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Asking the Clergy: Why is Tisha B'Av an important Jewish holiday?

From left, Rabbi Anchelle Perl of Chabad of

From left, Rabbi Anchelle Perl of Chabad of Mineola, Rabbi Steven Conn of Plainview Jewish Center, and Rabbi Mickey Baum of Temple Beth Am of Merrick and Bellmore. Credit: Avraham Perl; Barry Sloan; Temple Beth Am

Tisha B’Av, which begins July 17 and ends the following evening, is a day of mourning and fasting. This week’s clergy discuss the historic and contemporary significance of what is known as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.

Rabbi Mickey Baum

Temple Beth Am of Merrick and Bellmore

Tisha B’Av, which means the ninth day of Av, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar, commemorates tragedies that befell our people on that exact date throughout history, particularly the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE. Other tragedies that, according to Jewish tradition, occurred on that date include: the first crusade in 1096, that killed 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroyed Jewish communities in the Rhineland and France; in 1290, when the Jews were expelled from England; in 1306, when the Jews were expelled from France; in 1492, when Jews were expelled from Spain; and in 1942, the eve of Tisha B'Av, when the mass deportation of Jews began from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Why the ninth of Av? According to legend, it’s on that day that the spies, sent out by Moses to scout the land of Israel in preparation for the Israelites entry, brought back a negative report of the Promised Land.

While Tisha B’Av is a time of great sadness, it is also seen as a period of joy in times to come. Tradition tells us that the Messiah will be born on the ninth of Av, and when the final redemption comes, Tisha B’Av will be transformed from a day of mourning into a day of celebration.

Rabbi Steven Conn

Plainview Jewish Center

Strictly speaking, Tisha B’Av is not a holiday but a day of national mourning on which the Temple in Jerusalem, our national and spiritual center, was destroyed by the Romans 1,951 years ago, in 70 CE. Why do we still mourn after so many years? The pain of the destruction of the Temple has been muted by the establishment of the modern state of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Many of us would rather continue to worship through prayer in our synagogues than have the Temple rebuilt and sacrifices restored. I struggle with this question every year. My best answer is that, in the Talmud, the rabbis teach that the Temple was destroyed not because of the Romans, but because of the "baseless hatred" Jews showed toward one another. This "baseless hatred" is still very much around, dividing Jew from Jew and human being from human being.

Tisha B’Av challenges us to think about the toll that hatred takes among the Jewish people and in the world at large. Hatred is more destructive than even the world’s mightiest army. The fast of Tisha B’av is still important because it reminds us that we have a sacred obligation to fight hatred with collective action and radical acts of love.

Rabbi Anchelle Perl

Director, Chabad of Mineola

On Tisha B'Av we recall the destruction of our Holy Temple nearly 2,000 years ago by fasting and mourning and the other observances of the day.

But why remember? Why not let bygones be bygones? It's history. What was, was. Why keep revisiting old and painful visions? They say that Napoleon was once passing through the Jewish ghetto in Paris and heard sounds of crying and wailing emanating from a synagogue. He stopped to ask what the lament was about. He was told that the Jews were remembering the destruction of their Temple.

"When did it happen?" asked the Emperor. "Some 1,700 years ago," was the answer he received. Whereupon Napoleon stated with conviction that a people who never forgot its past would be destined to forever have a future.

Jews never had history. We have memory. History can become a book, a museum and forgotten antiquities. Memory is alive. And memory guarantees our future. Because we refuse to accept defeat or accept our exile as a historical fait accompli, we can hope to rebuild one day. Indeed, the Talmud assures us, "Whosoever mourns for Jerusalem, will merit to witness her rejoicing."

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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