What is Tisha B'av?

Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2018

By Rabbi Amy Feder

Tisha B’av is probably the holiday that, if you grew up in a Reform congregation, you were the least likely to have ever celebrated. And not just because it usually falls in the middle of July (the 9th of Av), a time when most of us are in full summer break mode and not spending as much time at synagogue.

Tisha B’av is the most solemn day in Judaism, an entire day of mourning. The book of Lamentations is read, kinot (dirges from the Middle ages) are sung, people act as if they are at a shiva house. All of this is done to commemorate the destructions of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, first in 586 BCE and then again in 70 CE. We are taught that both of these events happened to fall on that same day, and tradition has it that a whole slew of other horrible things happened to the Jews on the 9th of Av: it was the day that the Bar Kochba revolt failed in 135 CE, the day that the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews of England was signed in 1290, the day Ferdinand and Isabella decreed the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. The destruction of the Temples are still the key focus of the holiday, but it is, essentially, the unluckiest day for the Jewish people, and has been throughout history.

So why is there such a good chance you haven’t known about it? For one thing, while orthodox streams of Judaism are marked by a longing to return to the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, this is not something Reform Jews idealize. We can look at the destruction of the Temples as horrible historical acts, but our Jewish practice does not rest on the wish to rebuild the Temple. And there are many people who can’t believe the historical coincidence of these events having all happened on this one date; it feels impossible.

Yet the idea of a communal day of mourning should not be so easily dismissed. Tisha B’av can be the day when we remember all tragic events of Jewish sufferings and loss-the Crusades, the Chmielnicki Massacres, the Holocaust. It can be the day that stands as a memorial to all of the suffering and injustice that takes place today, not just to the Jewish people but around the world. It can be the day when we mourn, memorialize, and then figure out how to move on. The strength and unbelievable tenacity of the Jewish people is found in our ability to survive, remember, and keep moving forward. Taking just one day each year to remind ourselves of that is perhaps just one more way to ensure we never forget those who have gone before us, and the legacy we wish to leave for those who come next.

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