June 2018

I was recently asked about the importance of Tisha B’Av or the 9th day of the Av in the Jewish calendar. Most people aren’t familiar with it as it falls during the summer months. On the other hand, most Jewish campers do know about Tisha B’Av as it is the day when most of the activities are curtailed and some people fast for part or the whole day. It’s supposed to be a “sad day” and something connected with the destruction of the Great Temple in Jerusalem.  Both correct but there’s so much more to the 9th Day of Av. So, even though Tisha B’Av starts the eve of July 21st and is a month away, I would like to share some thoughts about this important and meaningful day.

Aside from Yom Kippur, Tisha B’Av is the only other 25-hour fast day. It is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar year because, according to tradition, both the First and Second Great Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this very day. The First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E and the Second by the Romans in 70 C.E. The Jews were officially exiled from Jerusalem and the Land in both instances. Incidentally, many other horrendous events have befallen the Jewish people on the 9th of Av, including the expulsion of the Jewish from Spain in 1492, sacred book burnings or major pogroms.

It is a full day fast. And even on the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av, one refrains from eating meat, except on Shabbat. There are those who also don’t shave or get a haircut during this time.  Many times, I’m asked by parents or a couple about the dates during the summer when weddings can’t occur. There are no weddings during the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av .

The central part of the evening service of Tisha B’Av is the reading of Megillat Eicha or The Book of Lamentations.  It is attributed to the Prophet Jeremiah, who lived at the time of the First Temple’s fall.  Eicha contains some of the most depressing and horrifying descriptions of a city’s destruction you can find. Even the Eicha trope or melody is mournful. Many people listen to it while sitting on low stools or on the floor, which is a sign of mourning.  Tisha B’Av takes on many of the traditional mourning customs. Bottom line: it is not a day for fun, hence the challenge with being at a Jewish summer camp!

One interesting fact about Tisha B’Av is that there are no formal restrictions from doing work. Granted, it is hard to work when you are hungry all day! After services, I usually take the time to do things that are certainly not “joyous,” like cleaning my garage!  At the end of the day, though, there is a break-fast, like with the end of Yom Kippur.  The funny thing is that fasting on Tisha B’Av helps me prepare for the Yom Kippur fast over eight weeks later.

Although the day represents our loss of the Great Temples and our exile for the last 2000 years, Tisha B’Av  , according to tradition, is the day that the Messiah will be born. This tells us that out of darkness and destruction can come hope and joy.  It is this hope that has kept the Jewish people alive and faithful for over 2000 years. The Tisha B’Av service is at TBS this year and is jointly held with Temple Israel. Again, it is on Saturday, July 21st at 9 PM.

Rabbi, Dr. Laurence Bazer