The Jewish fast of Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, begins this year at sundown on Monday, August 8. Throughout history, many catastrophes have befallen the Jewish people on the 9th of Av — the worst of these being the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in the years 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively.
Tisha B’Av marks the culmination of the mourning period known as "The Three Weeks," and is a day of solemnity, sorrow, and remembrance. Jews refrain from ordinary pleasures and indulgences, including a 25-hour fast from eating and drinking. We avoid frivolity of any sort and follow customs associated with mourning: We do not bathe, wear cosmetics or leather shoes, and we sit on low chairs to minimize comfort. Even Torah study — an activity Jewish tradition considers joyous — is restricted to passages describing the laws of mourning, the destruction of the Temple, and other tragic events.
These customs, of course, are not ends in themselves, but a means of reminding us that we are doing much more than simply mourning the loss of buildings. Those buildings — the Holy Temples — were, Jews believe, the holiest spots on earth, where the Divine Presence was most manifest. While the Temples stood, they reflected God's glory, and what went on within them gave common men and women tangible connections to the Divine. The buildings' destruction took not just their magnificence, but removed a degree of certainty that we once had in determining God's will. God is still present in the world, of course, but Jews believe He is hidden from us in a way that He was not before.
There are those who say that it would be best to forget all this suffering and move on. But the Bible exhorts us to remember: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you" (Psalm 137:5-6). We commemorate past tragedies not to wallow in our grief, but to strengthen our memory of history, to correct the missteps that led us to catastrophe, and to ensure that such things do not happen again. And, perhaps, our remembering will help us realize that our survival — through so many trials — is indeed a miracle, a gift from God.
On this solemn day, Jews remember those who were murdered for being Jewish, whether by Romans, Inquisitors, Cossacks, Nazis, or terrorists. We remember those who died defending the Jewish people, the Jewish State, and the sanctity of God's name. We remember that, until the Messianic Age, Israel can never be completely free of the threat of war and destruction.
Remembering our trials is painful, but remembering our survival is redemptive. We will never succumb to despair because we remember that — even at our nation's darkest moments — “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid" (Psalm 118:6). And we faithfully believe in His promise to us: "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12).
On this Tisha B'Av, I ask you to pray for the welfare of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, and to continue our work together to support Israel and strengthen her people. I send you my deepest thanks for your faithful support. May God bless you, even as you have blessed His people, Israel.