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.
Our study session will begin with a brief geopolitical overview of the Middle East between Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan (1300-1100 BCE) to the rise of Babylonia to superpower status(around 600 BCE). The small Jewish state, sandwiched between Egypt to the south and Assyria (later Babylon, then 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.
We'll then focus on the Babylonian conquest of Judea, which began in 597 BCE, from the perspectives of both secular and sacred history. What happened next? 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?