Tisha Be’av’s meaning

Technically, this year the fast should be called Asarah Be’av, not Tisha Be’av.

Ninth of Av 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ninth of Av 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tisha Be’av, the day set aside in the Jewish calendar to mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, is postponed a day this year. Instead of the ninth day of the month of Av, the fasting, the abstinence, the refraining from washing, the sitting low to the ground and the wearing of shoes without traces of leather are all observed this year beginning Saturday night the 10th of Av.
Technically, this year the fast should be called Asarah Be’av, not Tisha Be’av.
The day of mourning is delayed out of respect for Shabbat, a day for resting, rejoicing and eating. (The fast of Yom Kippur is observed when it falls on Shabbat because the opportunity to fast in exchange for the atonement of one’s sins should evoke joy.)
Because the fast is delayed a day, certain leniencies are permitted. For instance, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are given sweeping exemptions from the fast. The reasoning for this is as follows: If the mourning is not taking place on the allotted day anyway, why go out of our way to obligate those for whom the fast is particularly difficult? If the rabbis were to take this reasoning one step further (which they don’t), they might be persuaded to call the whole fast off.
The knowledge that this year’s fast is postponed might lead some of us to take Tisha Be’av less seriously. Further complicating the situation is the difficulty many of us have identifying with Tisha Be’av even when it falls on Tisha Be’av. How many of us can truly say that we yearn for the day when a holy slaughterhouse is once again built on the Temple Mount?
It is difficult not to agree with American writer Leon Wieseltier’s claim that “it was in the absence of a Temple that Judaism began to soar, owing to the twin blessing of cosmopolitism and introversion.”
Even Maimonides noted in his Guide for the Perplexed that God commanded the Jewish people to bring sacrificial offerings as a temporary measure at a time in history when they were accustomed to idolatry.
If we are unable to feel real sorrow for the destruction of the Temple, how are we to go about making this Tisha Be’av a meaningful day of mourning? Perhaps one way is to recognize, through even a cursory look at current events, just how far the Jewish people are from redemption, whether heavenly or earthly.
Here is just a sample of depressing recent developments:
• At the Olympic Games launched Friday in London, the International Olympic Committee has stubbornly refused to spare even one minute of silence for the 11 killed at the 1972 Munich Games.
• Compounding the outrage at this callousness is the knowledge that terrorists targeting the Israeli delegation is no thing of the past. During their stay in London, Israeli athletes and trainers are in need of extra-tight security that sets them apart from all other countries.
• Meanwhile, the Europe Union refused this week to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
This is the same Iranian proxy that is involved in a spate of about 20 attempts in the past two years to murder Israelis and Jews abroad.
• And with President Basher Assad’s grip on his country loosening, Israelis are rushing to get government- issue gas masks out of fear Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles will be used against them.
The destroyed Temple can stand as a metaphor for all those things in the world that need to be fixed.
But there is also a bit of consolation: Never before have the Jewish people been better poised to fix what is wrong in the world or, at the very least, cope with it.
While Wieseltier might be right that Jews “slowly but steadily snatched a spiritual victory from a national defeat” after the destruction of the Temple and exile from their land, the return of the Jewish people to sovereignty in their historic homeland has opened up vistas of new potential.