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The Meaning of Tisha B'av: Why Do We Still Mourn?

Finding Meaning in Tisha B’Av by Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, Director, Tribe Tel Aviv

Dear Friends, tonight is Tisha B'Av, the Ninth day of the month of Av, a day of remembrance and mourning for the tragedies of Jewish history. The purpose of the day is two-fold. The first is to feel the loss of a time when we were sovereign in our land and had the Temple in Jerusalem as a place to go as a place to feel closer to the Almighty. The first part of that loss has been partially restored, we are once more sovereign in our land after 2000 years, and so some people ask do we still need to mourn on Tisha B’Av? We also yearn for the rebuilding of the Temple in order to have a closer connection to G-d as an individual, as a society and as a people. Imagine if we could have the experience of the Kottel, the Western Wall, multiplied exponentially. This deeper connection is still sorely lacking. We believe that restoring this closeness will ultimately bring redemption to the entire world, and that we will be able to construct a world of peace and harmony with less suffering and pain. This is our Messianic ideal, to envision what the world would be if humanity were unified with the G-dly ideals of caring for each other and living in peace.

The second dimension of our mourning is not just feeling the pain of the loss, and the pain of the Jewish tragedies of the past, but it is to feel the pain a broken world. We feel the pain of those who are ill, lonely, in pain, suffering from past traumas and loss. The awareness of our spiritual disconnection and of the suffering in our world should serve as the catalyst to bring about a better world. As the Psalmist says, ‘Those who plant in tears will reap in joy.’ (Psalm 126:5)

The path to a better world starts with us. And so Tisha B’av is meant to be a day of teshuva, of personal change, growth and improvement. We are told that the Temple was destroyed because of needless hatred and fighting within the Jewish community. On Tisha B’Av we reflect on how we can change those past mistakes and find understanding and build bridges with other Jews who do not share our values or goals. This message is especially important given the recent events in Israel with the conflict in the political arena over the future direction of the country. We need to realize that we cannot move forward as one country and one people without understanding the outlook of those who we disagree with. If both sides try to win, they will both lose. We can disagree, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are a family, and families might have disagreements and conflicts, but cannot hate each other. We need to find a middle ground where all can feel that they are still part of the family.

History and customs of Tisha B’Av: On Tisha B’Av the First and Second Temples and the city of Jerusalem where destroyed, events that occurred 500 years apart. Additionally, on this day, numerous other tragedies in Jewish history occurred, including the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the outbreak of World War I, which contributed to the Holocaust. The custom is to dedicate the day to mourning over the tragedies of Jewish history that occurred on this day and throughout the year. At night we read the book of Lamentations (Eicha) written by the prophet Jeremiah about the destruction of the First Temple in the year 586 by the Babylonians. During the day of Tisha B'Av we read the Kinot, a book of poems about the numerous disasters that happened to the Jewish people from the times of the Torah to the middle ages and even to the Holocaust.

We reinforce our sense of loss by observing the customs of mourning which include sitting on the floor and not tending to our physical comforts such as washing. We also fast on Tisha B’Av for the whole 24 hour period, like on Yom Kippur. In synagogue the lights are dimmed to reinforce the sober mood. In order to keep our focus on the seriousness of the day, when not in synagogue, it is also fitting to read books or watch movies about Jewish history and the holocaust. After noon tomorrow we can start going about our daily business, but continue to fast until nighttime. May we all have a meaningful day.

Here are some live streams of the services and talks on Tisha B’av:

YU Webcast of Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schachter at –

OU Webcast of Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersch Weinreb at (US hours)

More about Tisha B’Av:

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