Tisha B’Av: let the fast nourish something good

I know I’ve already posted for this week, and I also know I didn’t write anything about Tisha B’Av.  I wasn’t going to.  But I changed my mind.

I’m ambivalent about Tisha B’Av.  I used to fast for this day.  I wasn’t raised to do so, but somewhere around college, I started fasting on Tisha B’Av, and it’s a tough fast – long summer day, often hot, not able to sit in synagogue and let the time go by, but usually working, and for a few years, as a camp counselor.  A very slow fast.

Lately, I’ve stopped fasting.  I have had a hard time relating to the story of Tisha B’Av, relating to the insistent narrative of all the horrible things that have happened to us in the past.  Bemoaning the loss of the Temple?  As a rabbi friend of mine says, “Get over it.” Maybe that sounds drastic, but if you want to go live in the Land, you can, and if you don’t, then don’t.  we don’t need the Temple rebuilt to make aliyah.  The Messianic vision of a Third Temple doesn’t capture me either; there’s plenty to do around here, right now, in this world, for me to spend energy thinking about the Next One.

To ascribe so many other catastrophes to have happened on this one day, I find it stretching credulity.  So I don’t.  Why do we have to work so hard to make our history fit into nice, neat little “coincidences”?  Does that make the catastrophes less, um, catastrophic?  No.

There is only one possible reason I can still accept for this commemoration, which  goes back to the Talmudic idea that the Second Temple was destroyed for sinat chimam (baseless hatred.)  Jews at the time were in such communal discord, that God destroyed the Temple to get their attention.  It worked.  It still has our attention, thousands of years later.  Not that there’s less hatred.

A couple of years, I wrote about this in relation to this week’s parasha, Dvarim.  I mentioned that Moses was trying to get a definitive story down, to the people, before they embark on their journey across the Jordan, basically ending one journey and beginning another. It seems he wanted them to have a common narrative; then I wrote how I couldn’t imagine our Jewish community now having a common narrative – the divisions are so deep.

Not much has changed. We still don’t have a common narrative, and even worse, we don’t seem to want to find common ground at all.  Not in with our other Americans, not with our fellow Jews.  It seems we seek out those who already agree with us, and establish our own common ground, and the pie we share gets sliced into smaller and smaller pieces.

The great rabbis of the Sanhendrin, the Great Court, had it right.  They argued “for the sake of Heaven”.  They valued respected each other’s opinions, even if they disagreed vehemently.

I still don’t know if I will fast on Sunday.  If I do, it will be because I’m focusing on the effort of bringing voices together, finding at least some commonality in our identities, in holding back the destructive tsunami of sinat chinam.  This wave of hatred, of intolerance, of insidious contamination of souls, will bring down our communities, frankly both American and Jewish.  None of us is listening to each other.  None of us bothers to even care about not listening to each other.

So. On Sunday.  If you choose to fast, do so in the name of reducing hatred between your own little slice of the pie and someone else’s.    Seek out someone whose opinions are different from yours.  Discuss.  Don’t yell.  Don’t even try to change their opinion.  Just listen. Try to understand. Try to get them to understand you. Use the fast to starve your own preconceptions.  Use the fast to divert nourishment into understanding and tolerance. Break down a wall, or at least, take a brick down.  Then maybe….maybe….with all those bricks and walls that divide us, we can build that Third Temple, with open hearts, open souls and open strength.

Shabbat shalom, and may this Tisha B’Av be the last we share with sinat chinam in our midst.

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6 Responses to Tisha B’Av: let the fast nourish something good

  1. I really liked the point about baseless hatred. I’m not sure I agree about lessening our tribulations, or preventing us from “getting over it” by trying to fit all of our tragedies into one day. One of the books I’ve read this year on the place of grief in Jewish life (I don’t remember which one) suggested that after the initial year of mourning, there’s a reason we only remember our dearly departed at Yizkor and on their Yarzeit: by taking the set times of the festivals, and the anniversary of death, we are able to spend the rest of our days living, rather than bowed by grief. I wonder if maybe this is why we comemorate all of our calamities on the same day? By remembering every calamity on the same day, we can spend the rest of the year taking advantage of and being grateful for our own safety. To remember every calamity separately could lead us into doubt of G-d’s ultimate justice and mercy, and prevent us from working to repair our world.

    • anitasilvert says:

      Hi Warner! I like that idea about why we try to observe all our calamities on the same day…it’s a nice reas on the tradition. Thanks or sharing that. I am enormously grateful for our traditions of mourning, after having to experience them. I know you have too.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Arthur Weiss says:

    Hi Anita

    When you say about so many catastrophes happening on this day being too coincidental – that’s the problem (and the point). For example:
    1st August 1914 – Germany declares war on Russia. This essentially started WW1. Although actual hostilities had started a few days earlier (5th Av / 28 July), this was a local conflict between Austria and Serbia. It became global with Germany’s declaration.

    The Jews were expelled from England – with the proclamation on the 18 July 1290. As 10 days were added to the calendar it’s difficult to calculate whether this was actually 9th Av. However it will be very close and could well have been. (25 July is what the conversion calendars say if no days had been added – so could have been 7 Av.

    Same applies to the expulsion from Spain on 31 July 1492. Again if not 9th Av within a day or so.

    Even the Rabbis said that the 2nd (I think) temple wasn’t actually destroyed on the 9th Av. The fire was lit then but the destruction took place on the 10th Av.

    The point is not the date – but that it’s a time to remember the tragedies of the past and that they still continue – e.g. Burgas in Bulgaria. The dates are approximate – but close enough to be too close for coincidence. So it’s a time of solidarity – and an attempt to remember what we lost due to Sinat Chinam. Even today we’ve not got over that.

    Our Rabbi pointed out that when you have so-called ultra-orthodox men spitting at small girls, or forcing girls who are sitting down happily to move to the back of a bus where they have to stand; where the ultra-orthodox are banning books because they don’t like what is written inside (e.g. the works of Natan Slifkin, the “Zoo Rabbi” as he doesn’t deny evolution and accepts modern science; apparently even some lenient rulings of the Rema are now banned as they go against dogma) then you know that we’ve still not learned – and that Tisha B’Av is aimed at getting us to think about the consequences of our actions. (In a way that Yom Kippur doesn’t).

    Just some thoughts why I do fast. (Although I don’t for the other “minor” fast days – for the reasons you say. I don’t feel the same connection – but perhaps that’s my problem!)

    • anitasilvert says:

      Hi Arthur. Yes, there is reason to remember all the catastrophes. I just react to only “looking back” and not forward. I react to thinking that the destruction of the Temples, and the disbursement of Jews throughout the world is inherently a bad thing…the disbursement, not the destruction. I have read and heard other ideas about Tisha B’Av, and (see Warner’s comment) and who knows, maybe I’ll connect differently next year. Thanks for weighing in.

  3. Arthur Weiss says:

    In the US it is still Tisha B’Av, while in Israel and Europe we’ve now eaten and are moving beyond the day.

    In our synagogue we have 3 Rabbis. Two are modern Orthodox and one is Chabad. The two are open that they have conflicts of the soul. In Kinot this morning instead of reading all the Kinot, we read a small selection (around a quarter). Each was proceeded by an introduction on what it was about and a reading on history that put things into context. You saw a progression from ancient history to the Holocaust. We spoke about lines of hope. It made it much more meaningful. Both said that when they were younger they couldn’t see the point of rattling off in Hebrew the Kinot – without knowing the meaning, just so you could finish. It made them meaningless. Hence changing the programme. (The Chabad Rabbi – the senior Rabbi of our community – read through silently all the kinot, while we did our readings). The service ended with an uplifting song.

    This evening we finished with a videos and thoughts of moving from darkness to light – and Israel. Our Rabbi said he had real problems still saying the prayer that talks about Jerusalem STILL laying waste – with children not playing in its squares, as this is not true. He said he didn’t know what to do – and that since 1948, Judaism needs to reassess and recognise that things have changed, and so practice needs to change. This isn’t a problem for the Reform but it is a problem if you are Orthodox. And he’s right. Jews cannot continue looking back and focusing on the past. We must focus on the future, while remembering the past.

    Perhaps its also that we need to change our way we see time. Instead of time being past, present and future – maybe we need to realise that for Jews, it’s all three simultaneously. So Tisha B’Av becomes like the Seder. We recall that we WERE slaves in Egypt. In every generation we need to act as if we were slaves in Egypt. But now we are free men.

    So on Tisha B’Av – we were persecuted. In every generation our enemies rose up to assault us. However we are now entering a new age, where dry bones are given flesh again – and the Chorban of 67 years ago became a new dawn 64 years ago with our return to Zion – fulfilling the prayers of 2000 years and the hopes expressed on Tisha B’Av.

    Just some thoughts – based on the day.

    • anitasilvert says:

      Thanks Arthur. Yes, it’s all about intentionality, and taking the time and energy to re-energize our practices so they stay meaningful. Will take these thoughts into next year’s T’B’Av…

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