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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Alas! We are Forsaken! Today is Tisha B’Av

Posted by Oyster on July 24, 2007

Francesco Hayez Destruction Temple Jerusalem

The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez.

If you haven’t already, I invite you to read my post on Tisha B’Av from last year.

Upon getting off the ground after the reading of Eicha (The Book of Lamentations), the rabbi of my synagogue handed out a packet of photocopied pages from the Rabbinical Assembly’s “Siddur Tisha B’Av”. It included two passages, one by former chancellor of JTS, Ismar Schorsch, and the other by Gershon Schwartz. Both of the passages dealt with a concept of limited mourning. Analogous to the Jewish practice of personal mourning, national mourning or commemoration should be serious, rigorously kept, and limited. As much as Jews love to kvetch about their own people being ‘obsessed with the Holocaust’ or saddled with an eternal victim mentality, an inspection of traditional Jewish responses to centuries of national catastrophes reveals quite the opposite. As Rabbi Schorsch writes:

This evolution of Tishah B’Av [from solely marking the destruction of the Temples, to also absorbing the days of sorrow of every generation] had a profound side effect. It served to limit the days of public mourning. It resisted the understandable claim of every generation of victims to its own day in the calendar. The psychic health of the community would be impaired by a calendar cluttered with commemorations of dark times. Judaism had long recognized the wisdom of restraint for the individual mourner. Less appreciated is its effort to protect the community from excessive mourning by rendering Tishah B’Av as a vehicle of multiple meanings.

The passage that I emphasized from the paragraph taken from Rabbi Schorsch’s essay leads us to question the existence of Yom HaShoah, or the day that the Israeli Knesset (a largely secular body at the time) chose to commemorate the Holocaust. So detached were the members of the Knesset at the time from their Jewish heritage, that they didn’t realize that setting the day to the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (they always sought to emphasize the Jews who fought back, in keeping with Zionist ideology of the “new Jew”) would make the beginning of Passover a day of fasting! You see, the brave, desperate Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were strong and courageous, but they also knew that they needed to tap into their eternal reservoir of inspiration and faith. To them, they would throw their very bodies into the gears and barricades of the Nazi machine, hearkening back to their throwing off of the shackles of Pharaoh in Egypt. They set the night that they took their faith into their own hands, and fought fiercely against their oppressors, as the night of the commencement of the Feast of Liberation.

Over the years, I’ve heard Jews call for liturgy or a scroll Yom HaShoah. Now that I’ve learned more about Judaism, I’m saddened that they don’t realize that Tisha B’Av is exactly that. The timeless lines of Lamentations, even now in recalling their haunting lines, sends shivers up my spine. And not mine alone, but for thousands of Jews across the millenia, who sought comfort and solace from their tragedies. In fact, to try to set a day apart from the traditional day of honoring those slaughtered of our people, while at the same time forgetting or not commemorating the traditional observance, is a slap to the face of all our ancestors who honored that solemn day. As Gershon Schwartz writes,

The debate still continues whether Yom HaShoah, the date set aside by Israel’s Knesset to commemorate the Holocaust, is necessary or adequate. After all, some argue, destruction and devastation have long been remembered on Tishah B’Av, even if there is no formal connection to the date. We have found comfort and relief in incorporating all of Jewish tragedy into one day.

Our wise rabbis throughout Jewish history have realized that for our own people’s sake, it was necessary to institute mechanisms to limit public mourning. In this day & age where assimilated Jews think of Judaism as just their pained feelings of the Holocaust, let us remind them and ourselves that this is not what our sages teach, and is not what is our traditional view of how to recall our painful past.


2 Responses to “Alas! We are Forsaken! Today is Tisha B’Av”

  1. […] Alas! We are Forsaken! Today is Tisha B’AvYoung Jews Return to AIDS Walk SFBay Area Journalist Pete Wilson DiesDog pile on Jewish singlesThe Utility of Wicked Sons […]

  2. […] memorial. He survived World War II in Russia as a slave laborer. Reading this on Tisha B’Av seemed appropriate. May Hashem spare our people from this kind of devasation. Tzom […]

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