Thursday, July 30, 2009

For Whom do We Mourn

Today is Tisha B’Av. And I have to ask myself, why am I fasting? I don’t care that there isn’t a Bais Hamikdash, and I wouldn’t be particularly happy if the Bayis Shlishi was built. What’s more, the date itself is of dubious significance. The Bayis Rishon may have been destroyed on 9 Av, the Bayis Shaini probably wasn’t, and as for all those other things that are supposed to have happened on Tisha B’Av, most didn’t. Not to mention the many, many tragedies that undisputedly happened on other days. Why then fast today? Why mourn?

Unlike many religious rituals, I think it is relatively easy to find meaning in Tisha B’Av. True, most of the tragedies in Jewish history did not happen today. But once we accept that, and see Tisha B’Av as a day somewhat arbitrarily chosen to commemorate Jewish tragedies, it can have real meaning. Its like Americans celebrating Veterans Day on November eleventh, the day WWI ended. Most of the soldiers in America’s history didn’t fight in WWI, but this is the day somewhat arbitrarily chosen to honor them. Tisha B’Av, whatever its historical significance (or lack thereof) can similarly serve as a day to remember and mourn the people lost in Jewish tragedies.

We mourn today for them:

For the Jews who (may have) suffered in Mitzrayim.

For the Jews killed by the Pilishtim.

For the Jews killed by the Babylonians.

For the Jews killed by the Seleucids.

For the Jews killed by the Romans

For the Jews oppressed and expelled by the Christian governments of Europe.

For the Jews of the Rhine Valley killed during the Crusades.

For the Jews massacred at York.

For the Jews oppressed by the Caliphate.

For the Jews expelled from Spain and who suffered under the Inquisition.

For the Jews killed in the pogroms of Central and Eastern Europe.

For my grandmother, who grew up watching the Nazis march past her parent’s Berlin apartment singing Deutschland Uber Alles, and who’s best friend was killed in Auschwitz.

For my great-grandfather, who’s Iron Cross from WWI lies at the bottom of the North Atlantic, sent there with the rest of his worldly possessions by a German U-boat when it torpedoed the ship on which he was fleeing from the Gestapo.

For my wife’s grandmother, who still has blue numbers on her arm.

For the millions who were not as fortunate as my relatives.

For those persecuted and expelled from Muslim countries in the 1950s.

For those who continue to be persecuted today because they are Jews.

For them we mourn.


  1. Here is the reason I think that the fast is ridiculous, even though I fast, in order to participate in the community:

    It is perfectly reasonable to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, as well as the other items you mentioned. It would also seem reasonable that Jews at the time of the destruction would fast, as an act of repentance and remorse. But fasting is not part of mourning ritual. It is self-imposed punishment. So why should contemporary Jews, who had no part in the so-called sins of the temple era Jews, have to fast/repent? Is it our fault that Jews then were hyprocrites and extremists?

    True, we have our own problems, now, but "fasting" does nothing to change people's current behavior, nor does it have any valid reason for us vis a vis sins from over 2000 years ago.

  2. You may be right about the fasting, but fasting itself isn't really the point. I fast because, as you said, that is what the community does. It is the traditional way to commemorate this day, whatever motivation may have been attached to it. If someone feels that fasting doesn't do anything for him, by all means, don't fast, and do something else that is meaningful.

  3. Very sad but moving post. I am grieving for the Judaism I once had full emunah is like a death...

  4. u believe the jews were enslaved in mitzrayim? from what i understand, the archaelogical evidence suggests there was no jewish enslavement in egypt

  5. Its more accurate to say that there is no evidence that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, but yeah, it pretty unlikely. That's why I put "may have" there.