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Tisha B’Av: Modern Destruction

As I write this, Jews around the world are preparing to commemorate Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed not once, but twice: first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and again by the Romans in the year 70 CE.

Tisha B’Av is a day of communal mourning. It is similar to Yom Kippur in its observance – Jews fast during Tisha B’Av and refrain from doing anything enjoyable. Since the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, Tisha B’Av also commemorates the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, numerous pogroms, and other tragic events that have befallen upon our people.

Of course, it is quite doubtful that each of these events transpired on the actual 9th of Av. But by placing our communal tragedies and misfortunes onto this one date, we have the chance to mourn together. gives us a chance to heal together. During my first year in Israel at HUC-JIR (1999), Paul Liptz suggested that the 9th of Av becomes a spiritual bucket for our misfortunes in order for us to get on with our lives the other 364 days a year.

During the recent months, there have been many days of mourning. In many ways, today is Tisha B’Av. Our world seems to be rampant with racial tension, political discord and senseless violence and death.

A few weeks ago, over 80 people were mowed down by a truck driver in Nice, France. In our communities, each of us have mourned deaths in Turkey, Dallas, Brussels, Israel, Baghdad, Orlando, Baton Rouge… the temple is getting destroyed again, and again.

On Tisha B’Av, as we mourn the destruction of the temple, we read from the book of Lamentations:

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

The very name of this book, Lamentations, reminds us that we must learn how to lament – how to mourn. Too often in our communities, mourning turns into anger or blame. Instead of mourning the loss of a child, some blame parents. Instead of crying at the loss of life due to gun violence, many (myself included) turn to Facebook and act as “armchair lobbyist.” But Lamentations teaches us differently: Instead of proposing solutions, or laying blame, the most appropriate response to tragedy is to be together to bear witness, to mourn, to lament.

Just before its conclusion, Lamentations offers us a bit of hope:

Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.

This reminds us that we are never so far astray as to remove all manner of hope. But the onus is not upon God to restore us. The responsibility is on ourselves.

Generations after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, our rabbis taught us that the reason for the destruction of the Temple was Sinat Ha’Am – the hatred amongst people.

We still have not learned the lesson. Sinat Ha’am is very easy to find these days. When we are able put an end to this senseless hate, we will be renewed as in days of old. Yes, the onus is indeed on us. Until then, God laments and mourns alongside of us.

2000 years ago, our 2nd Temple was destroyed. I continue to pray for the day within our lifetimes that our communities do not add even more tragic events to the commemoration of Tisha B’av.

Rabbi Eric Linder serves Congregation Children of Israel in Athens, Georgia. 

Reform Judaism

Reclaiming Tisha B’Av

If Pesach is the Jewish holiday most celebrated by American Jews, Tisha B’Av is the most second-guessed. Modern Jews don’t know quite what to do with it. Most Jews and probably all Reform Jews do not yearn for the Temple to be rebuilt or for the priesthood to be restored. We are followers of Rabbinic Judaism, not the Israelite sacrificial cult. So the question naturally arises: Why mourn what we don’t miss?


One early American Reform leader, Rabbi David Einhorn, went so far as to make Tisha B’Av a happy celebration in his siddur, Olat Tamid (1896):

“The one Temple in Jerusalem sank into the dust, in order that countless temples might arise to Thy honor and glory all over the wide surface of the globe… The true and real sanctuary, They imperishable testimony, remained ours, untouched and undimmed… In this our hope, this day of mourning and of fasting hath, according to the word of Thy prophet, been turned into a solemn day of rejoicing in view of the glorious destiny of Thy law and our high messianic mission which had its beginning with the historic events which we recall today” (Olat Tamid, Rabbi David Einhorn, trans. Emil Hirsch, S. Ettlinger: 1896, Chicago, pp. 144-145).

This transformation of a day of ancient mourning into a modern universalistic festival spoke to the classical Reform principle of being a light to the nations by spreading ethical monotheism to the world. The Diaspora, made possible by the Temple’s destruction, enabled our noble mission.

Notably, Einhorn’s liturgical innovation predated both the modern state of Israel and the Reform Movement’s support of Zionism. Einhorn’s solution to the Tisha B’Av question does not work for us today because it lacks balance and because the Jewish world has changed dramatically.

A fitting Tisha B’Av rite for the postmodern Jew should embrace the themes of loss, destruction, and weakness while also acknowledging the unprecedented prosperity and security of most Jews today. There is haunting beauty and spiritual richness in sitting on the floor in a dimly lit sanctuary, hearing the cantor chant Eichah. Not to mention that the themes of destruction and exile resonate today in so many places around the world. Tisha B’Av can be an opportunity to cultivate our capacity to care. (As I write this, a refugee team is competing in the Rio Olympics. Look no further than those champions to learn about exile and resilience.)

A balanced Tisha B’Av would include mention of our people’s triumphs as well. We should emphasize what makes the Jewish reality today so different than in 586 BCE (the Babylonian exile) and 70 CE (the Roman destruction). The state of Israel exists as an economic and military powerhouse, and the American Jewish community is more prosperous than ever. Neither is without its challenges, but our crises pale in comparison to our ancient forebears’. Let us feel gratitude for our blessings even as we pledge vigilance in the face of our challenges.

If nothing else, Tisha B’Av is a chance to retell part of our people’s story. The power of storytelling creates a sense of belonging and shared purpose, and even a sense of responsibility to carry on the story. Psychologists who study family storytelling have determined that the most powerful family narrative type is the “oscillating” narrative: We had struggles but we overcame them together. So many of our historical holidays touch that theme. Tisha B’Av is often a missed opportunity to retell part of that story – the ups and downs and everything in between. With some intentional planning and thoughtful implementation, we can honor Tisha B’Av’s origin and make it matter again to the Jews of today.

Rabbi David Segal serves Aspen Jewish Congregation in Aspen, Colorado.