The Last Tisha B'Av

Events in Israel and beyond

The Jewish people are having a pretty rough time at the moment. The disturbing events in Israel are compounded by the lack of balance and what one can only reasonably call hatred in much of the media. I believe that history has carved a role for us as victims and when we step out of this, even by defending ourselves, the world finds us inexplicable. That every one of the hundreds of Hezbollah rockets fired on Northern Israel has been deliberately aimed at civilian targets seems to have escaped the attention of the press, as has the fact that Hezbollah locates its weapons in civilian areas, with the obvious consequences. We are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

But we shouldn’t really expect any different; these problems are just part of the harsh reality of galut – exile, of living in an unredeemed world. Some years, relating to the horrible reality of exile at Tisha B’Av has been difficult, but this year I suspect it may be easier.

We may accuse the media of bias, holding us to standards of behaviour it expects of no other people, but when we think about it, it can be no other way. Either we are God’s people, or we are not. Either we have a ‘special’ covenantal relationship with Him, or we do not. Either we are the ‘am segulah’ – the treasured nation of God, or we are not. We are, indeed, all of these things and by calling us to higher standards than those demanded of others, the nations of the world corroborate our special status. They may not admit it, or even be aware if it, but by expecting far more from us than they expect of themselves, they unwittingly uphold our unique place in the family of Mankind.

As we dip our bread in ash at the pre-Tisha B’Av meal, let us think also of the many people whose lives have been reduced to ash in Israel and in Lebanon.

As we sit on the floor to mourn for the Temple, let us think also of those sitting on the floor in shelters in Northern Israel.

As we mourn our beloved Temple, let us think also of those who have lost loved ones in the conflict.

As we cry the bitter tears of exile, let us think also of the tears of suffering of adults and children who have lost their livelihood and homes.

As we read Eichah and the Kinnot, let us also lament Mankind, our failures, moral weakness and inability to get on with one another.

But Tisha B’Av is also about hope and the future. It may be a day of mourning, but it is a kind of ‘festival’ of hope for a better world.

As we read the final line of Eichah, let us really believe that God will finally ‘restore our days as of old’ this year.

As we read Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi’s ‘Tzion’ poem, let us reflect on the beauty of Israel, its inimitable spiritual character and our ongoing responsibility to ‘inquire about the welfare’ of its prisoners, which is so apt this year.

As we sing the dirge ‘Eli Tzion’, let us remember that the whole, inscrutable process of history is ‘like a woman in her labour pains’; there will be a happy ending to the saga.

Wishing all readers a meaningful and redemptive day, the last Tisha B’Av.

Thoughts On 17th Tammuz

Alan Senitt

This year, the start of the Three Weeks comes at a time when tragedy is in the air. The horrific bombings in India and the appalling murder in Washington of Alan Senitt, a prominent Anglo-Jewish activist, have hit the headlines in the last few days. The disturbing escalation of the conflict in our beloved Israel, however, is probably where much of our attention is focused.

From time to time, I get asked whether in the modern world we really need the Three Weeks of mourning for the Temple in Jerusalem, which begin today with the Fast of Tammuz. This year, that question seems entirely redundant, as there is so much obviously wrong with our world. The imperfections, lack of harmony and hatred seem to more evident than ever; this year, we have a lot to think about between now and Tisha B’Av.

Our prayers and thoughts are with the people of Israel, the family of Alan Senitt and the victims of the Mumbai carnage. We will add a chapter of psalms to the synagogue service once more in the coming weeks, as a prayer for peace, but our main responsibilities lie within our own lives. The elimination of conflict in our world starts on a small and personal scale – improving our relationships with our spouses and children, treating those who are unlike us with more respect, evincing greater tolerance for those of other beliefs. Judaism believes that the micro-act has macro-ramifications. If small-scale quarrelling leads to global conflict, then achieving small-scale harmony is the starting point for healing our world. The Sages tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, yet use small personal, examples of dissent to illustrate their point.

May there be a rapid end to the conflict in Israel and harmony between peoples everywhere.