September 20, 2018

Table for Five: Tisha b’Av

What Is the Meaning of Tisha b’Av Today?

Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg
Excerpted from NeoHasid.org
Tisha b’Av is not about mourning, although there is much to mourn, but about becoming refugees. Tisha b’Av is not primarily about the end of sacrifices or the Temple — Chaza”l, the rabbis, figured out how to live without the Temple long ago. Rather, it’s about homelessness, being thrown into a hostile world without shelter or protection, fleeing from war into famine — all things that are far too present in this world.

It’s not even about sin, although [the Book of] Lamentations struggles with that idea. It’s about living in a world where military force and political power are used to destroy both the guilty and the innocent, without distinction. It’s also about confronting the ways in which we as individuals (and as a people) use our power and make others into refugees. On Tisha b’Av, in a time when humanity is compromising the place we have on this planet, we need to ask ourselves: How do we treat homeless people? How will we leave enough space for all species on this Earth? How can we respect this world as our home so that we don’t deprive the other species of their home?

The customs of Tisha b’Av reflect some of these nuances: Fasting is not only a mourning custom, it is also a way to experience living in a world where there’s famine. This goes along with the fact that Tisha b’Av is the only day when it’s permissable to do things that cause oneself pain and discomfort. Because it is about experiencing the world as a refugee. 


Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb
Excerpted from conservativeyeshiva.org
The rabbis tell us that the First Temple fell at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians because of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed. The Jews of the Second Temple time behaved much better, they say, but nonetheless the Romans were still able to capture Jerusalem and destroy the Temple because of causeless hatred.

The Talmud gives a remarkable list of additional causes of the fall of Jerusalem from eight rabbis spanning several centuries. The reasons are very diverse, reflecting the social reality and particular crisis that each rabbi felt in his time and place.

Amongst the many causes the rabbis found, there is one they never mention — that perhaps the Babylonian or Roman armies were simply stronger than our forces. In the rabbinic view, even these misfortunes were the work of the one and only God, and the Babylonians and Romans were, unwittingly of course, instruments of his purpose, an idea already expressed in Isaiah and Jeremiah. While on the surface it seems cruel, it contains within it the seeds of hope. If our deficiencies are a significant factor in our problems, then hopefully their correction can improve our situation.

Thus the fast of Tisha b’Av moves from mourning to hope. Zechariah’s prophecy that the days of fasting will become days of gladness includes Tisha b’Av as well, and it is commonly stated that the Messiah will be born on this date. May Tisha b’Av be an inspiration for tikkun (improvement) in the lives of all of us and the Jewish people as a whole.


Rabbi Eli Fink
Excerpted from finkorswim.com
The Jewish family is in a constant state of mourning. Usually we push our mourning to the back of our collective consciousness, but on Tisha b’Av we allow the misery and pain of our tortuous 2,000-year Diaspora to creep into view and dominate our emotions.

The entire Jewish family sits together on the floor, sits shivah together, cries together and mourns together. On Tisha b’Av, our synagogues become our shivah homes.

But something is missing from the mourning metaphor.

Who will do the mitzvah of nichum aveilim — comforting the bereaved? We are all mourners and cannot comfort one another. A shivah with no visitors compounds the pain of loss. Have we been so abandoned that no one will come to pay a shivah call to us? Who will comfort us this Tisha b’Av?

It has to be God. Our comfort will come from God.

God is our Menachem (“comforter”). God “visits” us on Tisha b’Av. That is why we go to synagogue to mourn. Generally, we feel God’s presence in synagogue, so we mourn in God’s House.

The Jewish laws of comforting mourners require that the visitor wait for the mourner to speak first. When the mourner is ready to talk, the visitor listens and responds as appropriate. Listening is the most powerful tool in the comfort toolbox.

God is our Visitor. God is waiting to comfort us in our Shivah house. But we need to speak first and give God the opportunity to listen. God is ready; we just need to speak.


Rabbi Vicki Tuckman
Excerpted from rj.org
I have come to realize that the primary emphasis on the destruction of the Temples eclipses where the real focus should be: on the people. Therefore, I try to put myself in the shoes of my ancestors living in eretz Yisrael all those years ago when the skies turned black and their future burned to the ground. The loss of a home and a sense of security. Families forced to leave a familiar place, where memories had been made. A child birthed or buried. A baby’s first step. First love and a kiss, sealed under the shade of an olive tree. Hopes and secrets suspended. A future never to be had. A belief in goodness and innocence consumed in the flames.

The Prophet Jeremiah penned Psalm 137, capturing his pain in the line “by the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept for thee, Zion.

I challenge each of us to remember a time in our lives when we were leveled by something painful; when we wept in grief, mourned for something precious, wanting to throw ourselves on the ground in despair.

Every summer, I now take Tisha b’Av very seriously and teach it to our Reform community. I  emphasize that a very beautiful Judaism developed because of our forced exile on Tisha b’Av.  But even more so, I teach about empathy and compassion, two middot (Jewish values) that I wish everyone to know and live.


Rabbi Lewis Eron
Excerpted from jewishrecon.org
Traditionally, Tisha b’Av was a dark day of mourning. It was the day on which we acknowledged the emotional and spiritual pain of our people’s exile.
But today, we are no longer in exile. Our people have returned to our ancient homeland and rebuilt our towns and cities. We are no longer powerless. Our world has changed and our needs have changed. To speak to us today, Tisha b’Av can no longer be the day on which we remember all the evil that has happened to us

Thank God, our chief worry is not being crushed in our weakness but becoming arrogant and careless with our success and power. We need to enhance our sense of appreciation for the blessings that we have. We must not take for granted and foolishly lose all that for generations we could obtain only in our dreams.

We need to refocus Tisha b’Av from a day of Jewish mourning to a Jewish Memorial Day. Let us transform it to a day on which we can solemnly acknowledge those among our people who, over the centuries, accepted hardship, experienced sorrow and even suffered death so that we, the Jewish people, could survive. Let us make Tisha b’Av the day on which we give thanks to them for their loyalty to our people and our faith, and the day on which we renew our commitment to the heritage they so lovingly and painfully bequeathed to us.

Let us not forget to honor their struggles but also let us not forget to celebrate their gifts.