Thoughts on Tisha Be’Av

By Alexandra Varese

Tisha Be’ Av – the 9th day of the month of Av- is traditionally considered the darkest day of the Jewish calendar, a time set aside to fast and mourn the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. The First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians and the Second Temple in 70 C.E. by Titus and the Roman legions. Down through the centuries, many tragedies have occurred around this day, including the expulsion of Jews from England (1290 C.E.) and Spain (1492 C. E.).


Traditional practice during 25 hours of Tisha Be’Av mirrors in many respects that of Yom Kippur: fasting from sundown to sundown, refraining from work, washing, sexual activity, wearing leather and abstaining from pleasurable activities. In the Synagogue, Megillat Eicha - the book of Lamentations is read - and kinot or - dirges are sung -.

What might a more progressive Jewish perspective be on Tisha Be’Av? In contrast to traditional streams of Judaism, liberal Judaism never assigned a central role to the ancient Temple, and mourning its destruction may not particularly speak to us. But did it completely disappear from liberal consciousness, or is there something we can still relate to today and even learn from?

Perhaps this day can help us to empathize with those - Jews and non-Jews - who are escaping war, suffering and terror, famine or natural disasters and facing exile in a desperate struggle to find a place of rest and safety - not knowing if or when they might return home.

Alternatively, we might reflect on what the Talmud claimed to be the cause of the second Temple’s destruction: Sinat chinam (literally meaning “free hatred” or “hatred with no reason”). Are the same arguments between Jews of different observances a cause of destruction today?

On Tisha Be’Av, we take upon ourselves the burden, and the blessing of our connection to all Jews past, present and future, in hard times and in joyful times. Maintaining such solidarity is not easy and it takes work. Disputes can easily and quickly get ugly. How do find a way to peace while honouringthe integrity of all different positions?  How do recognize that our opponents are fellow human beings and fellow Jews, but also that they too might carry a piece of the truth that may be unavailable to us.

Perhaps the way to “rebuild” the Temple is through Ahavat chinam (freely given love), respect and acceptance of each other’s differences.

Thank you for reading!

Tisha Be’Av fell this year on 21– 22   July