Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 25

Tradition and Re-Imagination

July 17, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. I also hope that you are getting out to walk and exercise. Given the high heat and humidity forecast for Shabbat and into next week, please be careful, drink lots of water, and stay comfortable.

There is an old joke about how to describe every Jewish holiday in under ten words: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat!"

And while that is generally true (and humorous), during the summer months, we commemorate a time referred to as The Three Weeks. During this period, the above joke does not apply. In fact, we observe two fast days called the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av, which mark the remembrance of the siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

On the Seventeenth of Tammuz, we observe a minor fast (sunrise to sunset) and on the Ninth of Av, we observe a major fast (sunset to sunset). Furthermore, on Tisha B'Av, by fasting and mourning, we commemorate many tragedies that have happened to the Jewish people over the centuries. Our tradition teaches us in one story, called Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, that the destruction of the Temple occurred because of causeless hatred among people.

Historically, the destruction of the Temple resulted in the ascension and development of Rabbinic Judaism as a whole. With a centralized place of cultic worship no longer accessible, the leaders of the generation successfully transitioned to a new way of approaching God, focused primarily on prayer and Torah study.

Some will argue that with the miracle of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, it in fact, may be disingenuous to continue to treat this day as a day of mourning. Now, we can rejoice in the gift of the land and witness the growth and prosperity of Jews in Israel. This miracle of Jewish sovereignty is what we refer to each Shabbat in our Prayer for Israel as Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu (the first flowering of our Redemption).

Contemporary thinkers have advocated for a re-imagination of this fast day, whereby there is a more formal acknowledgement of realization of the gift and miracle of the State of Israel. Some argue that the fast should be shortened or not even observed at all.

Paul Mirbach published the following thoughts in The Times of Israel: “I believe that Tisha B’Av should be a dedication to national reconciliation, with workshops throughout the country for people from opposing political and religious sides to LISTEN to the other side, without judgment, and to try to understand those whose beliefs are different to our own. We should work to renounce fanaticism. We should work to build bridges where ideological disagreement should not necessarily make us enemies. We should not wish the other side ill, nor seek to de-legitimize them, incite or discount them.”

While these represent just two approaches to rethinking Tisha B’Av, I applaud the creativity of people who say that tradition always needs to be respected, yet reconsidered in the spirit of context and times.

And while some people believe that we need to rethink our approach to Tisha B’Av, we, in the synagogue's leadership, are now all working to re-imagine and reconsider how our High Holy Days will look this year. Stay tuned for more on that, but in the meantime, I invite you to share your thoughts with me as we work together to enrich our ever- evolving tradition and religion.

May we be blessed with a meaningful Tisha B’Av and a meaningful and thoughtful High Holy Day season.

Please join us for Zoom services this Shabbat!


Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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