August 12, 2016
Each year one day is set aside on the Jewish calendar as a day of public mourning. This day is Tisha B’Av/the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. This year Tisha B’Av is observed on Saturday evening, August 13-Sunday, August 14. According to historical legend, both ancient Temples in Jerusalem (586 bce and 70 ce) were destroyed on the same day-the 9th of Av.
Unfortunately, for the majority of non-Orthodox Jews, this day of remembrance and mourning is observed in the breach. However religiously committed one may be, it is still difficult to assume a posture of mourning for an ancient cult of animal sacrifice that was, before Judaism’s rabbinical reformation, the central focus of Jewish worship. However, my colleague Rabbi David Seidenberg, offers a new perspective on this ancient observance.
Rabbi Seidenberg writes, “There has never been a moment in my generation’s lifetime when Tisha B’Av was more relevant. The crisis of war refugees has overwhelmed European political systems and seems close to overwhelming our own. We think of Tisha B’Av as a time of mourning, but Tisha B’Av is most importantly about identifying with the experience of the refugee, about being thrown into a hostile world without shelter or protection. That’s what happened to the Jewish people when the Temples (1st and 2nd) and the nation and society they stood for were destroyed.”
He goes on to write, “Tisha B’Av is not primarily about the end of sacrifices or the Temple. The ancient rabbis figured out how to live without the Temple long ago. Rather, it’s about homelessness, fleeing from war into famine, about things that are all too present in our world. It’s also an opportunity to confront the ways in which we as individuals use our power to make others into refugees.”
“May it be true that the Syrian conflict comes to an end, that ISIS is utterly destroyed, and that the Syrian dictatorship is undone. But whatever happens, we can expect there to be more wars over resources, as well as people fleeing areas that have become flooded, or turned into deserts as climate change puts more and more pressure on our social systems. We need all the spiritual resources we can muster to stay open to the humanity of the refugee and the stranger while also taking care of each other.”
For Jews, rituals and observances are means to an end, not ends in themselves. The end of history is not the destruction of this planet but an insurgence of goodness and kindness shared by all peoples and nations. It is commemorations like Tisha B’Av that come to remind us of the necessary means we need to practice in pursuit of this end.
Rabbi Howard Siegel