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Tisha b'Av marks the culmination of a 3 week period of national soul-searching, which begins on the 17th of Tammuz and intensifies during the first nine days of Av. Numerous tragic events afflicting the Jewish people throughout the centuries are telescoped into this day of mourning, self-denial and introspection. The 9th of Av is the only Jewish fast day, besides Yom Kippur, that begins at sunset of the previous day and ends after sundown 25 hours later. Even the study of Torah is prohibited on Tisha b'Av, except for passages which deal with the destruction of Jerusalem and other tragic events.
A brief geopolitical overview of the Middle East between Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan (1300-1100 BCE) until the rise of Babylonia to superpower status(around 600 BCE): The small Jewish state, sandwiched between Egypt to the south and Assyria, Babylon, and Persia to the north, faced many difficult choices. At their core was the issue of how to respond to shifts in geopolitical power and superpower rivalry. Remain loyal to the existing imperial regime? Support the new rising hegemon? Play off the rival powers against each other? Seize the moment to assert independence and national sovereignty? The Prophets and Writings sections of the Bible offer many fascinating but little-read passages which refer to these debates.
Five tightly structured poems make up Eichah, a poignant, poetic testimony to the ravages of political intrigue and war. Judea, the "daughter of Zion," is depicted in somewhat contradictory sexual terms as a mourning widow, an unfaithful wife abandoned by her lovers, the victim of an abusive husband, a grieving mother, a despoiled virgin. The Babylonian conquest of Judea, which began in 597 BCE, leaps from the geopolitical setting of foreign policy choices into an eschatological religious drama of exile and return.
What insights can each of these perspectives offer us today? Should we continue to mourn now that we have the State of Israel and Jerusalem has been rebuilt? Can contemporary Jews find personal meaning in Tisha b'Av rituals?
Happy Birthday, Uncle Irving: A D'var Torah for Tisha b'Av.