Facing a Broken Country on Tisha B’Av

The fast day Tisha B’Av presents a challenge to today’s Jews. Historically, we mourn the capture and destruction of Jerusalem and of the Holy Temples in ancient times. And yet today, Jerusalem is not only rebuilt, but expanded beyond belief. And we have beautiful synagogues in Israel and around the world, albeit without animal sacrifices (if that’s your thing…no judgement). And so the relevance of the days leading up to Tisha B’Av and of the fast itself becomes questionable.

This is not the only time period in which Tisha B’Av was being questioned or reexamined. The Talmud (Megilla 5b) suggests that Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi wanted to cancel the holiday (and there is then a discussion about whether he meant to do away with the fast, or just in years when it falls on Shabbat). In the years after the Holocaust, there was a movement to integrate remembrance of the Shoah into the religious observance of Tisha B’Av, while Israel went down the road of creating Yom HaShoah as a separate and secular day of remembrance. And the Talmud and Midrash posit the idea that the seeds of redemption took root even on Tisha B’Av as the Temple was being destroyed (and that Tisha B’Av itself will, in the future, become a festive holiday).

Exiting my Shabbat this week and finding that another act of domestic terror had taken place in the United States moved me further to seek meaning of the “Nine Day of Av” that we are in the midst of. What can we learn and do that reflects this period on the Hebrew calendar and that responds to today’s challenges and disasters? My suggestion: As the fast’s historical commemorations seem less relevant, Tisha B’Av’s metaphorical significance becomes more important than ever:

Tisha B’Av recognizes the eternal challenge of brokenness of communities, cultures and countries.

In ancient times in Israel and Jerusalem, it was the political brokenness of loss of self-governance, and the religious brokenness of loss of a central focus of spiritual life that was to be commemorated.

For me, as an American Jew, it is the brokenness of our society that has lost its way and is allowing and even promoting the sinat chinam, baseless hatred, that the rabbis of ancient times blamed the destructions on. And more specifically, we face the brokenness of a culture that places the “right” to purchase firearms with minimal screening and to own firearms that are designed specifically for destruction and not for protection above the rights of people to live in safety.

What do we, as American Jews, need to do during this period?

  • Update the tradition of examining how we communicate with others, and expanding it to examine the values that our elected leaders, media figures, and even social media connections are promoting. There can be no neutrality. Everyone is either part of the solution to what ails our society or is part of the problem itself. Weed out the haters from public office and from your own networks.
  • As we give tzedaka during this period, continue to give, but also to look at what the causes we support are and how they are helping to rebuild and to anchor us in the values we believe in.
  • Move from theoretical rebuilding of the Temple to practical action to rebuild every culture in which we are part.
  • Recognize that America is in crisis and that each of us living here must respond. The Temple’s destruction led to the re-invention of Judaism through the rabbis and their literature.  Today, we must all join in a renaissance of values-based society through practical action (including but not limited to political action) to bring the United States back to sanity and civility.
  • And, most practically, act for sensible gun laws that protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns while reducing the odds of guns being used in domestic terror,  and in racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ mass attacks.

Through our actions over these days, may we bring an era of positive values and security back to our country. May we all rebuild the broken spaces together.


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