Posts

DID JEW KNOW: There’s Another Jewish Holiday This Weekend?

ilana

It’s not what you’re thinking. There’s no joyous family gathering nor tons of delicious food. 

It’s a fast day. 

It’s a time to mourn. 

It’s the saddest day of the Jewish year. 

And no, it’s not Yom Kippur (which, while serious, is meant to be uplifting). 

It’s called Tisha B’Av, and this Saturday night through Sunday (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av) Jews around the world will be marking this day.

Tisha B’Av is a day that Jewish tradition marks as a time to remember and mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the ancient epicenters of Jewish life. The Temples were destroyed first in 586 BCE and then again in 70 CE. Since then, Tisha B’Av has become a most inauspicious day marking other large-scale tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people; the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and again from Spain in 1492, the start of WWI, whose unresolved ending built up to WWII and the Holocaust, and the list goes on. 

Over time, Tisha B’Av has become a symbolic container holding centuries of Jewish history’s darkest moments, and it is traditionally observed by fasting and reading from the book of Lamentations (a biblical book composed after the destruction of the First Temple) while sitting on the floor like mourners. 

Tisha B’Av comes at the height of summer – just when we’re well-practiced in the art of leisure, sitting by our friends’ rooftop pools (I’ve learned that these are good friends to have in DC), or spending time at the beach. In the midst of all this fun – who wants to pause for a day of mourning, let alone fasting? 

As a kid, I dreaded this day. I was at Jewish summer camp when this “holiday” arrived, and with it came a day without swimming, field trips, games, or really anything other than watching Holocaust movies and talking about the never ending cycle of anti-semitism. On top of this, I was not provided any time or space for emotional preparation or reflection. After Tisha B’Av, we’d resume business as usual, so it never quite made sense to me as a summer holiday. 

Furthermore, Tisha B’Av is about commemorating events that are long gone (the Holocaust itself actually has its own memorial day), so it can be hard to feel a genuine sense of loss around them. 

And yet, I think it’s because – rather than in spite of – this emotional disconnect that Tisha B’Av is so vital for each of us to commemorate today. Tisha B’Av is about accepting that significant loss and grief can disrupt our lives and the lives of those around us – no matter what else is going on. It tells us that despite how utterly terrible grief feels, the only way out of it is through it. Unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t like to see people grieve. Oftentimes, people, even our closest friends, don’t know how to respond to our deepest sorrow and pain. They may try to keep it light or remind us that we’re going to be okay, even though we are not ready for a positive mood change just yet. 

In this vein, the author of Lamentations comes to tell us that expressions of grief are an essential and healthy part of the healing process. 

“I cry…tears fall from my eyes: far from me is any comforter who might revive my spirit.”

The very first word of the book, Eicha (which is the Hebrew name of the book), is a question, “How?” as in, “How could this have happened?!” Sometimes, before we get to make meaning out of our loss or figure out what’s next, we can only sit in the shock that has befallen us. We should take time to let our minds consider the unanswerable questions, rather than ask someone for the answers. Reading Lamentations along with other people, which is how Jewish communities read it, may be just what we need to resensitize ourselves to expressions of grief as well as all the anger and fear that can come with it. In this act, we give ourselves permission to feel distraught and/ to support those around us who are in pain as well. 

In addition to asking us to tune into our individualized expressions of grief, Tisha B’Av is a day for grieving major communal losses. While the ancient Temples in Jerusalem were sites for religious devotion, their destruction came via warfare. This brought about the loss of many lives and led to the dispersion of the Jewish people as refugees around the world. Ultimately, it marked the end of their sovereignty and way of life as they knew it then.

But even more than this, the rabbis of Jewish tradition say that the Temples were destroyed because of both external military defeat and a breakdown of internal values that led people to distrust and disrespect one another. Although an external enemy physically destroyed the edifices of Jewish life, they were only able to do so because of a community structure that was already tearing at the seams. 

During a major societal breakdown – such as the destruction of these ancient Temples or the political division of a country like America – it’s not clear how constructive responses will fill the void or when healing will begin. Communal losses are scary, yet we, like those of the past who ultimately reimagined a new Jewish way of life without the Temples, can find the courage to embrace the fears that come with major losses. If we permanently desensitize ourselves to painful feelings because we are tired, frightened, or overwhelmed, we’ll never be able to eventually move forward.

Imagine what it might look like then, for communities, or even a whole society, to set aside a day to bravely mourn the loss of its values and shared commitments. Although we do have Memorial Day in America, this is not usually a day spent in serious introspection about how a people can unite for a greater social good.

By the end of Lamentations, we pray for renewal and change,

“Renew our days as of old!”

Even if we are feeling utterly hopeless in the moment, we pay homage to the fact that we have before, and one day, we will feel hope again. We set aside a day to grieve the patterns of major life-shattering events, together, and see what responses we can generate with time.

This year, I propose that we reclaim Tisha B’Av for what it can be. 

We can read and discuss ancient and modern-day Lamentations with family and friends, such as: Lamentations for the earth, Lamentations for the breakup of immigrant families, or Lamentations for acts of gun violence. We can also join an organized Jewish communal event for a reading, a prayer service or even a protest to mark this day for our losses, our sadness, and our righteous anger. 

Although it may take some commitment to pause from our regular summer weekend plans, we can at least try to courageously lean into the pain of this holiday. If we can, we just may become more open, honest, and ready to take on the pain of our lives, and the pain of our world.

 

ilana

About the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and creating real and meaningful connections with them. When Rabbi Ilana isn’t officially Gathering, she can be found cooking in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on hikes, desperately searching for good pizza in DC (seriously, help her find some!) and watching a lot of tv.

 

 


 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Rabbi Rant: There’s a Jewish Holiday This Week

rabbi rant

This Saturday night is Tisha B’Av, a holiday that is less familiar to many American Jews. On Tisha B’Av, we commemorate the major Jewish calamities that happened on this day, most significantly the destruction of the two Temples. The loss of our “religious home” was coupled with the loss of our actual homes. As we read in Lamentations 5:2, “Our heritage has passed to aliens, our homes to strangers.” Tisha B’Av, then, is also a time to think about being away from the places, people and feelings we associate with home.

I recently got back from a three-week vacation to Tanzania, so, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling and being away from home. The Sfat Emet, a late-19th-century chassidic rabbi in Poland, says that humans are called “travelers” because we “need to always travel from one level to the next level.” Journeys, he says, disrupt our sense of rest and complacency, compelling us to grow.

I don’t take many vacations, certainly not for three weeks at a time, so this past month, I decided it was time to push myself to travel. It was certainly a disruption from my comfortable life here – I climbed Kilimanjaro, “safari-ed” in the Serengeti, and explored Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar. These experiences helped me grow in powerful ways that I’m still processing and trying to understand.

kilamajor

But being “on the go” doesn’t necessarily lead to growth. Traveling can easily become aimless wandering. That’s why, according to the Sfat Emet, we need to balance our “journeys” with our “encampments,” just like the ancient Israelites in the desert. Life is about vacillating between states of rest and restlessness.

Each of us tends to prefer one state over the other. Some yearn to wander, associating it with freedom, the opposite of being “tied down.” Others yearn to feel more grounded, associating wandering with God’s curse to Cain after he kills his brother – “You shall become a ceaseless wanderer on earth.” (Genesis 4:12). This may be a grass-is-greener situation – those who seek to wander often feel stuck, and those who seek to set down roots often feel lost. But I think all of us have both voices within ourselves.

Perhaps, then, Tisha B’Av is a day to confront the downsides of journeying and to make a little space for the part of ourselves that longs for a greater sense of home.

Even Cain, cursed to ceaselessly wander, ultimately settles down, in the land of Nod. Rashi, the famous French commentator on the Torah, explains the apparent contradiction: “Nod is a city of wandering exiles.”

DC can sometimes feel like Nod – a transient city full of wanderers and world travelers. We push off getting our DC license or registering to vote in DC, telling ourselves we’ll only be here for a year or two. We live here, but it’s not home.

Although we may not permanently settle in DC, our lives don’t need to be completely unsettled. Tisha B’Av can be an opportunity to ask ourselves:

  • How can we incorporate more of a sense of stability into our lives?
  • Where have we avoided making commitments, fooling ourselves into thinking we can be just as invested without that commitment?
  • How can we feel more at home, not just in DC but within ourselves?

Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning.  There is sadness and pain in confronting the ways we’ve wandered too much or too far. But Yom Kippur is just two months away, calling us to return to ourselves, to return home.

camping

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Your Guide to Tisha B’Av 2012

With more than 5,000 years of history under our belt, we the Jewish people have collected quite a few holidays and days of significance.

This Saturday nightfall marks the beginning of Tisha B’Av — a 25 hour fast period that commemorates the destruction of the first (586 BCE) and second (70 CE) temples.  The fast begins at 8:23 p.m. on Saturday and ends at 8:55 p.m on Sunday.

For more on the origin of the day, I refer you to the eminently useful and intelligible Wikipedia (Tisha B’Av page), to Harpaul’s essay below on Tisha B’Av, and for more information on the observance of the day, I’ve pasted at the bottom of this post a handy list created by Rabbi Freundel of the Kesher Israel Synagogue— Stephen

Update 7/27/2012: Rabbi Joshua Maroof of Magen David writes about Tisha B’Av.

……………………………………………..

Harpaul Kohli is a local economist, musician, and frequent attendant of Kesher Israel and TheSHUL.

Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) is one of the two big fast days in the Jewish calendar, along with Yom Kippur. But whereas Yom Kippur can be seen as a happy fast, as it represents forgiveness, purity, renewal, and new beginnings, Tisha B’Av is a sad fast, focused on mourning.

Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples. The Second Temple was destroyed (more specifically, set on fire) on Tisha B’Av itself in the year 70 CE. And 655 years earlier (though there are disagreements over whether the calendar omitted years), the First Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’Av.

But the tragedies extend beyond that. Each of the following happened on Tisha B’Av:

  • The Romans defeated the Jewish Bar Kochba rebellion, and Bar Kochba died in 135 CE (100,000 Jews also died around then).
  • King Edward I signed the edict expelling all Jews from England in 1290.
  • The Alhambra Decree expeled all Jews from Spain (Jews had to leave Spanish territories by July 31, 1492).
  • World War I began (Germany declared war on Russia in 1914).
  • Himmler presented the “Final Solution” plan to the Nazi Party in 1940.
  • The Nazis began deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

In short, over more than two millennia, Tisha B’Av has been the date for the two biggest tragedies in Jewish history (the two Temples’ destruction) and many of the other great tragedies. It is for these reasons that it has been set aside as the calendar’s day of mourning above all others.

Tisha B’Av’s status has led to debates over the centuries on how to commemorate other tragedies. Namely, there is a strongly held view that the mourning for all great tragedies should be incorporated into Tisha B’Av.

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), for example, was opposed by many; they said that as Tisha B’Av is the great day of mourning, mourning for the Holocaust should be subsumed under Tisha B’Av.

The aftermath of the Crusades led to a similar debate. Before the Crusades, Jewish life in Franco-Germany was comparatively good. Most Christians were illiterate serfs living difficult lives under the command of their lords. In contrast, Jews were traders and men of commerce; nearly all Jewish men enjoyed basic literacy. But in the Crusades, the Christian soldiers destroyed Jewish cities and killed many Jews. This conflict was seen as a war of religions; many Christians and Jews at the time saw the conflict as one representing whose God who correct, and the Jews were constantly losing, with their lives shattered by the attacks.

The debate following each Crusade was whether to commemorate these sufferings only through Tisha B’Av or to designate Crusade-specific days of commemoration. Over time, the former view mostly won out.

The manner in which the agony of the post-Crusades Jewish community was incorporated into Tisha B’Av is incisively captured by a passage from a Kinnah. Kinnot are the liturgical poems that are read as part of Tisha B’Av services after the reading of the Book of Jeremiah on Tisha B’Av eve and after the Haftarah reading in the morning, and many kinnot said to this day were added to memorialize the Crusades. One kinnah, written by Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg, contains the following passage:

And I will shed tears until they flow like a river that reaches to the
gravesites of your two most noble princes.
They are Moses and Aaron [who were] on Mount Hor.
And I will ask them if there is perhaps a new Torah,
therefore your scrolls have been burnt!
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/maimonides/message/2375

You can see the echo of the “whose God is correct?” debate, expressing “doubts” by the greatest rabbi of his time. This also shows how profound was the suffering of Jews after the Crusades. But despite this, nowadays, we do not have any tangible mourning for the Crusades except as related to Tisha B’Av. (There is the idea that Jewish suffering during the Crusades was especially bad during Sefirah, the period between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, but except for one prayer nothing concrete is done during that time on account of the Crusades.)

The subsuming of mourning for the Crusades into Tisha B’Av is not limited to the day itself. There is a fast three weeks before (one of the four minor fasts of the year), which commemorates the Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem, and the period of time between these two fasts is known as the “Three Weeks” in English and Bain Hamitsarim (“Between the Straights”) in Hebrew. It is a lead-up to Tisha B’Av, with mourning increasing as the time period progresses.

The European Jewish community added commemorations for the calamities of the Crusades by adding new restrictions and mourning practices into this three-week period. Originally, and as still practiced by most Sephardim, almost all restrictions and mourning practices are restricted to the week of Tisha B’Av (eg, not cutting hair, shaving, wearing freshly laundered clothes, not bathing for pleasure) or to the nine days before Tisha B’Av (not eating meat or drinking wine). But to commemorate the Crusades, because they ended up not commemorating them elsewhere in the calendar, the European Jews extended most of the week-of-Tisha B’av restrictions (which originally lasted only 1 to 6 days, and still do for Sephardim, who never experienced the Crusades’ persecutions) to last the entire three weeks, and also added further restrictions.

So this reinforces the status of Tisha B’Av as the fundamental day of mourning of the calendar, so central that mourning for even the worst other periods of Jewish history were subsumed into it. This year, as we observe Tisha B’Av we can reflect on how our mourning ties us together with that of persecuted Jews through the millennia, and afterwards Tisha B’Av, with our shared mourning complete, we can be further grateful for the much better fortunate lives we lead in twenty-first century America.

…………………………………..

From Rabbi Freundel of the Kesher Israel Synagogue.

Laws of Tisha B’Av for 2012

Below are some laws of Tisha B’Av for this year. Note: The following laws are based on Ashkenazi tradition.

Fasting:

  • No eating or drinking from Saturday evening until nightfall the following evening.
  • Pregnant and nursing women are also required to fast. If one suspects it could be harmful to the baby or mother, a rabbi should be consulted.
  • A woman within 30 days after birth need not fast.
  • Others who are old, weak, or ill should consult with a rabbi. (MB 554:11)

Bathing and Washing:

  • Any bathing or washing, except for removing specific dirt — e.g. gook in the eyes is prohibited.
  • Upon rising in the morning, before prayers, or after using the bathroom, one washes only the fingers.
  • Anointing oneself for pleasure is prohibited. (Deodorant is permitted.)

Other Prohibitions:

  • Having marital relations is prohibited.
  • Wearing leather shoes is prohibited. (Leather belts may be worn).
  • Learning Torah is prohibited, since this is a joyful activity. It is permitted to learn texts relevant to Tisha B’Av and mourning — e.g. the Book of Lamentations, Book of Job, parts of Tractate Moed Katan, Gittin 56-58, Sanhedrin 104, Yerushalmi end of Ta’anis, and the Laws of Mourning. In-depth study should be avoided.

Other mourning practices include:

  • Sitting no higher than a foot off the ground. After midday, one may sit on a chair.
  • Not engaging in business or other distracting labors, unless refraining will result in a substantial loss.
  • Refraining from greeting others or offering gifts.
  • Avoiding idle chatter or leisure activities.
  • Following Tisha B’Av, all normal activities may be resumed.

Prayer on Tisha B’Av:

  • Lights in the synagogue are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain is removed from the Ark. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice.
  • The Book of Eicha (Lamentations), Jeremiah’s poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, is read at night.
  • Following both the night and day service, special “Kinot” (elegies) are recited.
  • Since Tallis and Tefillin represent glory and decoration, they are not worn at Shacharit. Rather, they are worn at Mincha, as certain mourning restrictions are lifted.
  • Birkat Kohanim is said only at Mincha, not at Shacharit.
  • Prayers for comforting Zion and “Aneinu” are inserted into the Amidah prayer at Mincha.
  • Shortly after the fast is broken, it is customary to say Kiddush Lavana.

When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat:

When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, as it does this year, the following applies:

Fasting: 

  • The fast is postponed until Sunday.
  • There is no special Seuda Hamafseket before the fast.

Prayers:

  • Tzidkas’cha is not said at Mincha.
  • Pirkei Avot is not said at Mincha.

Kiddush, Shabbat Meals, Seuda Shlishit:

  • Regarding a shul Kiddush, if the kiddush can be held on a different Shabbat, it is preferable to defer it. If the Kiddush cannot be held on a different Shabbat — e.g. for an aufruff (groom prior to his wedding), it is permitted.
  • One may eat meat and drink wine at all the Shabbat meals. One may invite guests to the Shabbat meals.
  • However, one should not invite guests for Seuda Shlishit unless he does so regularly.
  • One may sing zemirot at the Shabbat meals.
  • A communal Seuda Shlishit is not held in shul.
  • One must stop eating and drinking before sunset, since the fast begins at  this time. People should be reminded about this, as it is unlike a regular Shabbat.
  • One May say Grace After Meals after sunset.

Marital Relations:

  • Marital relations are forbidden on Friday night unless Friday night is Mikvah night and women do immerse on that night.

Havdalah / After Shabbat:

  • Havdalah is postponed until Sunday night.
  • All the prohibitions except wearing shoes and sitting on a chair commence at sunset. These two activities are permitted until nightfall.
  • Non-leather shoes should be brought to Shul Friday before Shabbat. One  may not prepare on Shabbat for after Shabbat so soft shoes should not  be brought to shul on Shabbat. It is also forbidden to change one’s  shoes before going to shul, since this is disgracing the Shabbat.
  • At Ma’ariv Saturday night all should say “baruch hamavdil bein kodesh lechol,” the Chazzan removes his shoes, and then say “barchu.” The congregation should respond to “barchu” and then remove their shoes. Care must be taken not to touch one’s shoes when removing them. The Shabbat clothes are not removed until one returns home after Ma’ariv.
  • It is forbidden to smell spices Saturday night, since a person must refrain from such a pleasure on Tisha B’Av.
  • A blessing is recited over a Havdalah candle before the reading of Lamentations.
  • It is forbidden to eat or drink anything before Havdalah after the fast.
  • Only the two blessings “borei p’ri hagafen” and “hamavdil” are recited. The introductory verses are omitted, as are the blessings over the spices and candle.