by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman,
Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month
of Av) begins tonight at sundown. This holy day marks the
destruction of the First and Second Temples that once stood in
Jerusalem, as well as many other catastrophes that befell the
Jewish people throughout history. This fear of destruction,
tragedy, and war pervades our collective history, as well as the
stories we recount each year. It also affects us today, as we
fear ongoing violence in the Middle East.
In the mid-90s, I lived in Israel on a
kibbutz in the North, on the border of Lebanon. Working in
the fields each day, the deafening sounds of Israeli warplanes
flying above me headed for Lebanon would make me shudder.
Sometimes the artillery fire across the border would be so
strong my house would shake. I remember wrestling with my
own fear of war, even though this was a time of "peace" and in
reality I was quite safe. And now, as I think of the North
of Israel one year after the Second Lebanon War, I remember the
fear that Israelis felt as Katyusha rockets fell so close to
The theology surrounding Tisha B'Av can be
disturbing to liberal Jews. The Babylonian Empire
destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C.E; the Roman Empire
destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E. But neither the
Prophets nor the Rabbis, who authored the texts that responded
to these calamities, placed blame solely on our enemies.
Rather, they held their own people responsible. Over a
million Jews were killed in horrendous warfare, yet our
tradition blames those very people for acting recklessly.
The Prophets believed that the destruction
of the First Temple was punishment for Israel's sins of
idolatry, immorality, and murder, and the Rabbis taught that the
Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat
chinam—senseless and unjustified hatred among the
people. This might be a case of our ancestors simply
"blaming the victim," and we should question how they could
chastise their people in light of the enormity of the
devastation of human life, land, and traditions.
And yet, the Prophets and the Rabbis do
have something to teach us. This year, having recently
marked the 40th year of the Israeli occupation, the words of the
Prophets and the Rabbis can caution us as a people not to act
too self-righteously. They give us the opportunity, at
this time of Tisha B'Av, to closely examine our own
behavior—not just on an individual level but on a communal
and national level as well. They can call on us to think
critically about our own people's behavior and challenge our
communal leadership to speak out against occupation.
If we care about Israel, the Jewish people,
and honoring the memory of the two-time destruction of the
Temple in Jerusalem, then we must move beyond our fear to look
at the impact of 40 years of occupation and how we can and must
bring it to an end. This year, on Tisha B'Av, let us hold
ourselves and each other up to our highest ideals and confront
these issues carefully, thoughtfully, and
Suggestions for Tisha
- Read Eicha (Lamentations).
Discuss how it may be seen as a cautionary tale about the horror
of growing indifferent to the suffering of others.
- Discuss how collective mourning can help
us face ourselves individually. How do we demonize others? How
can we sow empathy and forgiveness?
- Support every effort for peace. Behavior
is contagious, and peace breeds peace. The continuation of the
occupation eats away at Israel's spirit; reconciling with the
Palestinians, however, could lead the country from strength to
strength. When the world is healed, we are healed with
Please send any additional suggestions you
have about commemorating Tisha B'av to Rabbi John Friedman,
chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zimmerman is the spiritual
leader of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wisconsin. She currently serves on the
board of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South
Central Wisconsin. She graduated from the Reconstructionist
Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, PA in 2003 where she was
awarded The Rabbi Devora Bartnoff Memorial Prize for Spiritually
Motivated Social Action. Rabbi Zimmerman has been involved in
Jewish peace work for several years and was actively involved in
Rabbis for Human Rights both in Jerusalem and in Philadelphia,
doing field work and editing a rabbinic resource packet for the
High Holy Days.
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