Bad times. Exiles. Expulsions. Synagogues burned. People burned. Crematoria. Auto-da-fé. Inquisition. The death marches. The Temples burned. On and on.
Bad memories. Difficult memories. Memories one wants to evade. Horrible images. Cattle cars. The rack. Hatchet murders. On and on.
Nine Days. A season of memory of bad times. A season to lay low: not to provoke. A season not to enjoy. No meat. No weddings. No water sports.
Nine Days. A very different time. Situated, as it turns out, about equidistant from the last Jewish festival, Shavuot, and the next Jewish festival, Rosh Hashanah. Space on both sides of the date to move from one mood to an extremely different one — from a mood of Shavuot’s commemoration of the revelation of the Torah — and then to move on to another extremely different mood — the introspection, repair and hope of Rosh Hashanah.
Nine Days. And their culmination. Tisha b’Av. A full fast day. Not, as on Yom Kippur, a day of cleansing one’s soul. A very different day. No food. No drink. No live music. Not even saying hello to the other people in the synagogue. No greetings. No study of Torah — that unique source of joy. With exceptions: the study of the non-joyous subject in the Torah. The books of Job, of Lamentations, of parts of Jeremiah. The tractate containing the laws of mourning, Moed Katan.
Tisha b’Av. A reminder that not all is right with the Jewish world. Not all is as it should be, in human relations and in national destiny. In levels of identity and commitment. In continuity and caring.
Tisha b’Av. A mood that willy nilly opens a window onto the wider world. A world at war now. A world in which a tyrant imposes on Ukrainians the events of massive suffering that we recall on this ninth of Av, imposed on us.
Tisha b’Av. A time usually begun with a meal on the floor, though not this year, as even Tisha b’Av does not override the joy of Shabbat. The Nine Day period is really Eight Days of restrictions. On the Shabbat of the Nine Days, singing is permitted. Feasting is permitted. Shabbat is Shabbat. But how drastic, then, the transition into Tisha b’Av. From the heights to the depths.
To the recitation of Lamentations. Powerful, pungent, bitter poetry and memories. Powerful, its mournful tune. Unrelieved memories and images. Their evasion — impossible.
Nine Days. Tisha b’Av. “Whoever does not mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will not have the privilege of witnessing its full restoration.”
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