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Jonathan Muskat

Tisha B’Av, Tu B’Av and Dara Horn’s Algorithm

What is your algorithm? Jewish tradition is a master at manufacturing happiness and sadness. Last week we manufactured sadness and this week we manufacture happiness. However we are feeling in the midst of a summer filled with vacations, barbecues and fun outdoor activities, we manufacture sadness in varying degrees for three weeks culminating in an annual day of mourning on Tisha B’Av. But how sad can we truly feel if we know that a week later, on Tu B’Av, the fifteenth day of Av, we are supposed to be so joyous that Rabban Shimon Gamliel commented that it is one of the two happiest days of the year? (Please see here for a perspective of the real nature of Tu B’Av.) Since we know in advance that we must manufacture happiness on certain days and sadness on other days, how authentic are these feelings of happiness or sadness? We are commanded to feel a certain emotion on certain days, but are those feelings real? And if they are not, then what is the point of it all?

When I think about how Jewish tradition manufactures sadness and happiness from Tisha B’Av to Tu B’Av, I think about Rav Soloveitchik and I think about Dara Horn. Rav Soloveitchik famously disagreed with the bulk of the modern orthodox community in that he did not believe in commemorating the tragedies of the Holocaust on a separate day of Yom Hashoah. He followed the position of his uncle, Rav Yitzchak Halevi Zeev Soloveitchik, who, in 1942, told Rav Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, then the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, that we cannot institute new days of commemoration for tragedies that followed the destructions of the Batei Mikdash. There is one day to mourn our national tragedies and that day is Tisha B’Av. If, indeed, we set aside one day in the Jewish calendar to remember each national tragedy in Jewish history, then we would probably live in a constant state of mourning! Even if we disagree with Rabbi Soloveitchik and argue that the Holocaust was such a devastating national tragedy which requires a separate day of mourning, the Holocaust is the exception and not the rule. Perhaps other than the tragedy of the Holocaust, the Jewish calendar wants to limit days of to remember tragedies. But more than that. A week after the tragedy of Tisha B’Av, we celebrate. We must remember our tragedies and we must manufacture sadness to help us appreciate the loss and devastation, but we do not allow our tragedies to define us.

At the end of Dara Horn’s best-selling book, “People Love Dead Jews,”  she writes how she struggled with the absurdity of antisemitism and how there doesn’t seem to be a solution as to how to effectively end antisemitism. She then writes that recently she began to study daf yomi, one page of Talmud each and every day. She began joining online Daf Yomi discussion groups and looking up Daf Yomi resources. And then something happened. She writes: “The algorithms all caught on instantly, and suddenly I saw almost nothing online that wasn’t related to discussions of the Talmud’s opening pages – which contain a rambling, digressive, and almost bottomless conversation about when, where, and how to recite the Sh’ma, Judaism’s central statement of faith in the singularity of God.”

Dara Horn’s algorithm changed from news of antisemitism to a celebration of God’s Torah. Yes, we must continue to fight antisemitism, but we must not be defined by antisemitism. Maybe this is why our Jewish tradition requires us to do more than act a certain way, but it requires us at times to feel a certain way. Because, yes, we need days of national mourning like Tisha B’Av in the Jewish calendar to fully appreciate what the loss of a Beit Hamikdash means in 2023, but Tisha B’Av and sadness and mourning do not define us. Tu B’Av and hope and perseverance and the beauty and eternity of Torah define us. Intra-Jewish conflict in Israel does not define us, but the return and building of our historic Jewish homeland after thousands of years of exile define us. Our algorithm must be one of Jewish pride and not Jewish persecution and strife. Reserve one day to cry, but then rise up and celebrate.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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