Dear TEE community,

This Sunday marks the observance of Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av) on the Jewish calendar. A fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in ancient Jerusalem, Tisha b’Av was generally ignored by early Reform Judaism, which rejected any belief in the restoration of the Temple and its sacrificial rites. Raised in a classical Reform congregation, I had never heard of Tisha b’Av before going to Jewish summer programs as a teenager.

While I agree with the early Reformers that there is no need to mourn the end of priestly practices, I think there are other reasons contemporary Jews might find meaning in the day. One is our own connection to a period of great upheaval and destruction in Jewish life. Like the destruction of the Temple, the Shoah represents a turning point in Jewish history and belief. The demolition of the the Second Temple and the subsequent Roman exile of Jews from Jerusalem destroyed a millennia long civilization. The genius of the early rabbis lay in their ability to reimagine a new Judaism on the foundation of what was lost. In our time, we are also mourning the loss of longstanding communities and cultures devastated the Shoah, while simultaneously recreating Jewish life from the ashes. Although I may not wish for the restoration of the Temple or the revival of the miseries of shtetl life, I can have empathy for what previous generations have lost as well as admiration for the ways they lay the groundwork for Jewish revival in the face of such overwhelming devastation.

Another significance of Tisha b’Av lies in the rabbinic teaching that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the “needless hatred” among warring factions of Jews. As a result of their mutual animosity, members of the divided community was unable to unite against their real enemy, the Romans. This situation resonates all too clearly with our contemporary experience within both the Jewish community and the larger American one. Media – social and otherwise – stir up outrage and animosity and our public discourse seldom differentiates between disagreement and enmity. As a group that has been seen as “other,” Jews should be especially sensitive to perspectives which in any way dehumanizes another group of people.

So this Tisha b’Av, I will not be fasting but I will do several things to observe the day. One is to spend some time reading Yiddish literature in translation. We don’t have many sources to learn the details of the culture that was lost with the Second Temple, but we do have a large, and growing, treasure trove of writing to learn about the life of pre-WWII communities. Reading Dara Horn’s book, People Love Dead Jews, made me realize, with some embarrassment, that for all my education, I had never delved into the riches of my own Jewish culture. I’d read Austin and Eliot but not Fogel or Rosenfarb, so during the past year I’ve been trying to remedy that omission.

The other thing I’ll be doing on Sunday is reaching out to someone with whom I strongly disagree on issues related to Israel and antisemitism but whose intelligence and commitment to Jewish life I appreciate. If I want to avoid the divisions of needless hatred decried by the rabbis, I must make the effort to keep the channels of relationship open. I believe that real social change is rooted in those connections. I can’t expect someone else to be willing to understand my perspective if I’m not willing to listen to theirs.  I am deeply concerned these days for the growing segregation in our country – based not only of race and class but also religion and politics. If it concerns you as well, I hope you will join me in making whatever effort you can to stay connected to others with differing views.

Be well,

Rabbi Drorah Setel