Progressively Speaking: Why the month of Av reminds us to challenge hatred

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Progressively Speaking: Why the month of Av reminds us to challenge hatred

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild takes a topical issue and offers a progressive Jewish response

Destruction of the temple
Destruction of the temple

The new moon of Av comes in the 30-day period of mourning known as bein ha’metzarim, ushering in an even more doleful period until the black fast of Tisha B’Av.

This is the saddest time of our calendar as we commemorate the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of both Temples and exile of the Jewish people from our land.

For generations we saw this period as emblematic of our problems: sojourners in the lands of others, dependant on their goodwill, fearful of their anger.

From Aaron’s death on Rosh Chodesh Av onwards, this month has accumulated misfortune in Jewish tradition. The decree to wander the desert for 40 years was given on 9th Av. Beitar, the last holdout of the Bar Kochba revolution, fell on this day in 135CE. It was also the last date to convert in Inquisition Spain… It was a date to be feared and many take special care against harm.

In 1872 in his Reform Siddur, David Einhorn wrote a prayer to commemorate this day. His was a different view, seeing the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews as a good thing: “Israel was no longer to dwell in separation from the rest of thy children, who groped in darkness and folly; but was to spread like a fertilising stream. The one temple in Jerusalem sank into the dust, so that countless temples might arise to [God’s] honour and glory all over …the globe.”

Two months before Rosh Hashanah, Av sounds a warning of what can happen when we don’t address our bad behaviour and that of our society. Tradition ascribes Tisha B’Av to causeless hatred of the other. Reading Lamentations we find, “Let us search and try our ways, and return to God” (3:40). It is a wake-up call for us to consider what is important not just in our own souls, but in how we act in the world.

In Av, our grief centres on exile, being swept along helplessly by great powers, and we begin the soul work for Yom Kippur. But Av can also challenge us to help other exiles and refugees, particularly today when we see so many running from war and famine.

Far from becoming unimportant in a world where the state of Israel has been reborn, Av reminds us of our responsibility to challenge causeless hatred and to repair our world in time for the judgement and forgiveness of Rosh Hashanah.

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


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