Tisha B'Av - Why You Should Care

One of the most difficult, profound and ignored days on the Jewish calendar falls this Sunday - Tisha B'Av (the Ninth of the Jewish month of Av). Outside of the Orthodox ciommunity Tisha B'Av rarely gets a mention and I'd guess that for the majority of Jews, it will once again come and go almost unnoticed, which is really sad, because no other date in the Jewish calendar (other than perhaps Passover) has had such a profound impact on the Jewish people, one that is still felt to this day - you know the expression "whatever doesn't break us, makes us stronger"? Well that's Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av commemorates a historical event (well two actually), the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem and the long exile that followed. The 1st Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians 2,500 years ago, and the 2nd by the Romans in the year 70ce. 

You may love lighting the candles on Chanuka more than fasting on Tisha B'Av, but  you probably would not be here if they hadn't happened and the Jewish people as we know them now, certainly would not exist.

clinton.jpgHad it not been for the terrible events of Tisha B'Av, we would not have become the "Wandering Jews" -  our nearly two thousand year history of expulsions, pogroms, massacres and the Holocaust would never have happened. There would be no Ashkenazi or Sefardi Jews, no Yiddish,  no Hillel, not even the Jewish son-in-laws of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton! all of that came about because of what we commemorate on Tisha B'Av. 

Before the destruction of the Temples, we were a people, divided into 12 tribes, who lived in the land of Israel, with a religion that focused on the land and on the great Temple in Jerusalem, where we brought sacrifices every day to our G-d, who had brought us out of Egypt.

After the destruction of the Temple, we became a landless people scattered around the globe at the mercy of the local peoples. Our  religion focused around local synagogues, prayer services, and study of Jewish texts. We became a people who have lived many places, and still managed to build incredible communities, (most of which survived just  a few generations). The Jewish religion as we know it today exists only, because of the awful events we remember on Tisha B'Av.

Personally I have always thought that in a way Tisha B'Av is also  a  tribute to our ancestors - the Jews of the year 70ce: It is because of those survivors of the disaster that we even know that we are Jews today - If you think about it, just about the only thing we know about them  is that they carried into exile from Israel the knowledge of who we are and where we came from, and they passed it on with such passion and such hope that we would hear their message, that we still know that we are the Children of Israel, and as a people we have preserved our language, and our customs, as well as knowledge of what our faith was like before the exile, and we have preserved our longing for where we started - Israel. Imagine the depth of the sorrow and loss that our ancestors must have felt, if they were able to transmit it for close to 500 generations of Jews!

Even now, as we finally return to that very land they were forced out of, and as we rebuild their cities, and speak our ancient language once more,  we see the struggle of Jews still in exile - struggles such as how to maintain a meaningful Jewish identity, to deal with antisemitism,  and to find our way home.

So Tisha B'Av is a day we must stop ignoring - it isn't an easy day, as we fast, read accounts of the end of the Temples and try to recapture the sense of loss and desperation that our ancestors experienced, but if we want to know who we are as Jews in 2016, then we need to understand, internalize and experience Tisha B'Av and all it represents.

 

Tags: Judaism, exile, Tisha B'Av, 9th Av