Dear Rabbi. I told my friend that I detested the Nine Days and Tisha b’Av and wished them away each year. He replied that he didn’t think that was the right approach and that he had read online a rabbi’s blog which said that Tisha b’Av is part of the fabric of the Jewish calendar and we have to affirm the tragic as well as the triumphant experiences of Jewish history. Who is right?
You ask a fascinating question. I must say that in respect of the Nine Days and Tisha b’Av, I believe your approach to be the more correct one.
It is said of the Rebbe R’ Naftali of Ropshitz (1760-1827) who was renowned for his keen intellect and wit that once, as Av was approaching, he stopped a young yeshiva student and asked him Tsi ir est teg — “Do you ‘eat days’”? (It was the custom in former times for out-of-town yeshiva bochurim to eat their main meal with different families each day according to a schedule and this was called essen tag.) The startled boy replied “yes!”. Whereupon the Rebbe shot back: “Then eat up the Nine Days for us. We don’t want them!”
While some of my colleagues will start instructing on the dinim and customs of the Three Weeks with Shavuot barely over, I don’t focus on them until they are virtually upon us. I won’t consider teaching Tisha b’Av until the last few days before. I am in denial until I look at the looming date writ large on the current page of my diary..
We are far too tolerant of Tisha b’Av. It is is the unwelcome intruder into the Jewish calendar, the unloved child of our family of special days… How can a day when we aren’t allowed to greet each other or indeed hear G-D’s voice greeting us through the Torah which we delight in learning throughout the rest of the year be anything other than intolerable?
It is a day that ought to be joyous and triumphant — after all isn’t it designated a mo’ed and don’t we omit Tachanun? But due to our abject failings and in particular to the internecine strife and betrayal that has raged within our peoplehood throughout our history, the word mo’ed (when we read it in Eicha) slaps us bang in the face on this day as a caustic irony.
Our rabbis teach that no covenant ought to be made over Tisha b’Av, hence we omit from our prayers the sentence beginning “And this my covenant” in Uva le-tsion. A covenant implies something fixed and permanent, Hence traditionally flimsy softcover kinot booklets were used for Tisha b’Av because we hoped we wouldn’t be needing them again next year. Why is it then that in our day smart, hardcover kinot editions are routinely printed and widely used?
The answer is: we have not been able to cope with Tisha b’Av as it is meant to be observed and in our day it has been ‘sanitised’ . Often even in the most Orthodox of shuls, videos of charismatic rabbis speaking engagingly and entertainingly on ethical mitsvot or panoramic 3D presentations on Jerusalem are shown on Tisha b’Av. Nowadays we can access innumerable audio-visual presentations specially designed for Tisha b’Av online. All very relevant messages. But isn’t the medium too pleasurable for this day?
Tisha b’Av is meant to be unremittingly mournful. It ought to have no redeeming features. We omit supplicatory prayers because Tisha b’Av itself is beyond supplication, beyond hope.
When sitting shiva for our loved ones we are at least allowed to receive comfort from friends, indeed it is a mitsva for others to comfort us. But on Tisha b’Av we are all mourners and there is no one to comfort us.
Traditionally our ancestors sat on the ground, recited the kinot in a dirge-like voice, sotto voce, internalized the bald misery of the tragedies to which they related without enjoying the cut and thrust of the ArtScroll commentaries and super-commentaries.
But the daily lives of our ancestors of generations ago in der heim were often so wretched that Tisha b’Av was not that much different. I think that if our pampered generation, were forced to observe Tisha b’Av in the way our forebears did, we would truly lift up our voices as we are meant to and say with heartfelt feeling: “Please G-D! Enough! Take away this wretched day from our calendar already!”
As a rabbi once famously remarked: when we are unable to cry bitter tears on Tisha b’Av, this is the greatest tragedy of all!
This year, Erev Tisha b’Av falls on Shabbat. We shall celebrate Shabbat as usual. We shall eat meat, drink wine until just before sunset, sing zemirot even beyond. We shall refuse to let the mournfulness of Tisha b’Av enter us until the moment nightfall hits.
Then before saying Barukh ha-mavdll bein kodsh le-chol, kicking off our leather shoes and lighting the Havdala flame may I suggest we all take a minute out to turn to G-D and say to Him: Dear G-D, our nation is exhausted and spent. We have endured all the blows, the slings and the arrows of our history. We are weak and cannot even observe the fast of Tisha b’Av with the intensity that we used to. Surely it is revealed and known to you G-D that Tisha’b’Av has outlived its usefulness. Take this hateful day away from us already! Even if it is not yet quite Shkia (sunset) on the Friday of world history and destiny, it must surely already be within the time-frame for us to welcome the blessed cosmic Sabbath and attach it to the weekly Shabbat that we have just devotedly observed, to greet our righteous Mashiakh and fly on eagles’ wings together to our homeland where the fast of Tisha b’Av and all it stands for will be just a bitter memory!