Progressively Speaking: What’s the value of Tisha B’Av?
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Progressively Speaking: What’s the value of Tisha B’Av?

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild gives a progressive Jewish view on a topical issue

Western wall
Western wall

From 17th Tammuz we began the “Three Weeks” with a day of fasting to remember the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem.

The grieving intensifies from the beginning of Av until we reach the 9th day, the fast of Tisha b’Av, when we mourn the destruction of both Jerusalem Temples. 

From early rabbinic times, this period has been seen as a date when terrible things happened to the Jews.

The incident of the spies which led to the exodus generation never entering the land is the first catastrophe attributed to Tisha b’Av, but many more have accumulated since.

The Talmud tells us the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry and immorality, but the second was destroyed even though the Jews were pious and observant.

Causeless hatred was rife within the Jewish world, and this brought the cataclysm.

Talmud concludes: “This is to teach that causeless hatred is as grave as idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed together.”

Progressive Jews have abandoned any desire for Temple ritual and while we recognise the disaster that was Tisha b’Av and we mourn the pain, dislocation and vulnerability of our people, we cannot only observe the traditional Tisha b’Av mourning rituals or view it as divine punishment for which we had no agency. 

Causeless hatred brought about disaster, Jews hating Jews for no reason. Rav Kook teaches that the remedy must be causeless love for each other, so we must make space for diversity within Judaism and value our differences– this is a direct response to Tisha b’Av, much harder than fasting or lamenting!

But there is another progressive response that comes from our early history. David Einhorn wrote his siddur “Olath Tamid” in the 1850’s and included a service “on the Anniversary of the Destruction of Jerusalem”.

The siddur’s name shows how Reform Judaism saw prayers as the successor to the Temple rite, and the service for Tisha b’Av turns tradition around, giving thanks that Judaism could grow and thrive in so many different countries.

His prayer speaks of “paternal guidance” to “glorify your name and your law before the eyes of all nations…as your emissary to all…. The one temple in Jerusalem sank into the dust, in order that countless temples might arise to thy honour and glory all over the wide surface of the globe”. 

As with all mourning, Jewish tradition is to mark the event and come back into life.

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild has been a community rabbi in south London for 30 years

 

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