Friday, July 20, 2018

Thoughts on the 9th of Av-Keeping the peace within the Jewish people.

 Modern Jews have trouble dealing with the tragedies of Jewish history. People often tell me that they feel that the sages focused too much on tragedy claiming how it spoils our attitudes towards a positive viewpoint towards being Jewish.
This time of the year is especially geared to remembering tragic episodes in Jewish history. Tomorrow begins the fast day called Tisha B’av or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av when we remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the anniversary of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 in which the edict was signed expelling Jewish from the Iberian Peninsula.
 We started this series of remembrances by signaling on the 17th day they Hebrew month of Tammuz on June 30th. From this time until July 20th we remember the process by which the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem of the Second Temple in 70CE.  During this interval time leading up to the 9th day of AV, no marriages are performed. This period is called “The Three Weeks.” 
a. Some customs are no eating meat or drinking wines during this period.
b. One is not allowed to say the Shechiyanu prayer
c. No purchasing any new garments.
d. Parents or teachers may not chastise their children during these days.
e. No haircuts during these days for adults or children.
f. The day before the 9th of Av one should not travel for any pleasure.
Laws on the 9th of Av
  1. Be uncomfortable when going to bed.
  2. Do not wear tephillin
  3. Go to services and pray with tears of sadness.
  4. Read the biblical book of Lamentations.
  5. Study the book of Job
  6. A pregnant woman or nursing woman should try to fast.
  7. A woman from the 7th-30th day after birth is encouraged to fast as long as she feels she can do so.
  8. A sick person who is not dangerously ill may fast even if it is for a few hours.
  9. No washing of the body for pleasure. Health purposes is fine.
  10. 10.A woman may not enter the mikveh on the eve of Tisha B’av so that she will not be obligated to have sex that night and through the next day.
  11. 11.No wearing of leather shoes
  12. 12.No marital relations
  13. 13.Business transactions are forbidden until midday.
  14. 14.Work is allowed after midday.
  15. 15.No sitting on a chair until midday.
  16. 16.One may perform a circumcision after midday.

I think we get the point of how serious our sages took these days and how they wanted the Jewish people to feel the pain of exile and loss as part of what it means to be a Jew. This led to the debate in modern times that Tisha B’av would suffice to include the commemoration of the Holocaust. Yet, the state of Israel decided differently and introduced Yom HaShoah in April on the hebrew date commemorating the Warsaw ghetto rebellion against the Nazis.

We also have an additional issue for liberal Jews with regard to the Ninth of AV.  In 1885 when the Reform
Rabbinate developed their first platform of ideas that would guide
Reform Judaism for over 130 years these sages disavowed the return Palestine and the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple. We have come a long way since then when it comes to Zionism. Reform Jews, however, still do not aspire to hold rebuilding the Temple and the sacrificial cult alongside it as a theological goal.
As a matter of fact many Jews especially secular Jews and not only Reform Jews, believe that we do not need Tisha B’av anymore since we have a Jewish state.
Just go to the main plaza of the Western Wall  on Tisha B’av and see the amazing contrast between how the ultra Orthodox stand at the wall and pray with prayers of mourning. Yet the overwhelming rest of the people who fill up the plaza are practically in a celebratory mood. What a paradox!

Many Rabbis today will quote from the Talmudic dictum that the Temple was not just destroyed by the Romans in 70CE but the real cause for the destruction of our most sacred institution was that the Talmud says we were cast into exile because of sinat hinam or baseless hatred within the Jewish people. In other words the teaching has been that because we were divided amongst ourselves we became vulnerable to the Romans. So the idea is that if we are divided today then we too are vulnerable to the same fate as our forbearers. Unfortunately this idea has a lot of relevance to the tensions Israel has these days between ultra orthodox and Reform and Conservative Jewry as well as secular Jews in Israel today. The most recent example is the new bill that the Israeli Knesset passed this week that has, through new directives and policies, fortified the Jewish character of the state of Israel. Whereas opponents of this bill  claim that this new legislation will diminish Israel a pluralistic and democratic state.

The first chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy which are read this Shabbat remind us of how important it is to remember history. Moses outlines the history particularly about the years of wandering in the desert and headed towards the Promised Land. Again Moses is trying to instill in the minds of the first and second generations about to enter the Promised Land a feeling for the past mistakes and triumphs. He too saw how baseless hatred could threaten the inner fabric of this new people chosen by God to introduce Torah to the world.

Mourning the catastrophes of our people’s past is appropriate. Having rituals that help us stay connected spiritually to that past is also fitting.
Reform Judaism may not be able to reconcile the hope to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem again. But we can make Tisha B’Av the ninth of Av a holy day which reminds us of not letting ourselves be the cause of infighting. History has taught us the results when a nation turns against itself and how it can subject its population to suffering at the hands of new oppressors. It is a good lesson for the leaders of Israel today and for our leaders in this country.

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