James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Fasting and not on Tisha B’Av.

with 2 comments

I have always thought Tisha B’Av (which commemorates various calamities experienced by the Jews), was the worst Jewish holiday.  You are not supposed to enjoy things on this day, which ended at sundown on Tuesday.  I slept on the floor without a pillow, abstained from caloric food and drink, did not wear leather shoes at work, avoided greeting people …

However, my fasting was not all it ought to be and was considerably less (except the sleeping on the floor part) than what I do for Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement).  I went to work, drank non-caloric liquids, wore antiperspirant, showered, biked to work, worked, and probably a few other things I ought not have done.

While I feel some guilt, I don’t feel much.  Tisha B’Av is, in some ways, an un-Jewish Jewish  holiday.  The Jewish spirit is not defined by lamenting our suffering, but by overcoming it.  It is not about wallowing in death and pain, but in celebrating life.  So, my failure is, in some ways, an expression of my Jewish spirit.

However, this year, I had two friends recount good memories of past experiences during Tisha B’Av.  We read Eicha (Lamentations) by candlelight in a beautiful service.  The melody of Eicha captures the mood in a stirring way.  I am not sure I will believe it is not the worst holiday, but these friends deserve credit for giving it new light.


Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in judaism

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Dear James,

    I think you have an extremely superficial understanding of Tisha B’Av…..and of “Jewish suffering” as you put it. First of all, the point of fasting–please recall from your knowledge of Judaism–is to *atone*. This should help to clue you in to the purpose of the day.

    As you are aware, a Biblically informed vision of reality does not see calamity as an isolated event. Rather there are cosmic reasons for these things–especially the two main events recalled on Tisha B’Av: the destructions of the two Temples in Jerusalem. There are various Talmudic understandings of these two events, and Jerry Soroken or Rabbi Blesofsky are the people to go to to fill you in on the FULL details of these (and they are crucial for comprehending Tisha B’Av).

    That being said, I am not sure why you would see Tisha B”Av in a light that is any different from Yom HaShoah. In the history of the Jews, genocide and other types of violence and evil perpetrated on us through the free will of other human beings is a brutal reality. It has been this way from the beginning, and frankly speaking, there is no rational reason to believe that it will ever change.

    Like Yom HaShoah, Tisha B’Av is an intentional reminder of that legacy, a way to keep alive the memories of the dead martyrs in a way that is not simply intellectual but also emotional–so that there is within us a physical memory of the meaning and importance of what they gave up for us. Why is this so important? Because we have to live that understanding, and to pass that understanding forward. And that is not accomplished through ideas. It is only accomplished through feeling and through identifying with those who came before us. We need to lament . We NEED to….because our children and grandchildren need us to do it.

    Every time a Jewish commemoration looks toward the past, it is precisely for the purpose of learning something, of rectifying something, of repairing something……within ourselves and out there in the world, and in the Jewish community as well.


    Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 11:05 am

  2. Lyone, I’ll post a longer comment later, but you are right that my understanding has been superficial.


    Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 11:09 am

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