The weeks after Tisha Be’av

The Jewish calendar has a unique understanding of human psychology.

August 6, 2012 21:54
4 minute read.
Women praying at Western Wall

Women praying at Western Wall 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

The Jewish calendar has a unique understanding of human psychology. The nadirs of Jewish life and intense periods of mourning are followed by peaks of redemption. Following Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day), a day in which Israel mourns its fallen sons and daughters, we are granted Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). During Pessah, we begin the narrative with avdut (slavery) and end with herut (freedom).

Judaism provides hope on the tails of tragedy. It is curious then that such a response is absent following Tisha Be’av, a trough of the Jewish calendar in which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temple.

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What explains the absence of redemption following this mournful day? There are two traditional perspectives on this question. The first is that while there is no immediate response to Tisha Be’av, the fact that the Jewish people have regained Jewish sovereignty is solace enough. That we are living in the Third Jewish Commonwealth is all the redemption we need, and one need look no farther than the fourth of Iyar – Israel’s day of national independence – for that peak.

This response seems insufficient when one observes the narrative of Yom Ha’atzmaut. There is a striking modernity to this day, which focuses on the political and is couched in the language of nation-states, diplomacy, wars and international institutions.

Israel’s day of national celebration is largely devoid of religious undertones and allusions to 2,000 years of exile, and focuses disproportionately on the national movement and political figures that produced the modern state of Israel.

The second response maintains there is no solace following Tisha Be’av because none can be found.

The Jewish people are too splintered. There are too many competing identities. Half of the world’s Jewry lives outside of Israel. And if one subscribes to the narrative that the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 AD was a function of internecine strife, we still have a long way to go towards restoring shalom bayit among ourselves before we can be granted the hope we need. Valid responses, but ones that appear insufficient because they do not provide a way forward.

THERE IS a third position that more accurately captures why we are not greeted with redemption following Tisha Be’av. To understand this, we must first understand what Tisha Be’av commemorates.

In his reflections on the month of Av, the 19th-century rabbi and leader of modern-orthodox thought, Samson Raphael Hirsch, asks why the Jew mourns on the Ninth of Av. He answers by saying that “On the 10th of Tevet, the land was lost and the capital was threatened but the Jew does not mourn for his lost land. On the 17th of Tammuz the capital was lost, but the Jew does not mourn for his lost city. On the 9th of Av the Temple went up in flames; and for that – for the lost sanctuary of the Torah, for the lost home of the Majesty of God – for that the Jew mourns.”

In other words, the Jew mourns because on that day, the Torah retreated from the public space and went into exile. There it became the domain of the home and the synagogue and was rendered irrelevant in the construction of an entire society. National, communal Judaism was relegated to the private sphere – when men could be men on the street and Jews at home. The reason we do not have an answer to Tisha Be’av is because we do not yet have an answer for how the Torah should reassert itself in the modern Jewish state.

The weeks following Tisha Be’av provide us with both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity: to confront the question of how the Torah and its values can become a real force pervading the life of Israel. The challenge: to expand the level of participation in this question. A national issue deserves a national conversation.

What does this all mean on a practical level? Firstly, it demands that we as citizens approach the heady questions facing Israel with sense of promise rather than frustration and determinism. For one, we can throw away the facile dichotomy, which couches this conversation in terms of haredi versus hiloni and degrades the issues at hand.

On an interpersonal level, it requires checking previously held biases and venturing into unknown intellectual waters. It requires being honest with ourselves and throwing away “straw man” arguments, which assert that bringing the Torah into national life will result in an Iran-style theocracy. For the skeptic who opposes introducing Torah into national life, go to a neighborhood shiyur or read a couple of pages from Pirkei Avot.

For his counterpart, take a walk on Rothschild Boulevard on Saturday and observe how the feeling of Shabbat can be felt in the heart of Tel Aviv. This is not to change anyone’s mind, but to introduce some humility into our national conversation.

The weeks after Tisha Be’av provide us with a unique opportunity. It is the end of summer and we still have a few more weeks to read, engage, and explore unchartered waters – the steps necessary for an authentic response to Tisha Be’av.

The writer is the programs director at the Jewish National Initiative (JNI).

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