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Understanding Tisha B'Av

Posted Fri, 07/16/2021 - 09:44 by Robert

Tisha BAv translates literally to the ninth of the Hebrew calendar month of Av, the date upon which the calamities it marks are said to have fallen, sometimes centuries apart. Traditionally, the suffering of the Jewish people is literally and metaphorically assigned this date. The delay of entrance to the Holy Land, destruction of both temples, the massacres of crusading armies, persecution of the Inquisition, and the Holocaust, are mourned on this day. For instance, Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290, France on 22nd July 1306 and Spain on the 31st July 1492 (or the 9th, 10th and 7th of Av respectively).

Tisha B’Av is therefore characterised by a deep and unique sorrow, unlike any other Biblical or Rabbinic holy-day. It is dedicated not to a cycle of challenge and salvation, but to cumulative moments of catastrophic desertions of human and divine alike. Tisha BAv is a reservoir of tormented Jewish memories.

For some Jews this sadness is demonstrated through practices. Many Jewish healthy adults do not consume food or drink for the duration of the 25 hour fast, nor wear leather shoes or wash themselves. These ritualistic acts of depression, rather than a pantomime of true suffering, induce and release the emotions of distress and wretchedness which are an integral element of the human experience.

It is not often in our world we seek out sadness. Everywhere we weed it from our fantasies. It is true that to live only feeling and expressing perpetual sadness is to be hopeless; and as peoples of faith - faith in G-d, and faith in each other - this is untenable. Nevertheless, there are horrors to which there is no other appropriate response but inconsolable grief.

At a time in which a virus plagues the most vulnerable the world over, Tisha B’av invites us to weep and wallow within its walls. Suffering, often inexplicable and unintelligible, is also real and withering. It demands a day to be seen unmitigated in its overwhelming force.

Tisha B’Av asks ‘why?’, and yields to the misery of a deafening silence.

Avigail Simmonds Rosten
CCJ Jewish Programme Manager