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Tisha B'av and Nachamu

07/27/2023 12:39:27 PM


With greetings from Sabbatical: I am grateful for the opportunity to spend six weeks taking a break from communal life. At the midway point, I’ve spent time at Camp Ramah and in travel, and made progress on several study projects. It has been restorative to redirect my focus, which means putting much of the “tzuris” of the world (starting with my email) on mute.  However, the news from Israel this week cannot be ignored, and stands out in particular on this week of Tisha B’av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. 

Tisha B’av, observed today, commemorates many different tragic events in the history of Jewish people. Much of our suffering defies easy theological explanation, but our sages demanded that we consider that in some cases we bore the blame for our own destruction. Our sages connected various calamities with many different causes, some ritual in nature, some ethical, some political. For the losses of 1953 years ago, one set stands out. The Talmud relates that the destruction of our commonwealth and our Temple, and the loss of our land at the hands of the Romans, was a direct result of zealous factions and individuals who pursued their own narrow agenda and advantage at the expense of the wellbeing of the nation.

The Talmud, in tractate Gittin 55b-56b, offers some of the details. A personal grudge between two people escalated into a vendetta and, as the rabbis stood by, culminated provocation of the Roman authorities. More significantly, the text relates that while Jerusalem was besieged, there were those who counselled compromise, and others who offered the resources for Jerusalem to withstand the horrific onslaught. One group, the zealots, refused both. In order to ensure the escalation of a conflict they thought would cement their victory, they destroyed the stores of food and threatened to kill anyone who tried to leave the city. The result was destruction.

I have written previously about some of the policy changes that Israel’s governing parties have proposed, and their potential impact (for example:, and I will leave the ongoing analysis to others. As a rabbi I will note that it is widely believed that any project carried out in this time before Tisha B’av carries within it the taint of potential calamity. I wonder at those who understand the meaning of the Jewish calendar, and yet even so chose this very week to push through this divisive move and proclaim triumph.

As someone who cares deeply for Israel, and wants it to be a place where all Jews are able to live their fullest Judaism, I am deeply concerned as to where this course may take Israel. This process has already destabilized the balance that holds together Israel’s diverse society, and undermined the security and prosperity we have taken for granted. It remains to be seen whether these changes, and their potential damage, will move forward or be mitigated with time and common sense. What I do know is that Israel’s enemies are hoping that the current course continues.

This shabbat following Tisha B’av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the shabbat of consolation. It is the first of seven weeks where we read words of consolation. There are, as always, signs of hope and opportunities for redemption. Many on both sides are passionate in their love for Israel and still care deeply for their neighbors, even if they disagree vociferously. I was struck by video of protesters from different sides, riding in opposite directions on the escalators at the Jerusalem train station.  Even as they carried banners and chanted slogans, many paused to reach across to offer gestures of friendship and brotherhood despite their sharp differences.

I am experiencing Tisha B’av and Shabbat in other congregations before continuing my travels, and I look forward to rejoining the congregation on August 15. In the meanwhile, in my prayers this Tisha B’av, I have been praying for the wellbeing of our people, and that we can learn the mistakes of those who came before. I can only hope that these next seven weeks, and the new year that will follow, provide an opportunity for a better path for Israel, and for all of us.


Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784