Do we still need Tisha B’Av?

Today is Tisha B’Av. Today we commemorate. We commemorate the tragedy of the 12 spies in the desert, of whom 10 spoke out against entering the Promised Land. We commemorate the destruction of the 1st and the 2nd temple. We commemorate the murder of 100’000 Jews in the destruction of Betar, and we commemorate the plowing of the site of the Temple and its surroundings by Turnus Rufus a year after. Five Tragedies that have befallen our people and that have decisively changed the course of our fate. But these five occurrences have something else in common as well: they are age-old! While the Story of the spies is over 3000 years old, the most recent of these events dates back 1880 years. That’s a long time to mourn someone or something. Nevertheless, every year we fast, we pray, we mourn. But I cannot help to ask myself if that is reasonable. None of us has experienced any of this; none of us knows what it was like to stand in the desert or to have a temple towering in the centre of Jerusalem and none of us can possibly relate to any of this, even with furthest stretch of our creative minds. In order to facilitate our relation to this sad day and to get our tears running on command, we add the holocaust and several other personal or communal disasters to the list. But the core of this day stays the same: we mourn that which is far beyond our reach and we embed an imaginary memory into our minds. But to what end? Shouldn’t we get to the conclusion that Tisha B’Av is outdated? That Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoa suffice as days of remembering and mourning our lost ones?

When reading through the Bible the behaviour of individuals or entire populations can be incomprehensible at times. The stories of Tisha B’Av are part of these questionable decisions that have accompanied us through history. When the Jewish people was formed in the desert, they rose like a phoenix from the ashes. Born as slaves, G-d took them under his wing and carried them through the ten plagues, through the splitting of the red sea and let them live a miraculous lifestyle in the desert. This culminated in Matan Torah and an unbreakable bond between G-d and our people. G-d had earnestly won the peoples trust. But parallel to this course of action another process was in the making: the rebellion of the groomed nation. What started with complaints about nutrition and comfort went on to become a betrayal of their saviour. Just 40 days after Sinai the Jews made the golden calf. And after hard won forgiveness, thanks to humble and selfless Moses, the rebellion continued and reached its own climax a year later. It is puzzling and irritating to our naked eyes how ten out of twelve supposedly great ministers could badmouth what the Lord had named the Promised Land. Each and every one of us could have never made this kind of mistake after all that God had done for us. Yet they did.

And what about the story of Kamtza bar-Kamtza that according to the Midrash led to the destruction of the second temple? In the story a big feast takes place with well respected and noble rabbis seated shoulder to shoulder. The crème de la crème. A quite quarrel erupts on the sidelines between the host and bar-Kamtza, who was mistakenly invited but not welcome. The intruder begs to save face but is denied in front of all guests who keep quite throughout. To avenge the injustice and the silence on the part of the noblemen he works out a plan to turn the Romans against the Jews. Looking back on this, any involved party could be blamed for the outcome of this evening. The overly proud host who wasn’t able to channel his emotions in the right direction, the silent sages whom turned their faces instead of preventing the public embarrassment of an individual, or the insulted victim who was so blind with rage that he let an entire people pay the price for the sins of few. Small actions that brought about big catastrophes. And we are left with nothing else than the baffling feeling of how? How could these characters act the way they did? Could they not have foreseen the consequences of what they were doing?

When recounting these stories it is astounding how distanced these events are in terms of calendar years but how close they are to present day conflicts. How even after 2000 years of exile it took a holocaust to spur the longing for our Promised Land. How even after we finally receive a Homeland, our interior conflicts overshadow the ones with the enemy. How one section of society embarrasses and blames the other one for all their problems and wrongdoings and vice versa. And worst of all, how the supposed sages turn their heads and choose to remain silent while a fratricide is knocking on our door.

The question arises, how our descendants will commemorate Tisha B’Av in a few centuries from now. Will they see our generation as a united people, wise and talented, that knows how to cease an opportunity granted by God, or will they see another chapter in the book of Tisha B’Av failures?

Maybe that is why Tisha B’Av is not dead. Maybe we need long past events, long gone characters and long lost opportunities of which we are emotionally detached in order to highlight the mistakes made and the consequences they brought along. Maybe we will realize that their mistakes are our mistakes and maybe, just maybe, we will do so in time to prevent them. Maybe we don’t commemorate in order to remember the past, but to improve the future.

התנערי, מעפר קומי, לבשי בגדי תפארתך עמי, על יד בן ישי בית הלחמי, קרבה אל נפשי גאלה.

About the Author
Uriel Bollag is an uncategorized Jew, who was born and raised in Switzerland and now lives in sunny Tel Aviv. He is an unconditional adherent of constructive critical thinking and believes the world is a dynamic place in which there is no room for stagnancy.