Five Ways Tisha B’Av is Meaningful for Reform Zionists
Tisha B’Av holds meaning in our lives. As Reform Zionists, we can find spiritual and relevant ways to commemorate this day. We give you five ways that Tisha B’Av can resonate with you.
The fast of Tisha B’Av falls on Sunday, August 14. It is a somber date in the Jewish calendar, and potentially has deep significance for us as Reform Zionists.
What is Tisha B’Av? According to the Talmud (Ta’anit 26b), five historical calamities struck our people on this date, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the crushing of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, and the plowing-over of Jerusalem by the Romans as it was converted into a pagan city.
But Tisha B’Av isn’t just about history (just as Passover and Hanukah are not “just” about history). The brilliance of the Rabbis is the way they spiritualized history and filled it with religious power for subsequent generations.
In that spirit, here are 5 ways that mourning on Tisha B’Av should be meaningful to today’s Reform Zionist:
Five Ways that Tisha B’Av is still relevant for Reform Zionists
- The Kotel is a symbol of Jewish survival and loss. The most enduring symbol of that era when Jerusalem was demolished is the Western Wall. It remains a spiritual magnet for Jews today. The fight for religious freedom at the Kotel—the struggle to create a zone for egalitarian worship embraced by the Reform and Conservative movements and Women of the Wall—is the determination to say that all of us have a legitimate place in the history of the Jewish people.
- Senseless hatred [sinnat hinam] destroyed the Second Temple. Such was the assertion of the Rabbis in the Talmud. Our lives can feel surrounded by sinnat hinam—in Israel, America, and around the world—where intellectual or political adversaries are demonized or worse. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, z”l, by a religious zealot at a time when violent rhetoric filled the political airwaves, should be recalled on Tisha B’Av. His memory should be a warning to us all that the Talmud was correct: violent words and senseless hatred ultimately leads to destruction.
- Fanticism run amok causes devastation. Just as religious fundamentalism is a menace throughout the world, Jewish extremists are a danger to the well-being and security of the State of Israel. Here is one face of religious violence, as a haredi man rips up a Women of the Wall siddur—an act of Hillul Ha-Shem (desecration of God’s name)—to the cheers of onlookers. The Talmud already warned us, two thousand years ago, that the obstinacy of zealots led to the destruction of the Temple and exile from the Land (Gittin 56a-56b).
- Exile from Jerusalem is exile from one another. . Exile is an existential concept of being detached from our source—and of being detached from one another. In Judaism, one cannot love God and simultaneously treat other people with disgrace. The well-known Talmudic tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which triggered the events leading to the destruction of the Temple, is ultimately about our willingness to dehumanize other people. In a world where human beings are so easily turned into “human resources,” that should trigger profound reflection. Was the Temple destroyed just because Bar Kamtza was not allowed in to his neighbor’s party? Perhaps the message of the story is that God is saying: My Temple is a place for intimacy between Me and human beings; since they are already exiled from one another, I will exile Myself from them!
- Tisha B’Av is about exile from Jerusalem. Shai Agnon, upon accepting the Nobel Prize in 1966, declared, “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.” We are reminded on Tisha B’Av more than ever that we are estranged from the “Jerusalem on High”—the Yerushalayim shel Ma’ala—that, for the sages, symbolized the world the way it was meant to be. Longing for Jerusalem—the city named for shalom—is a hallmark of lovers of Zion in every generation.
Tisha B’Av is loaded with religious power that speaks to our own reality. It is somber in ways that call for careful consideration of our own generation’s sins. But in the sorrow of Tisha B’Av there is also hope, and for a people whose anthem is hope—HaTikvah—there could no clearer call for renewing our Zionist ideals than the Talmud’s words: “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem in her time of sorrow will rejoice with her in her time of joy” (Talmud, Ta’anit 30b).