oy, this is heavy
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn, Next stop is Jeru-sa-lam; And it’s five, six, seven, Open up the pearly gates…

I read something recently about Tisha B’Av that I particularly enjoyed. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin asked “what is the real meaning of the fast?” Is it really mourning the destruction of Jerusalem, when we can see that “today’s city, despite our present difficulties, is splendid, majestic, bejeweled”? Is it really the destruction of the temple, if Rambam tells us that even when the second temple stood, we were still fasting on this day?

Most pointedly, what does it mean when Zechariah prophesizes that this fast day “shall become times of joy and gladness, cheerful festivals to the house of Judah. Therefore love the truth and peace…”

See, that is not the only time that God’s mention of fasting is concluded with moral instruction such as “Execute true judgment and show loyal love and mercy every man to his brother, and do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the stranger or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart” ( Zachariah Ch. 7:8-10)

Riskin draws out the lesson that this day of fasting will turn into a day of joy not when there is simply a new temple or a rebuilt Jerusalem but when we have fully learned those lessons.

In other words, it’s not enough that Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street has kosher pizzerias. It’s not enough that we have Jewish sovereignty over a Jewish state, a Knesset and the largest yeshiva in the world. To cease fasting on Tisha Be’av is merely a means to an end – a means to repentance, particularly in the subtle areas of human relationships. We will stop fasting when the entire nation leads ethical and moral lives. We will stop fasting when Iran and North Korea understand the value of peace. We will stop fasting when…. the messianic age dawns…

“When the hour finally comes in which the whole world loves truth and peace, then we’ll be dancing in the streets on Tisha Be’av, the most vivid expression of the end of our long exile, and it’ll be like no other dance a nation has ever danced.”

I’ll fast to that.

About the author

Laya Millman

4 Comments

  • Laya, I would disagree with R. Riskin’s claim,

    “To cease fasting on Tisha Be’av is merely a means to an end – a means to repentance, particularly in the subtle areas of human relationships. We will stop fasting when the entire nation leads ethical and moral lives.”

    To me, this is much too close to Elul and the High Holiday season. Not every holiday is about tshuvah, and this seems to be a very modern interpretation and a redundant one to some extent.

    I think this period is about accepting that we lost something very great, and we did some things that were very bad, and it really hurts, and we mourn what we lost. As for the point about the 2nd temple period, I thought many Jews in Israel did not fast, but anyway, the 2nd Temple was nowhere near as impressive as the first; replicated wonders of the world never are.

    Tragically, it is all too clear that the horrors and dangers of exile are not over, and we remain a small, vulnerable, and hated civilization.

    Perhaps Tisha B’Av is also about accepting that reality, and the contrast of what once was, as well as what we hope will be. Someday. (Maybe).

  • it is based on Rav Hirsh, which is based on older commentaries, and finally on the talmud.

    we fundamentally misunderstand the day, and this approach is much more in line with chazals teaching, in my humble opinion.

  • point 1 – I certainly believe in continuing to treat this as a fast day (I dont fast 100% – yet – but i eat only a tiny bit, and aspire to completely observe the past) (BTW – Im Masorti.)

    Point 2 – I think the reason to is not because of the need for personal tshuva, but because the galut means more than physical exile and the loss of the earthly beit hamikdash – galut is the unredeemed state of man and of israel, the world that lacks and yearns for moshiach. The unredeemed world includes our personal sins, but its MORE than that (not that im minimizing the importance of the individual neshumah) – im thinking in more lurianic terms, i guess.

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