Sunday, September 6, 2009

From Temple to Synagogue...and Beyond?

The summer months in America are typically a time for vacation and relaxation. Few Jews and hardly any non-Jews realize that on the Jewish calendar, we are in the middle of a season of reflection. This time of reflection began on Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, which fell on July 30 this year.

Tisha B'Av marks the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Before there were synagogues, the Temple was the center of religious and cultural life for the entire Jewish nation. The rabbis (textual scholars and teachers) who created the observance of Tisha B'Av clearly wanted it to be the most mournful day of the year. They found ways to believe that not just Solomon's temple was destroyed on that date by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., but the second temple, too, by the Romans, in 70 C.E., on the very same date. Many other historical tragedies were linked to the ninth day of Av. On the ninth day of Av, we read the book of Lamentations, in a haunting melody whose paradoxical sweetness tears the soul. The rabbis set up a series of special haftarot (prophetic readings chanted in the synagogue) leading up to Tisha B'Av--prophecies of rebuke--and a longer series from Tisha B'Av into the month of Elul--prophecies of consolation. Anyone who follows this whole progression must sense the enormity of the disaster that Tisha B'Av signified to the rabbinic tradition.

Today, for Jews of the 21st century, can we still feel the same way? Is Tisha B'Av a day of grief for us? I would answer, "Yes--and no." For why I would answer that way, please check in tomorrow.

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