BY RABBI STEPHEN LEWIS FUCHS , 7/20/2015
I had never even heard of Tishah B’Av until I was 12 years old and participating in the inaugural season of the Camp Institute for Living Judaism (later to renamed URJ Eisner Camp) in Great Barrington, MA. Since then, I have struggled with the significance of this day for me as a Reform Jew.
On Tishah B’Av, traditionally observant Jews fast in memory of the two magnificent Temples of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. The day also commemorates other historical tragedies. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews of Europe and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took place on that date. Tishah B’Av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
The destruction of the two Temples and the exile of Jews from our sacred land that followed were occasions of death and suffering, so sorrow is an appropriate means of commemoration. Certainly, all the other historical tragedies associated with that date are important to remember, too.
On the other hand, the destruction of the Temple ended the control of a hereditary priestly class over Jewish life and ended animal sacrifice as our chief way of communicating with God. Today, only ultra-Orthodox Jews would like to see the restoration of the Temple and the practices associated with it.
How can we reconcile the remembrance of genuine tragedy with the growth and development of the Judaism that the destruction of the Temple made possible?
I observe a fast on Tishah B’Av until midday, when I study the traditional text for the day, the biblical Book of Lamentations. Then, at 1:00 p.m., I partake of a midday meal in which I express gratitude for the Judaism that has been bequeathed to us over the years, a Judaism that no longer slaughters animals and sprinkles their blood as a sign of gratitude or as a petition to God. I celebrate the fact that a Judaism without the Temple and its hereditary priestly class has been replaced by a Judaism that, through study, prayers and acts of kindness, calls on each of us in our own way to make the world a better place.
Tishah B’Av, for me, is also the day when I begin preparing for the period of introspection culminating in the rituals of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Impetus for beginning the process of repentance comes from the middle of the book of Lamentations: “Let us search and examine our ways and return to the Eternal One!” (Lamentations 3:40)
For Reform Jews, Tishah B’Av can be both a day of mourning and a day of joy. We mourn for the destruction of the Temple, but we rejoice that we have developed strong and resilient ways to thrive as Jews. Mourning the tragedies of the past we let us search and examine our way forward and face the future with hope and courage!
About the Author
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is the author of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives. He is the former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT.
View all posts by Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
CATEGORIES: Jewish Holidays, Tishah B’Av
6 thoughts on “How Should Reform Jews Observe Tishah B’Av? (published on URJ.ORG)”
Rabbi, would you also agree that doing things to address crisis and disconnection in our communities is an appropriate activity for Tisha B’Av? (Such as working in a soup kitchen, for example.)
I definitely agree, Adam. Thank you!
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Reblogged this on Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives and commented:
I want to share this essay again as Tisha B’Av (the ninth day ay of the Hebrew month of Av approaches.
As an Israeli Jew (a liberal Jew) I find the word “rejoice” totally inappropriate for Tisha be-Av. Couldn’t you find another day? What about the thousands & thousands of Jews who were killed, enslaved, & exiles at that time? I doubt if your feeling is “out of sight out of mind”.
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Thank you Zvi, for your comment. Indeed, I mourn the tragedies you reference and that I reference in more explicit detail in my essay. But yes, in the afternoon I also rejoice for the way Judaism has evolved. I rejoice that we no longer slaughter animals and burn them on an altar thinking the Eternal One would find pleasure in such barbarism.