The Significance of Tisha be Av Today (August 10-11, 2019)
Tisha B'Av is observed this summer immediately following Shabbat on Saturday, August 10 and Sunday day, August 11. We will observe it with a full day fast, wearing canvas shoes, abstaining from bathing, no lotions, no marital relations, just as we do at Yom Kippur. This holy day carries with it a rich tradition of mourning the destruction of the Temple, yet we are ambivalent toward it, while at the same time, learning great lessons from this period.
We learn about the need to not descend into negativity: Our sages say that it was on this day that the spies brought back a pessimistic and negative report about conquering the land of Israel, resulting in the Israelites wandering the Sinai for thirty eight more years.
We learn about laxity in our relationship with God and Mitzvoth and the danger of losing the resolve of faith: The first Temple fell due to the descent into idol worship and the imitation of Canaanite practices.
We learn about the lethal nature of taking extremist positions: Apparently in the time of the second Temple, the extremists insisted on attacking the Romans instead of negotiating with them.
We learn about the importance of having a “Plan B”: Had Johanan Ben Zakkai not snuck out to establish Yavneh in the ruins of Jerusalem, Judaism and the Jewish people may not have survived.
Yet on the other hand, we are ambivalent because Jerusalem, thank God, is not now in ruins. It is being rebuilt and expanded every day, in every conceivable way. The Jewish people have a sovereign state and a powerful military. Israel is a vibrant fountain of Jewish renewal and vitality.
So why must we don sackcloth and fast? In fact, one lenient tradition in the Masorti movement suggests "fast but half a day!" This compromise was based on the fact that campers and counselors at Camp Ramah in Jerusalem were having great difficulty with thirst and hunger and because, after all, we are no longer mourning the destruction of the Jewish nation. So which is it?
Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute, points to a D’var Torah for Rosh Hashanah that discusses the four fasts, and in particular, the fast of the fourth (17 Tammuz) and the fifth month (Tisha B Av) The source quotes from the prophet Zachariah, who tells us that in a time of peace and tranquility these fast days shall become days of joy and gladness.
Rav Hanna bar Bizna said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Hasida: What is meant by the verse (Zekhariah 8:19): “Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness for the House of Judah.” – It is called “fast” and it is called “joy and gladness” – when there is peace, they shall be days of “joy and gladness”… when there is no peace, they shall be a “fast”.
Said Rav Pappa: The verse is saying: When there is peace, “they shall become occasions for joy and gladness”. When there is persecution, “fast”. If there is neither persecution nor peace – if they wished, they fast; if they wished, they need not fast.”
Rabbi Golinkin names a number of reasons why the full fast should still be observed. One might think that now is a time when we could say it’s a mixed bag–that peace is at hand, and therefore, fasting should be optional. But is peace really at hand yet? Even in the second Temple period (when the new Temple actually was built!) Tisha be Av was not abolished. This is because the redemption of Jerusalem and the Jewish people is not complete. Sadly, there is still Sinat Hinam, a discrediting of one Jewish group over another and another over another. The General Assembly in the UN still condemns Israel, and anti-Israel and anti-Semitic regimes condemn the Jewish state while ignoring human rights violations in Sudan, Iran, Syria, Somalia, China, and North Korea. Anti-Israel sentiment and unfair positions regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict are articulated on almost every campus. Alarmingly, this educational sabotage is even being introduced in some public high school and middle school curricula around the U.S. Iran’s nuclear centrifuges are revving up once again. Unfortunately, therefore, fasting a full day is still advised!
May the day come in our revitalized homeland when there will be real peace. May the day come soon, when the Jewish people are not under assault, verbal and physical. Then sadness will turn to joy, mourning to song-- and let us say, Amen.
Please come to begin our Tisha B'Av service Saturday Night, August 10 at 8:45pm for the reading of Eicha, and on Sunday morning at 9am for our Shacharit Torah reading Haftarah and Kinot.