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Tishah B'Av

This year, the 9th of Av falls on Tuesday, August 5th. We shall have services on Monday night, August 4, beginning at 8:30 p.m., and Tuesday morning, August 5, beginning at 7:00 a.m.

Tishah b'Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, is one of the most unjustly neglected days on the Jewish calendar. One reason for this neglect is that it comes in the middle of the summer when school is not in session and synagogues have cut back their activities. A second reason is that it is a fast day and does not convey much of the "joy of Judaism" which many people find particularly attractive. Third, the historical basis for the fast of Av is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (According to tradition, both the First and the Second Temple were destroyed on or about the 9th of Av), and most Jews today are probably just as happy that the Temple and its animal sacrifices are no longer part of Jewish life.

I believe, however, that the observance of Tishah b'Av remains important. First, besides the destruction of the Temples, there are several national calamities associated with the 9th of Av. It is supposed to be the date on which the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness were decreed. It is the date of the fall of the fortress of Betar in the last revolt against the Romans (135 CE), the plowing of the ruins of Jerusalem (136), and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492). By observing Tishah b'Av, we show our solidarity with our people. As our sages said (Taanit 11a), "Those who share in the pain of the community will merit sharing in the consolation of the community".

Second, we should not regard the Temple as an old building only; it was a symbol of the connection between God and the world. With the destruction of the Temple, that connection became harder for our ancestors to feel. Do we not also have trouble perceiving God's presence in the world? The observance of Tishah b'Av can be an occasion for us to give voice to those feelings of cosmic loneliness and to reflect on the possibilities of overcoming it.

Tishah b'Av is a major fast day (like Yom Kippur) observed with abstinence from eating, drinking, bathing, anointing (perfume, etc.), wearing leather shoes, and sexual relations, from before sunset at its beginning until after sunset at its end. It is widely accepted in the Conservative movement to fast until noon only. My own practice and my recommendation, however, are to complete the fast through nightfall. At the evening service, the synagogue is darkened, and worshipers sit on the floor for the chanting of the Book of Lamentations (Eikha), traditionally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, who lived at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. Kinot (poems of lamentation) are also recited.

At the morning service, tallit and tefillin are not worn, since those are considered adornments. The Torah reading is Deuteronomy 4:25-40, and the haftarah is Jeremiah 8:13-9:23, both prophecies of doom (which do not, however, exclude the possibility of repentance); more kinot are recited. At the afternoon service, tallit and tefillin are worn, and Exodus 32:11-14 and 34:1- 10 (including the 13 attributes of God's mercy) and Isaiah 55:6-56:8 (with a lesson about the ethical meaning of fasting) are read. There is a tradition (Talmud Yerushalmi Berakhot 2:4) that the Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av.


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