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Tisha B’Av: A Time for Mourning

Centuries ago, our sages ruled that the destruction of the First and Second Temples would be commemorated together on Tisha B’Av. Early after World War Two, some suggested that Tisha B’Av also serve as the memorial to mark the Holocaust. Other voices won out, identifying the unique aspects of the Holocaust which required its own mourning, its own lessons. In many communities, Holocaust remembrance services bring large crowds, much larger than those who show up for Tisha B’Av services in United States congregations. That is not only because Tisha B’Av falls during the summer months when so many of our congregants, and rabbis, are away on vacation. I think it is also because, living in the shadow of the trauma of the Holocaust, and the theological questions it raises, we find it hard to cope with a holy day that, at its theological center, focuses on a God who allows destruction to occur.


According to the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time and a purpose for everything under the sun. That is true for joy and for sadness. Jews who are connected to the Jewish calendar know that our calendar is filled with joyful opportunities. Sad holidays are truly rare. Each week we celebrate the Sabbath, on which we are prohibited from feeling sadness, even to the degree that the Sabbath overrides shiva, mourning for a loved one. We are commanded to celebrate the three pilgrim festivals–Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot–with joy. We pull out all the stops to make Purim festive; celebrate the lights of Hanukkah; and even rejoice for the trees on Tu B’Shevat.
Once a year, and only once a year, we are commanded to allow ourselves to be depressed, to sit on the ground, barefoot and distraught, mourning for all the pain, torture, death and destruction Jerusalem and the Jewish people have seen throughout the centuries. In a religion that emphasizes life and joy, and for a people who always cling to the hope in a better world, Tisha B’Av is the reality check, the opportunity once a year to see all the pain in the world and mourn for it.
Tisha B’Av remains relevant because the world is not yet perfect, enemies still seek to destroy us, and we remain in exile from our best selves and from unity with a God who cares for us, but whose care is not always present in the world.



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GT

posted July 16, 2007 at 8:34 pm


“Other voices won out, identifying the unique aspects of the Holocaust which required its own mourning, its own lessons.”
They didn’t win out, they just decided to do their own thing and if others came along for the ride, so be it. The spiritual and ritual aspects of mourning for traditionally minded Jews are still only connected with the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. The power of identifying those days as a focus for that energy is that they are used to commemorate the whole experience of being a downtrodden Jew for the last 2,500 years, not just the last 50. I’m not saying that Yom HaShoah is pointless or shouldn’t be observed…I just wonder what kind of lasting power it will have. Will people still be taking it seriously 100 years from now? What spiritual draw or attachment is there to that day that Tisha B’av didn’t have for some many more change-focused Jews?



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Scott R.

posted July 16, 2007 at 9:14 pm


Are you actually saying that the Holocaust will have no meaning for us in 100 years, while what happened 2,500 years ago will?
The Holocaust defines the modern Jew. It lurks in the background – and sometimes the forfront – of our minds, and feeds off the fear it breeds in us.



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linoscript

posted July 16, 2007 at 9:51 pm


Why would it be an issue, either way, whether there is a separate Shoah remembrance day or whether all such mourning takes place on Tisha B’av? I personally am in favor of less mourning, rather than more mourning, but on the other hand, people need opportunities to let out painful emotions, and it might be healthier to do that than repress it. The trauma of the Shoah is very much still with us, I believe, even if we are too young to have known anyone directly affected. What is spiritual about mourning? I believe we come from God into life, and when we leave life, we go back to God. Having lost my father and my father-in-law a few months ago, it seems to me that acknowledging who they were in life, rather than how they died, is the important thing, and I believe they are at peace now. But it is possible I have no idea what I’m talking about, so I make no special claim about these thoughts.



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Debra

posted July 17, 2007 at 12:46 pm


I think that people make big issue out of small things. I am not saying that the holocaust was small by no means but what about the other nationalities, not just jews. Their where more people who died than jews and are not mourned. I also believe that people take out of context what the pope is saying because he is German.If people from all over the world would take people for the morals and not their race it would be a better place.By harboring on the past only brings hatred for others and by this making the jews just as guilty as the germans where back then.



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laura t mushkat

posted July 17, 2007 at 5:28 pm


find myself comming back in spite of it all!
I do not get the part where the author says that we don’t want to focus on a G-d who allows destruction such as what we focus on this “holiday”.
G-d didn’t allow this or any other natural or man made destructions-like floods, huricaines, crusades, holoucaust, inquisition and the like.
G-d made the world, made us with free will and then that was it.
Can not blame good or bad things on G-d. Things happen. Those that are man made are man’s fault. Those that are natural ar just there.
Laura



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Dave

posted July 17, 2007 at 9:12 pm


1/ Unfortunately its true that much of modern Judaism is Holocaust-centered instead of Torah-centered. Will this last? In the 1500’s a lot of Judaism must have been Inquisition/expulsion centered. Has that lasted? Only a bit.
2/ OTOH at least we’re talking about Jewish subjects again. Phew, for a while I was worried that we were going to be endlessly dealing with Christians and with Jews for Judaism and their anti-Jesus-centered Judaism.



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laura t mushkat

posted July 18, 2007 at 11:55 am


Will we keep rememberence of the Holocaust?
Thanks to modern technology we are able to have proof and knowledge about many things that once was more oral or written where only those who were interested would look to read about a occurance. This is why many things just stopped being of importance.
Today we have people doing things so we wont forget. It is done on the local, national and international levels. It is on the internet, museums and in the Jewish and public schools. There are museums. The entertainment industry has and most likely will keep doing things.
It is not as likely to be forgotten therefore for even thousands of years.
Laura



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Lucy

posted July 18, 2007 at 1:47 pm


I suspect services for remeberance of the Holocaust are better attended that those for Tisha B’Av because it is more immediate and real to us. If we did not have family members (however distant) caught in the terror of Nazi Germany, we almost certainly know someone who suffered himself, or had relatives who did.
The destruction of the First and Second Temples took place in a world we cannot really imagine. It almost seems more myth than reality. The Temple is not part of our world and has not been for a very long time. The Holocaust still seems immediate: we see pictures and read the words of people we can imagine knowing. They were from a world not so different from our own.
Lucy



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fred

posted July 18, 2007 at 2:08 pm


I recently heard the following story.
Prior to the time when the Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel, there was an Israeli young woman teaching the young Ethiopian Jewish children about Judaism and Israel (in Ethiopia). At the time of Tisha B’Av she told them about how we mourn the destruction of the Temple. The parents came to the school yelling and screaming at her for lying to their children about the Temple. (Remember they were out of touch with the wider Jewish community.) When she proved to them, that in fact, the Temple had been destroyed they tore their clothes and fell on their faces weeping. You see, the fact that the Temple was destroyed, was, for them, current and devastating.



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Cully

posted July 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm


Laura, I agree that we can not blame bad things on G-d… but Good things? All good things come from G-d. We have free will to choose what G-d had given us or to turn away; and, IMHO when we get good things it’s because we made the choice.



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Cully

posted July 19, 2007 at 4:45 pm


linoscript wrote: “Having lost my father and my father-in-law a few months ago, it seems to me that acknowledging who they were in life, rather than how they died, is the important thing,”
You are so right! There is a poem called, The Dash, and basically it points out that on a tombstone the most important part is the “dash” between the birth date and the death date.



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Di1980

posted July 21, 2007 at 9:32 pm


In answer to this comment:
“I think that people make big issue out of small things. I am not saying that the holocaust was small by no means but what about the other nationalities, not just jews. Their where more people who died than jews and are not mourned. I also believe that people take out of context what the pope is saying because he is German.If people from all over the world would take people for the morals and not their race it would be a better place.By harboring on the past only brings hatred for others and by this making the jews just as guilty as the germans where back then.”
It’s true that millions of other people, besides Jews died during WWII. The war was terrible. The reason Jews believe in Holocaust as being so terrible for them is that because according to the Nazi plans, the whole Jewish nation had to be completely exterminated. That is why remembering Holocaust is so important for us. The purpose of this is not to forever blame the Germans for what happened. It is to try to make sure nothing like this ever happens in the world in any country
In response to the ideas in the articles.
I don’t think G-d should be blamed for Holocaust (and WWII in general). I think the fact that Hitler was defeated was in itself great and i read many books, where Jews say miracles happened during WWII which made them continue believing in G-d etc. I also believe that G-d allows bad things to happen, because he lets people have freedom of choice.. but after the action has taken place, sometimes he can intervene etc. Like when Jews were slaves in Egypt etc.
As for mentioning that The Temple’s destruction isn’t as important for The Jews as The Holocaust: what about The Wailing Wall and millions of people going there every year? Also, many Jews keep Tisha B’Av etc.



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Yehuda

posted July 23, 2007 at 10:44 pm


It seems as though everyone on this post and perhaps the author as well, is missing the main point. If you think that we are mourning the destruction of a building made out of stone, that burned downed centuries ago, you’re all mistaken. Buildings could easily be rebuilt. The tragedy that we mourn is the close relationship that we had with G-d which was severed. Our sages new that the temple was going to be destroyed, and actually saw it as a sign of mercy from the Almighty. He took out his wrath on a building and spared the actual nation from being wiped-out. (Which is why we don’t say many of the standard Selichot on Tisha B’av as we do on other fast days.)
The awesome tragedy is that we live in a world where G-d’s presence is hidden and the entire experience of a Holy Temple where all could sense the Almighty’s hand as being so obvious, is now foreign and somewhat alien to us! If that fact doesn’t overwhelm us with grief (which it should), then we truly are quite distant from the ideal closeness that we once had with our creator. That is why we truly mourn on this day. Not because of a burning building made out of wood and stone. (This thought was a main point frequently emphasized by Rabbi Soloveichik Zt’L)



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proud to be jewish

posted August 17, 2007 at 1:46 pm


just recieved your subscription, did not know real reason why my grandmother came to this country during WWII until I was 36, my
first reaction was,”It is all so clear.” We have an understanding
about our place in the universe which is inherent in us all. Many
are of jewish lineage and do not know it, but demonstrate the same
thoughts. Too bad more people do not pursue their records of ancestry.
with world birth records now on the internet, it is so easy and
inexpensive. many churches now offer this service, would urge others
to share this with all their friends out in the world.



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Stephen

posted December 11, 2007 at 1:33 pm


What about mourning for the pain and suffering experienced by people outside of Jerusalem and Israel?



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