Written by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Earlier this week, Jews observed the darkest, most sorrowful day of the calendar. It was on this day, the ninth day of Av —Tisha b’ Av in Hebrew — that the First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. and the Jewish people exiled to Babylon. Ironically, coincidentally, or providentially — however you choose to view it — the Second Temple was destroyed on this same day by the Romans in 70 AD.
Throughout the course of Jewish history, the day has been marked by other tragedies — the final revolt against the Romans was crushed in 135 C.E.; the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was decreed in 1492; and in 1942, on this day, the Nazis began deporting Jews from Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps.
Tisha b’Av has come to embody all the experiences of suffering that the Jewish people have endured over the centuries.
During the three weeks leading up to Tisha b’Av, Jews refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, or wearing new clothes. No celebrations, such as weddings, are allowed during this time. And on the day itself, which begins with a fast, we spend sitting on stools, or the floor, in the synagogue reading from the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah’s heart-wrenching lament after the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.
The various customs and laws surrounding this observance are designed to create within us the same kind of solemn mood experienced by someone mourning the death of a close family member. We are to vicariously feel the depth of grief and sadness that has marked this day throughout history.
And I believe we gain strength in our own faith and are encouraged to look toward the future with hope by being in community. We remember the words of Jeremiah, also found in Lamentations that speak to a brighter future because of these comforting words: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23).
We, as a people, are reminded once again on Tisha b’Av, that although our beloved Israel remains under the constant threat of war and destruction, we should not despair. God has delivered His people in the past, and He will do so again, I believe, with the help and support of our Christian friends.