Orthodox man prays w soldiers at Wall 390.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, Tisha Be’av, is a day when traditional
Jews fast in memory of the magnificent Temples of Jerusalem which were each
destroyed in their turn first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then again by
the Romans in 70 CE.
The day also is a solemn one in memory of other
historical tragedies associated with that date. For example, it is said that the
beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of
the Jews of Europe, and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took
place on that date. Tisha Be’av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from
Spain in 1492 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
The meaning of
this day of tragedies does not rank high in the consciousness of most
non-Orthodox Jews, and that raises the question of what might Progressive Jews
make of Tisha Be’av today.
The destruction of the two Temples and the
exile of Jews from our sacred land that followed, were occasions of death and
suffering and sorrow is appropriate. Certainly all the other historical
tragedies associated with that date are important to remember, too.
the other hand, the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life ended abruptly with
its final destruction and there is little merit in reviving its traditions anew.
Much of the Temple’s centrality revolved around its role as a place for animal
sacrifice as a sign of repentance, thanksgiving or celebration.
destruction and dispersion, the Jewish people found other ways worship built
around their synagogues and homes.
Rabbis rose up from the community
instead of priests, and our post-Temple practices have served us well as we
wandered through the world. I know of no Progressive Jews who wish to see a
reconstructed Temple, a re-institution of animal sacrifice, and a return of
control over Jewish life to a hereditary priestly class.
While it was a
horrific tragedy of the time, the destruction of the Second Temple liberated
Judaism to become what we treasure today, a religion based on the study of
Torah, of prayer and of acts of kindness and compassion: a religion and a way of
life that reaches deeply into everything we do.
The very vibrancy and
strength of the Jewish people over the centuries attests to the wisdom of what
we have become and not what we once were. It may sound odd, but in that sense
Tisha Be’av, especially in the age of a renewed Jewish Nation in Israel, can be
seen as both an occasion of hope and optimism as well as one of remembrance and
It is left to us to reconcile the remembrance of genuine tragedy
with the possibilities for the growth and development of the Judaism that has
been passed down to us. In that context I observe a fast on Tisha Be’av until
mid day. During that time I study the traditional text for the day, the biblical
book of Lamentations. At 1:00 p.m. I partake of a mid-day meal grateful for the
Judaism that has been bequeathed to us over the years, a Judaism that no longer
slaughters animals and sprinkles their blood as a sign of gratitude or as a
petition to God.
I celebrate the fact that a Judaism based on the Temple
and its hereditary priestly class has been replaced by a Judaism we can all
access and immerse ourselves in while we absorb the lessons our people gleaned
over the centuries: that each of us should use our individual talents in our own
way to make the world a better place.
TISHA B’AV for me is also the day
when I begin preparing for the period of introspection culminating in the
rituals of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Impetus for beginning the process of
repentance comes from the middle of the book of Lamentations.
search and examine our ways and return to he Eternal One!” (Lamentations
For Progressive Jews, then, Tisha Be’av can be both a day of
mourning and a day of joy.
We mourn for the destruction of the Temple,
but we rejoice that we have developed a strong, resilient means of surviving as
Mourning the tragedies of the past we begin to search and examine
our way forward and face the future with hope and courage.The writer, a
rabbi, is president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism