Can there be any day on the Jewish calendar more out of synch with the season than Tisha B’Av? At the height of summer, when thoughts turn to sandy beaches and mountain streams, backyard cookouts and summer camp revels, Tisha B’Av — and the period of mourning that precedes it — enjoins us to take on the customs and manners of the bereaved, as we remember the destruction of the Temples and a host of tragedies in Jewish history. This year the fast day falls on Saturday night and Sunday, compounding the disconnect between the moment and the commemoration.
Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps on a day one rabbi calls a “reminder of the fragility of human existence,” we need to be shocked out of the expected and the comfortable. Judaism is itself a counter-culture, so it is not surprising that many of its rituals ask us to be contrary, even ornery, to what goes on around us. Perhaps to best appreciate the destruction that occurred on Tisha B’Av, we need to understand the disparity between a leisurely summer and the depths of despair.
Tisha B’Av 5775 comes one year after Israel’s latest war on Hamas and amid an international debate over a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The fragility of Jewish existence — and the pain of defending Jewish sovereignty in a violent world — feels immediate and palpable. The lamentations chanted on Tisha B’Av will feel simultaneously elegiac and prescient — frightening us with images of past devastation and dread of future threats.
Tisha B’Av is not, however, a day for self-pity. It is a day to mourn the past, but also to imagine a better future. It tells the story of persecution and exile, but also of return and redemption. It is, at heart, a ritual of stark contrasts, like a dark storm cloud on a bright summer’s day. And when the sun sets on Sunday night, we can appreciate yet again how we survived the storm, and lived to work for a world in need of redemption.