At the time of the release of the issue you hold in your hands, we are in the midst of “the nine days.” This term refers to the first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av that lead up to the Ninth of Av (observed on July 28 and 29 this year).
The Ninth of Av, known as Tisha B’Av, commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. It is considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and it also marks a turning point in Jewish history – the only analogy that we can make for ourselves is to imagine the end of all Jewish institutions that preserve us as a people.
The destruction of the Temple meant that the entire basis of religious and cultural life for our ancestors came to an end, and thus those surviving the destruction had to face the challenge of “re-creating” themselves. As a reaction to this crisis, a new phase of Jewish history began, “rabbinic Judaism,” which would replace the religion based on sacrifice and Temple worship.
This truly was a critical moment; by all the rules of history, our people should have disappeared in the ashes of the Temple, buried by the results of war and defeat. Instead, we re-emerged with a new way to worship that could travel with us anywhere and adapt to all the changes that the next 2,000 years would bring.
So despite what the historians of ancient peoples might write or posit, here we are, marking the events that occurred so long ago.
As I mentioned, Tisha B’Av is the saddest day in the Jewish year, but it is also a day that we can use to better understand some of our happiest days. Just as we marvel at the strength and courage of those who survived the Shoah, so too we should marvel at the courage and faith of our ancestors, who – even in the face of destruction – chose to rebuild rather than to go quietly into the history books of “dead cultures.”
While Tisha B’Av tells a tale of defeat, it also teaches lessons of victory. Just as the happiness of Passover is a journey from slavery to freedom, the sadder tale of Tisha B’Av is a journey from destruction to rebirth.
As a student of Jewish history, I find hope for the Jewish future in Tisha B’Av. There are many voices that warn of the slow death of the Jewish community; they tell us that our institutions are shrinking, that our numbers are shrinking, and many know that we will only survive these dangerous times by re-creating the ways in which our communities work together.
I am hopeful because we have survived such conditions in the past. For me, this is the message of Tisha B’Av.
By Rabbi Yaakov Thompson
Editor’s note: Rabbi Yaakov Thompson is a regular contributor to the South Florida Jewish Journal; more of his writing can be found at yaakovthompson.blogspot.com.