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Jewish Journal

My Problem with Tisha B’Av

by Nolan Lebovitz

August 4, 2014 | 4:45 pm

On Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew Month of Av), we mourn both destructions of the Holy Temple and a myriad of other atrocities that the Jewish People have suffered on this notorious day.  We fast and read the Book of Eicha, which describes the sacking of Jerusalem, “Her [Jerusalem’s] adversaries have become her master, her enemies are at ease, for G-d has aggrieved her for her abundant transgressions…” (Eicha 1:5)

Eicha’s theology infuriates me to no end.  Today in 2014, we better understand geopolitics and the Temple’s destruction in 586 BCE within the context of the conquests of the Babylonian Empire.  To assign Eicha’s theology to the events of 586 BCE would be to view the Jews as deserving of such a fate and the Babylonians as the instrument of G-d who were selected to inflict the punishment.  Was that also true in 70 AD when the Romans burned down Jerusalem and the Second Temple?  Did we deserve the Spanish Inquisition in 1492?  How about the Nazis and the systematic extermination of over six million Jews between 1939 and 1945?  Did we deserve that?  Was there any kind of divine spirit imbued in the Nazis as they murdered two hundred members of my family?

It seems to me that one can either believe the theology of Eicha – or we can understand the events of 586 BCE in context and learn from them.  We can see our own weakness in 586 BCE and our inability to create worthwhile alliances.  Time and again, we can learn to trust nobody but ourselves.  G-d does not protect us anymore with a pillar of fire, G-d gives us the intellect and drive to learn from our experiences and be wiser, stronger, more resourceful Jews.  It seems to me that one can believe the theology of Eicha or the historical context of 586 BCE, but not both.

I can’t believe that G-d was solely responsible for Jerusalem’s destruction anymore than I believe that G-d is solely responsible for our current possession of it.  To believe that would be to disrespect all of the brave IDF soldiers who fought for it in 1947 and who united it once again in 1967 and who continue to fight for it today.  We are in partnership with G-d.  And we are responsible for our own future.  G-d gives us the free will to turn away from destruction and towards survival and from survival towards strength.

I simply refuse to spend a day, even a minute, of my year commemorating our collective weakness and tragedy and accepting that G-d had intended that for us.  Let us redefine Tisha B’Av – not as a commemoration of our weakness but as a day of action.  Every other weekday morning I wrap my arm and head in Tefillin, in Torah.  The tradition tells me that on Tisha B’Av I don’t.  Perhaps the lack of Tefillin isn’t because of sorrow and mourning, but because on Tisha B’Av I don’t need to be reminded how to act as a proud Jew.

Let’s take this Tisha B’Av to inspire us to look at Jerusalem with eyes of determination, not eyes of sadness.  Let’s call Congressman and Senators and the White House and scream that we are proud to have reestablished our national homeland and we refuse to apologize for defending ourselves.  Let’s call our Israeli family and friends and see what kind of support they need.  Let’s help get more Jews and others to visit Israel now more than ever.  Let’s raise our children as a new type of Jew -- The kind that cries less and acts more.  The kind that celebrates Yom Yerushalayim with the same fervor and dedication as Tisha B’Av.  The kind that walks through the world devoted to G-d, Torah, and the State of Israel.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Nolan Lebovitz was born and raised in Highland Park, Illinois.  Growing up, he belonged to North Suburban Synagogue Beth-El in Highland Park and attended Solomon Schechter Day...

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