Tisha b'Av

This Tisha b'Av Felt Different

By Rabbi Joshua Fenton

This Tisha b’Av felt different. On the saddest day of the year; that cursed day on which just about every evil perpetrated against Jews throughout history is remembered, this year in light of the fighting and dying it felt even worse. 

I didn’t go to the synagogue this year on Tisha b’Av. I stayed home, preferring to work over joining the community in what felt like another day of mourning. The thing is, it’s felt like Tisha b’Av for a while now. Watching videos of riots in Europe, reading stories of Jews around the world attacked, hearing the news report how the Jewish state was killing Palestinian civilians, it’s been feeling like Tisha b’Av for a while. 

And it’s not just me. Yesterday afternoon and evening I began to read post after post on social media reflecting people’s deep sense of mourning this year. So much so, some even expressed the desire to stay in mourning a bit longer. Tweets I read suggested folks weren’t ready to let the day go while others spoke of how the day was holding on to them, #stilltishabav. This year Tisha b’Av didn’t begin with the three weeks. We didn’t slip deeper into despair during the nine days. We were already there, since the beginning of this most recent fighting in Gaza, we’ve been there. I’ve been there.

And I think that’s a problem. There is a reason that Tisha b’Av happens only once a year. That same reason is why we don’t have additional days of mourning to commemorate the crusades, Spanish expulsion, Kmelnitzky massacre, and all of the other atrocities remembered on Tisha b’Av. It’s enough. How many sad days should there be? 

This was an argument made in the Knesset when first discussing whether or not there should even be a Yom Hashoah. There is already a Tisha b’Av, some said, and how many sad days should there be? How many days of mourning do we want to freckle our calendar? 

My favorite halakha of the Shulchan Aruch, my favorite piece of Jewish law, speaks about Tisha b’Av. It pertains to the fast of Tisha b’Av when it falls on a Sunday and answers the question, what one’s last meal before the fast should be. 

Traditionally, the last meal before we fast is the meal of mourners, a seuda mafseket or interrupting meal. It’s a meal that gets us ready for the sorrow of the following day. The meal consists of hard boiled eggs rolled in ash, eaten while seated on the floor. The imagery is powerful. When one first hears of a loss, before the period of mourning technically begins, the mourner has a meal. Something to get food into his or her stomach before the sorrow descends. A last ditch effort to build up our reserves for what is sure to be an exhausting experience. The law speaks about that meal when it comes on Shabbat. If the fast of Tisha b’Av is on a Sunday, how can we eat a mourners meal, a meal of sadness while it is still Shabbat? 

The answer the Shulchan Aruch gives is marvelous and instructive. The instruction is to “set a table fit for King Solomon.” If you were to ask my children what that means, they’d tell you it would have to be a meat meal with parve ice cream afterwards. What else could a king ask for? What this law highlights is that the joy of Shabbat cannot be limited by the mourning of Tisha b’Av. The most sorrowful day of the year needs to be contained. It can be radioactive in it’s ability to affect and infect all those around it and we must therefore resist the urge to let it. It’s also a halakha/law that if the fast of Tisha b’Av falls on Shabbat, we push it to Sunday. The day must be contained.  

Just as it is a mitzvah to mourn on that terrible day, and just as it is a mitzvah to join your community and your people in mourning, it is also a mitzvah to move on. When the mourner completes her seven days of mourning, shiva, she is commanded to get up. 

Of course as I write these words, sitting in my office in San Francisco, I have my family, friends, colleagues, and fellow Jews living in Israel speaking to me from inside my heart and soul. They ask me how to let it go. They ask “how can we move on when it feels like the evil and terror that continues to chase us may have only quieted for a moment?” I share that fear and I share that doubt, as does every mourner as they see the end of shiva fast approach. 

My response is to have hope, none the less, that today’s tomorrow will be better than yesterday’s, and that the quiet may build and grow. And to all of us in the states, to my friends who felt a longing to stay just a little longer in mourning and to those who didn’t feel drawn to stay in Tisha b’Av but felt stuck, I say it’s time to move on. It’s time to again celebrate life and possibility, and even if it only lasts for 72 hours, it’s time to get up and walk around the block and hope and believe that these past weeks of war have come to an end and we are all ready to move on. 

Is that a shofar I hear? 

Is There Such a Thing as Causeless Hatred?

By David Waksberg, CEO Jewish LearningWorks

For years we did not fast on Tisha b'Av.  The 9th of Av, a Jewish day of mourning, commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temple, along with other calamities through history.

We didn't fast because, well, it's complicated.  In my youth, I'd learned that we fast on Tisha b'Av to mourn the destruction of the Temple.  In the long run, I didn't think the destruction of the Temple was such a bad thing - Judaism adapted and evolved.  We were again, as Hatikvah notes, a free people in our land.   I'd moved on and I was not interested in a third Temple.

But my purpose is not to explain why I stopped fasting; rather, about why I started again.  This year.

The rabbis attributed the destruction of the Temples to sinat chinam (causeless hatred).  That phrase - causeless hatred - always struck me.  Is there such a thing as causeful hatred?  I get it, causeless hatred referred to hatred without reason (among ourselves).  But when is there a good reason to hate?

But again, I digress.  I came to realize that my Jewish education failed me.  Because the thing to mourn on Tisha b'Av is not the Temple, but the sinat chinam - the hatred that caused its destruction.  The hatred among Jews.  The hatred of the Babylonians toward the Jews.  The hatred of the Romans.  The hatred of England toward its Jews, who were expelled on the 9th of Av, 1290.  The hatred of the Spanish Inquisition that led to, on the 9th of Av in 1492, the expulsion of every Jew after centuries of life in Spain.  The hatred of the Nazis, who began to deport the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto  to the death camps on the 9th of Av, 1942. 

My Jewish education failed me because what I learned about Tisha b'Av was the most basic and least interesting aspects.  I felt scant connection to the Temple and its rituals.  But hatred, pettiness and dehumanization - these were and are all around me.

When has "causeless hatred" been more alive than today?  It was among those Palestinians who kidnapped and murdered Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yiftach, and Gilad Shaar.  Among those Jews who abducted and burned alive Mohammed Khdeir.  It is alive in Nigeria, where school girls "disappear" and Boko Haram has killed more than 3,000 people this year.  And it is thriving in Syria - where the death toll is nearing 200,000 (most of them non-combatants) and in Iraq, where Sunni ISIS fighters are targeting Shia, Christians and other non-Sunni groups - the death toll there is nearing 10,000 civilians during the last 12 months and Christians are being singled out for forced conversion, expulsion, or death. 

Will my fasting today end hatred tomorrow?  Not likely.  But why do we fast in the first place?  To focus our attention and look inward.  So I'm starting with myself - reflecting on the dark corners of my own heart.  I'll see where that takes me.

RESOURCES and RUMINATIONS

Rumination 
 Tisha b'Av and Non-Violence 
by Vavi Toran

Your Kids Are Ready To Talk About Israel. Are You?
from Kveller


Resources 
Discussing crisis with civility
Leaving Baggage and Blame at the Door

A Simple Guide to talking to your friends 
from Stories Without Borders

Useful questions for educators to pursue 
From the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education 
Seeking new insights into difficult questions
Peoplehood questions and the crisis in Israel
Family Feelings

Tisha B’av

By Vavi Toran

In the past few weeks I argued with almost everyone I know. I also agreed with almost everyone I know. In the morning I am right-leaning and at night I am a leftist. In the morning I see no other way than continuing with all our might until the job is done (what job? When do we know it’s done?) and at night I mourn for victims of both sides. Most of all I wish this was over. I wish for an end to violence and suffering. When I talk or argue or try to get my point across I don’t always remain calm or listen attentively to my adversary. Many times we find out a few minutes into the heated argument that we have very similar beliefs after all. We argue because we care!

But not everywhere and every time there is a clash of ideas they remains civil and non-violent. On the streets of Jerusalem, in public places where people are demonstrating for this or that side, in written and broadcasted commentaries, and in social media, the discourse is far from civil and hatreds ancient and new come out in their ugliest manifestations.

Today is erev Tisha B'av, the commemoration of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

“Why were the Temples destroyed? The ancient rabbis explain that the First Temple was destroyed because of three things that occurred in it: idolatry, unseemly sexual behavior, and bloodshed. And then they give what to me is a provocative answer as to why the Second Temple was destroyed: "Because there was sinat chinam, baseless hatred." The Talmud goes on to say: "This teaches that baseless hatred is equated with three sins: idolatry, unseemly sexual behavior and bloodshed." (Talmud Yoma 9B)

What is sinat chinam? It includes gratuitous internecine backbiting, malicious hurtful speech and the inability to discuss differences in a civil way. These behaviors are seen as being as bad as idolatry, adultery and murder.

The astonishing claim is that how we talk to and about each other around issues that matter can destroy a city or maybe even a country. Words matter. Innuendo can kill." (From an article by Rabbi Laura Geller)

On this Tisha b’Av let us remember to listen to one another, honor each other’s opinions, and respond with civility and compassion. 

This  poem by Yehuda Amichai “From the Place Where We Are Right” - is especially poignant on this day.

The Place Where We Are Right

by Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.


The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.


But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.


And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

 

Read more about Tisha B'av.

Tisha B'av - Arguing for the Sake of Heaven

From David Waksberg,  CEO Jewish LearningWorks

“How desolate lies the city, once so full of people,” begins the Book of Lamentations, Jeremiah’s wail of grief over the (first) destruction of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was laid waste and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.

In Lamentations, which Jews read on Tisha B’Av (9th of Av -tonight and tomorrow), Jeremiah assigns blame for the catastrophe, not with Nebuchadnezzer (the Babylonian king), but at the feet of the Jews themselves - it was our own behavior that brought on this calamity.

Six hundred years later history repeats itself as the rebuilt Temple and Jerusalem are again destroyed, this time by the Romans.  Incredibly, both events occurred on Tisha B’Av.

The destruction of the 2nd Temple is an event that weighed heavily on the rabbis of the Talmud, who lived in the centuries following that tragedy. They sought to explain the cause of the disaster. Like Jeremiah, they found the need to look no further than a mirror.

Sinat chinam or “groundless hatred” -led to their downfall, the rabbis claim. Groundless hatred does not refer to disputes or controversy. Makhloket l’shem shamayim,a “dispute for the sake of heaven,” celebrates the notion that we can disagree and even argue over important matters. In the Talmud, even when the rabbis agree on an interpretation - the alternative approach is presented as well.

At the end of a dispute over law between the followers of Hillel and those of Shammai, the Talmud reports a heavenly voice saying: Elu v’elu devrei elohim chayim - “These and those are the words of the living God.” It proclaims both sides of the disagreement are worthy. “But the law follows Hillel,” concludes the heavenly voice. Why? Because the followers of Hillel were “kindly and modest and studied both their rulings and those of Shammai.” (Eruvin 13b)

We are a disputatious people. Part of Jewish education involves learning how to manage these “disputes for the sake of Heaven” without tearing ourselves apart in sinat chinam, petty and groundless hatred.

The last vestige of the destroyed Temple is haKotel, the Western Wall. In a religion that exalts time, the Wall is the closest we Jews get to sacred space and once again it is in our sacred space that sinat chinam has reemerged. Visions differ on how that space should be used. These could be respectful “arguments for the sake of heaven,” however, the Women of the Wall have seen more of the sinat chinam that our rabbis suggest brought about the destruction of the Temple.

Last month, as their prayer service was disrupted, a woman carried a note from a friend fighting cancer, a prayer for healing to be placed in a crack in the wall. Once it was clear she would not get near the wall, the woman asked those who were blocking their way if one of them would please take the note and place it in the wall. “Your friend should die,” was the response.

In his Torah of Reconciliation, Rabbi Sheldon Lewis cites Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s interpretation of “these and those are the words of the living God.”

“...the truth of the light of the world will be constructed from many points of view and varying approaches, for “both these and those are the words of the living God.”... the multiplicity of views that emerges from the differences of souls and education is just that which enriches wisdom ...”

In Rabbi Lewis’s view, Rav Kook challenges the equation of peace with “oneness.” He suggests that peace (shalom has the same root as shalem - wholeness) emerges out of the “diversity that includes all of the unnumbered dimensions and pathways to wisdom” (R. Lewis, Torah of Reconciliation).

The young men and women in Jerusalem who have been mobilized in violent opposition to the Women of the Wall are being indoctrinated in the ways of groundless hatred rather than educated in the ways of arguing for the sake of heaven. Education, in contrast to indoctrination, equips our minds with the kind of critical thinking the rabbis of the Talmud modeled for us, and it is this critical thinking that enables us to engage in meaningful and respectful dialogue with one another.

The Jewish world is filled with disagreement - religious, political, cultural. The lessons from Tisha B’Av are not to engage in zealotry and dehumanization of the “other” in a never-ending spiral of hatred. They are, rather, to find and respect the humanity and merit even in ardent dispute.

As we prepare for Tisha B’Av and mourn the destruction that has accompanied this day, let us mourn and challenge sinat chinam, the groundless hatred that plagues us still. And may our educators prepare our students for a meaningful Jewish life which requires engagement in meaningful and respectful “disputes for the sake of heaven.”