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does tisha b'av still matter?

07/28/2020 08:18:34 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

There are some people who consider the observance of Tisha B’av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) outdated and no longer relevant. Tisha B’av commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples, which occurred on the same date. Alas, there are other calamities that also fell on Tisha B’av, but there are so many in number that frankly, you might become depressed. With all happening around us, I thought that it would be wise to dispense with a listing. Here is a short list for those interested:

Why might some consider the observance of Tisha B’av an anachronism? Perhaps it might be due to the fact that with the rise of the state of Israel in 1948, after thousands of years of yearning, that we should not mourn, but celebrate the thriving existence of our homeland? Well, don’t we do that on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day?

Might we think of Tisha B’av in terms like a yahrtzeit, that it is the annual date that we commemorate the loss of our national center of worship? When presented in this way, we can thus have a different perspective on Tisha B’av, and recognize that there is value in its observance. There was far more to the destruction of both temples than the mere military victory by the Babylonians and then Romans, but that is worthy of an entirely different blog. We are called upon to mourn an immense communal loss every year on this date, not dissimilar to the loss of a loved one. For many in the Orthodox community, they append mourning the loss of six million in the Holocaust on this date as well, keeping the tradition that Tisha B’av remains the date for Jewish communal mourning. To me, the uniqueness of the Holocaust in the history of humanity demands its own special day of remembrance, just as 10.27 demands from me its own special day of remembrance.

There are a number of additions to the Tisha B’av services, most notably Eicha, Lamentations, that is intoned with its own unique melodies on the eve of Tisha B’av. It is ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the destruction of the first Holy Temple. Another significant addition are kinot, dirges, that are read both in the evening and morning. One of the most familiar to many is entitled Eli Tziyon, “Wail, O Zion”, composed by the poet Yehudah HaLevi, one of the greatest of Jewish poets, who lived in medieval Spain from roughly 1075-1141.  Not only is it an incredibly powerful dirge, but its ancient melody, so old that we do not know of its origin, haunts us with its simple beauty. A colleague of mine shared with me a modern version of Eli Tziyon posted on the site OpenSiddur as a free offering. I share this beautiful modern rendition with you because it speaks loudly to us in today’s world. I hope that you will be as moved by it as I was, and that you will find a way to observe Tisha B’av that is meaningful for you.  Tisha B’av begins this year on Wednesday evening, July 29. Check our website for details.

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781