Tomorrow, Jews around the world will be observing a solemn Jewish holiday called Tishah B’Av (which literally means the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av). According to our tradition, it was on the 9th of Av that both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed – first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then by the Romans in the year 70 CE. Jewish tradition further teaches that throughout our history many of the worst atrocities against the Jews fell on Tishah B’Av. In remembrance of these catastrophes, it is customary to observe a day-long fast and read from the Book of Lamentations, a scroll in which the author bewails the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem.
From a Reform Jewish perspective, the observance of this holiday presents us with a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, the holiday provides us with an opportunity to remember our history. Through the observance of a fast, we can collectively memorialize the tragic events of our past. Through the recitation of the Book of Lamentations, we are provided with a powerful text to explore our beliefs and our ancient heritage.
On the other hand, the destruction of the Temple represents a break from a form of Judaism none of us would ever hope to observe. With the destruction of the Temple came the end of animal sacrifices and the cultic rituals surrounding the priesthood. With the destruction of the Temple came the beginnings of the Judaism we practice today. From this perspective, the observance of a day of mourning seems out of place.
For this reason, most Reform Jews are unfamiliar with the rites and rituals of this solemn holiday. Yet, Tishah B’av is a holiday worthy of our attention and consideration.
On Friday night, part of our Sabbath observance will be set aside to consider how remembering the tragedies from the past can help us as we seek to understand the complexities of daily life. With music and meditation, we will frame the lessons of Tishah B’av in a way that can help us better understand the challenges we face today.