The Jewish Manifesto

How Do We Find Meaning in Tisha B’Av?

The Question: How Do We Find Meaning in Tisha B’Av?

Tisha B’Av is approaching. The saddest day in the Jewish calendar when we mark the destructions of the first and second Temples, the end of life as a people contained within the boundaries of a particular location, and become a diaspora. Getting into the spirit of things is challenging for many of us. This might be why so many Jews, including me, gloss over this time of year. It’s summer, FFS, and many of us are on holiday. Why must we suffer when we’ve already suffered so much?

For these things do I weep,
My eyes flow with tears:
Far from me is any comforter
Who might revive my spirit;
My children are forlorn,
For the foe has prevailed. [1]

The morning began with a thought provoking question from the poet Yael Merlini asking for help marking this time of year. This post is a reflection on finding connection to Tisha B’Av this week.  It contains a conversation that some of us are having in a chat group (shout out to Ze Kollel!) as well as shared resourced. The quotes and names are used with permission.

The Question: How Do We Find Meaning in Tisha B’Av?

Yael Merlini (Poet, scholar):

Starting mozze shabbat (Saturday night) until Sunday night is Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the fast for the destruction of the Temple.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to find a connection with this holiday of mourning, but this year even less so given the climatic disaster we are experiencing on our skin in these months with very high temperatures, not to mention the political situation in America (laws against women – against abortion and growing anti-Semitism), the resurgence of fascist governments even in countries with a long tradition of the left like Italy, and so on…

I feel so torn to spend an entire day fasting and feeling sad about the destruction of the temple and the diaspora while all around me the political and social situation of women,  minorities, flora and fauna and the climate show me that disaster is now, it is imminent!

The Obligation to Grieve

Tori (Writer, designer):

I am not the most observant of Jews that’s for sure. But I feel like marking times of trauma is not only marking one single event. The destruction of the Temple is only a stand-in for what we face in this time, what we faced throughout. When we mark this time, we are saying that we must mourn, we must grieve, we must not look away. Perhaps our fast or however we  choose to mark this time, becomes a spur to take the actions we must take to both face the present/future and prevent the worst of what is to come.

We’re Still Here

Sophie Bigot-Goldblum (Talmud scholar and teacher, which wouldn’t have been possible in the time of the Temple, so “she’s biased”):

Tisha B’Av was hard for me for many years: It was hard to connect with the desire to bring the temple back into being.

First because I’m very thankful for what Judaism has become since we became a Talmud-centered religion rather than a sacrifice-centered one ( I mean, I got a job as a Talmud teacher, but the Temple would have never hired me, so I’m biased 🙂 ), because I don’t want to return to massive animal killing as a religious practice because there’s a bunch of Jewish terrorists who are ready to start world war III by destroying one of the most sacred shrines of the biggest religion in the world for us to have our Temple again. Where I’m currently living, that feeling is very real and very scary.

While I’m saying all of this, I don’t want to give away the impression I don’t think there’s anything to mourn for with the destruction of the Beit haMikdash. I’m mourning the direct connection to the Divine, and a system that would have given me a hands on method to atone for my mistakes. Jewish prayer is not the most intuitive for me, and that’s all we’re left with now that we don’t have our Beit haMikdash.

More to your point, I would want to tell you that 9Av has always been a placeholder for the sadness and grief we’ve experienced as a people.  So if thinking about the destructive way the avoda zara [evil work] that goes by the name of capitalism is destroying Hashem’s creation, that yeah, that sounds pretty much in line with what we’ve been doing for centuries.

9 Av is a day to reflect both on what it means to lose everything we hold dear, but also a lesson in how to rebuild and move forward. We’re still mourning, and yet, and maybe more importantly, we’re still there.

Losing Home

Hannah Sedelsky (Feminist, scholar):

Dear friends, how wonderful to hear your reflections! I too have always felt rather strange about 9 of Av and the mourning of the Temple, but this year I have so many things to mourn and be sad about – namely, a loss of my country and all the places I thought I belonged to, that I can’t help but use this day as a placeholder for these feelings of loss and grief.

Lamentations Span History

Dvir Shalem (Scholar, poet):

Thank you for sharing this question and writing it out loud. It resonates to me with so much of my Judaism, which is a part of every word I speak and every move I make, and yet feels so terribly ignorant and small minded at times 😔

Currently in my life, I try to hold on to the metaphorical meanings of everything, while remembering they are always also very real. There is a real sense of grief for the destruction of the temple, but it is yet another metaphor for grief itself, for loss itself, be it of a human, a house, or an eco-system. And I think it also helps me to remember that most of the terribly sad kinot and piyutim [mournful and liturgical poems] we are reading on tisha b’av were not written by people who experienced the destruction of the temple – but rather those who survived pogroms, antisemitism, nationalism, hate of different forms, or maybe homophobia?

So for me Tisha B’av is a metaphor along it’s very real historical essence. I cry for the horribly dangerous situation of women in the states, of queer people in the world, of Jews who were excommunicated and kids, women and men who have lost everything in wars all over the world. Soon it’s 6 months since the war in the Ukraine started. Maybe a day of grief is not enough. I cry for the destruction of all the different temples that were dear to us, and were taken away. As humans, as Jews, as creatures on this earth.

The World Feels Like It’s on Fire

Jeremy Borovitz (Rabbi, Ze Kollel, Hillel Deutschland)

I’m not sad that the temple is gone, and I don’t pray for a physical third temple. But there is still a loss engrained in my spiritual DNA. Naming the loss, acknowledging the past worlds we’ve lost, is one of many necessary steps towards building the future we need.

The world feels these days like it is on fire. I’m using Sunday to reflect on the millions of embers of our collective past in the hope of tempering the flames.

A Container for Grief

Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik (Researcher, writer, climate activist):

Loss as a reminder of the stretch of ourselves, grief as a reminder of our scope, Tisha B’Av as a container for the uncontainable.

Last night I saw this beautiful reflection too from Jessica Gaitan:

“Phantom limbs cause real pain. One explanation for this, proposed by pain researcher Ronald Melzack, is that pain is an experience, a subjective response that happens in the brain, rather than a reaction in the periphery. Because the brain has an idea of where the body ends, it continues to feel a missing limb. In other words, pain is linked to how we see ourselves, and where we see ourselves ending. If fear is, among other things, the premonition of pain, what does pain’s subservience to self-image tell us about fear?”

Everything We Love, We Will Lose

Lievnath Faber (Oy Vey Amsterdam, doula, writer)

There is so much in this chat in response to your question that resonates (all of it, in different spaces stretched out and stretching still) and that this in itself feels like a container to do what we need to do.

And this is something that is so precious. A Jewish understanding of grief. Not an emotion. But something we need to work at. We need to do. And we need to be heart broken on time, as Stephen Jenkinson says so beautifully. We need to learn grief. In order to live. And in order to love.

Grief as the weft. Around points of mourning. One of these points, perhaps the proto/metaphor point is the destruction of Beit hamikdash. And there are many more. If grief is the weft, it’s the thing that runs through it all, that connects our experiences. Like our fascia. Intelligent and important. Carriers.

I would like to offer you the five gates of grief by Francis Weller, as pathways into grief, when it might seem overwhelming and all over the place above and beyond and coming at you from so many places.

1. Everything we love, we will lose.

2. The places that have not known love

3. The sorrows of the world

4. What we expected and did not receive

5. Ancestral grief



Songs and Poems and Essays and Books

And So It Goes by Billy Joel

On Spotify | On YouTube

Cucurrucucú Paloma sung by Yasmin Levy

“An amazing Ladino singer, a Turkish Jew raised in Jerusalem and internationally and multi-lingual creative. A song about loss. Through the language of the birds.”

On Spotify  | On YouTube 

Grief expert Francis Weller

Conscious dying guide Stephen Jenkinson

The Nerves and Their Endings by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson

Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction by David N. Myers

The Memory We Could Be: Overcoming Fear to Create Our Ecological Future, by Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik

“Violence requires the violent to distance themselves from the victim. To commit violence against human beings, we must strip them of the humanity we share. We must turn equals into others, inferior or subhuman. We must convince ourselves that they deserve our malice, that their lesser worth merits cruelty, that their “bad choices” justify the pain of punishment. Our war waged on nature has relied on a similar moral distance.”


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