughtered
  • 1290 CE: The Jews were expelled from England.
  • 1305 CE: A mass imprisonment of the Jews in France
  • 1492 CE: The Jews were expelled from Spain.
  • 1493 CE: The Jews expelled from Sicily. About 137,000 Jews were exiled.
  • 1496 CE: The Jews expelled from Portugal and from many German cities.
  • 1571 CE: Italy ghettoized the Jews of Florence
  • 1648 CE: The Chmielnicki massacres occurred from in 1648-58. Tens of thousands of Jews were murdered throughout Poland and the Ukraine
  • 1660 CE: 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 CE: Austria forced all Jews out of Vienna.
  • 1775 CE: Mob violence against the Jews of Hebron.
  • 881–1884, 1903–1906, and 1918–1920 CE: Three huge series of pogroms resulted in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in Russia and Ukraine.
  • 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 and in Bulgaria, an Israeli tour bus was bombed killing 7 and wounding many more.

So, here’s the deal: Even if you don’t believe that destruction of the Temples, the overthrow of Bar Kokhbah , the Spanish expulsion, and the start of WWI all happened on the same day; even if (like me) you have no desire to pray for a return of the sacrificial cult; there are thousands of years of Jewish tragedies to mourn. Perhaps most important to me is my contention that it is insufficient to mourn the Holocaust only on Yom ha Shoah. That is the most despicable thing to ever happen to Jewish culture and life, the survivors are nearly gone, and time and again people say we put too much emphasis on it. Nonsense. It was not the only, nor the first, nor, sadly, the last of our tragedies. So, if you care about nothing else, use Tisha b’Av to commemorate that.

Lamentations 5:1-3 states:

  • “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”.

So long as those words ring true to our ears, we must never forget the murder of a single Jewish soul. We owe it to ourselves, our communities, and out heritage to share in the sadness of Tisha B’Av!

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