Is Tisha B’Av relevant to Jews today? What importance does fasting on 17th of Tamuz have or refraining from listening to music during the three weeks that bridge these two days in recalling the destruction of the First and Second Temples and many other persecutions of the Jewish people? And is it time to acknowledge the sorrow now that we have a vibrant State of Israel and the rebuilt capital of Jerusalem?
Daniel Greyber asks a provocative question, “Should We Transform Tisha B’Av from Fast to Feast?” Greyber – more accurately, Rabbi Greyber – quotes from the Book of Lamentations, written after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE “Her enemies are now the masters, / Her foes are at ease because God has afflicted her.” But didn’t the prophet Zechariah predict that one day Israel’s fast days “will be for the house of Judah joy and gladness.” When? When Jews have sovereignty, as we do now!
And yet, the rabbi continues to fast. Why? Because he is not ready embrace Zionism’s “willingness, even desire, to forget Jewish history. … Our challenge is to create an approach to Judaism that is neither so tethered to the past that we deny the miracles unfolding before us, nor so disdainful of history that we forget our identity and the gift of an ancient tradition.”
Anshel Pfeffer of Ha’aretz goes a step further. He says that it is actually wrong to fast on Tisha B’Av. He gives two reasons: “For a decade now, there has not been one Jew around the world who was not free to return to Zion.” And after the Six Day War, the decision was made not to blow up the mosques which could have made way for construction of the Third Temple. Certainly Israel would have paid a heavy price had it attempted to do so. Nonetheless, the country could have but decided not to.
“Mourning on the Ninth of Av in this day and age flies in the face of both secular Zionism and religious Zionism,” says Pfeffer. “The exile is over, and the temple has not been rebuilt because we don’t want to do it.”
Historian Yisrael Ne’eman takes a different stand. “As one who is secular and can state categorically that he pretends not to know the nature of God, or even of His existence, let it be stated here that should we forget, ignore or downplay Tisha B’Av, we not only endanger our collective Jewish being, but undermine any Zionist identity or endeavours we may call our own.” Ne’eman argues that Zionists have done themselves a disservice by rejecting 3,500 years of Jewish history. “The collective Jewish spiritual being must designate Tisha B’Av as a form of a national Yom Kippur where we scrutinize our behaviour towards ourselves and others.”
“The point of the day is not to wallow in pointless grief or melancholy, writes Slovie Jungreis-Wolff. “Judaism guides us to always live with a sense of purpose. Take the sadness and use it as a catalyst to rebuild. Replace destructive emotions with constructive actions. Resolve that today will bring us opportunity to realize our spiritual potential.”
David Janus asks how one is supposed to mourn for Jerusalem when the city “is now home to more Jews than ever before in its history, it is a city filled with synagogues and houses of study, it is a city filled with light and with life.” And then Janus answers his question we he says, “we mourn for the loss of spirituality in individuals. We mourn because so many people do not realize what is missing in their lives, we mourn because so many people do not have within themselves the notion of the divine. We mourn because Jerusalem is not completely rebuilt.”
Rabbi Michael Gold caught my attention when he admitted, “I am not a very good faster. In fact, I confess that I allow most of the minor fast days of the Jewish calendar to pass without notice.” But for Rabbi Gold, Tisha B’Av is important. “Tisha B’Av is a difficult fast. Some Jews fast only part of the day, maintaining that with the rebirth of Israel the sadness is mitigated. I still fast a full day. We Jews need one day of mourning. My hope is that the day becomes an opportunity to create rituals and memories, and also a time of soul searching and resolve. On Tisha B’Av we can learn to improve ourselves, and to improve the world.”