Worshippers sit on the ground on Tisha Be’av at the Western Wall, as a sign of mourning, in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
As Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) approached in late April, out of the blue, I received a Facebook Message from my friend Asaf Baner. Asaf, a sensitive soul with rumpled blonde hair and a deep Jewish-Israeli sensibility, has been a social activist for well over a decade and today runs Chotam, the Israeli equivalent of Teach for America. Asaf messaged me that he wanted me to fast on Yom Hashoa and to tell my friends and acquaintances that as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle, the appropriate Jewish way to honor their memory and their contribution to our survival, was to fast on this day. Fasting, wrote Asaf, is the Jewish way to set aside time for reflection and contemplation, to denote a day and its victims and to resolve ourselves to use that memory to make us better.
If Yom Hashoa, is the day that we should fast to remember the Holocaust, its victims and their contributions, then Tisha B’av, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik pointed out many times, is the day that commemorates Jewish calamities since the destruction of the Temples, through the crusades, the pogroms, the burnings of the Talmud and the Holocaust. It is a day of fasting and mourning, set aside for reflection and national improvement. Since I was a teenager in America, I have been sitting the entire morning reading the Lamentations and listening to lectures on these historic calamities but as I get older and have now spent more than half my life in Israel, I actually believe the day needs to be amplified and explained.
Over the last two weeks, I have read countless articles by those (particularly in certain parts of the religious zionist camp) who see the day as anachronistic. While they fast on this day, they are unable to square the blooming and booming country we live in with the laments of the day. Some still miss the Mikdash (the Temple) and its presence but it is not predominant in their thinking. While I do believe that we need to reflect these changes in both our prayer and attitude, I don’t believe it undermines the day and its importance. In more secular circles, as best I can tell, nobody fasts. Unlike Yom Kippur, where a large majority of this country fasts, regarding Tisha B’av they are not sure what this day is about and what is its relevance to their lives. That is a tragedy because it is very relevant. In the charedi (ultra-orthodox) world, they appropriately continue to lament the destructions of the Temples, obviously fast, but do not interpret the day or update it, into our modern Israel environment. That too is a problematic.
Tisha B’av should be a day, dare I say it is THE DAY, of national historic reflection and rectification. If Yom Kippur is a yearly day of inner-reflection on deeds and attitudes driven my annual soul-cleansing, then Tisha B’av is a day of national reflection and correction impelled and compelled by historic events, tragedies and bad decisions.
During the last year, we lost Mickey Mark, Hallel Ariel, Richard Laikin and countless others to terror attacks. 2000 years ago we lost hundreds of thousands at the hands of the Roman Emperor and his General Titus or one thousand years ago during the crusades. I am certain that our Israeli government has made bad foreign policy decisions in the last years much like the Kings of Israel did against the advice of Jeremiah the Prophet 2600 years ago when they chose to partner with the Pharaohs of Egypt and not submit to the Babylonians. For many years in the Middle Ages, leading Jewish Scholars rejected the writings of the Rambam as heresy, something they believed they were punished for by the Church burning the Talmud. Do we know of Jewish Rabbis today calling others’ approaches heresy? Corruption? Jeremiah warned of the corruption of the Priests in the temple, other prophets talked of the corrupt kings in Israel, the abuses of rulers and priests in the end of the Second Temple Period are well documented. Does this ring a bell? Can we think of modern analogies?
While today we have a relatively successful economy, we have many who are hurting from today’s technological advances and others who have been literally orphaned or feel orphaned by society. 2700 years ago, Isaiah the prophet warned about the corrupt leadership, the lack of care for the orphan and widow and the lack of Justice in the court system. Most of all, nobody took responsibilities for these moral and societal injustices and abuses because nobody took the time and space to reflect. That is a crisis of leadership and citizenship as both demand accountability. I believe that this is the reason that the Prophet Zecharia, who prophesied at the beginning of the Second Temple, insisted on keeping Tisha B’av and the other fast days even though the Second Temple was rebuilt and Jewish Sovereignty restored. We precisely need a day of reflection, fasting and focus when we renew Jewish sovereignty for we have that much more responsibility and that much more need to take stock, reflect and correct. Only when we analyze historic tragedies, the bad decisions that led to them and the lack of tolerance that causes these schisms as a sovereign, can we impel our now sovereign people forward. However, this requires that everyone take part in this day of reflection and Asaf is right that fasting and breaking routine helps us focus on that reflection.
While I sympathize with Asaf’s desire to make Yom Hashoa a fast day, I think we need to first focus on everyone fasting on Tisha B’av, reflecting on and learning the lessons from our historic and modern day tragedies, bad decisions and dearth of leadership. Today, Tisha B’av, should cause us to examine our national decision making, leadership, our tolerance of others and other’s opinions. It should cause us to understand the epic calamitous results of corruption, of intolerance, of lack of caring for the needy, of abandoning the timeless values of the Torah, and yes, of exile and people staying in galut
(today’s and yesterday’s).
This Fast Day is for believers and non-believers alike. It is the most Jewish way of pausing for self-reflection and national correction. It should be understood as such and, if we all do it together, maybe we can build that cohesive and responsible society that we all yearn for.
ציון במשפט תיפדה ושביה בצדקה
Here is a link to a video
on a Tisha B’av discussion on Rothschild during the summer protests of few years back.