Thursday, July 31, 2014

Observe Tisha b'Av Monday, August 4th and Tuesday August 5th

George Washington says it would be good for you to engage in a day of "fasting, humiliation, and prayer."

While I think the meaning of "humiliation" may have changed slightly since 1779, it has nevertheless been a part of American history and civic practice down to our own times to observe national days of reflection and introspection, particularly when the country is faced with difficult challenges, such as in Washington's time when the country faced the difficult challenge of becoming a country!

This American tradition comes out of our shared Judeo-Christian heritage.  It was commonplace in biblical times and later for Jews to observe days of fasting and prayer.  Of course we know about commanded days such as Yom Kippur, but throughout Jewish history, given communities have declared their own days of fasting in the face of trouble.  We see evidence of this in medieval Spain and in Eastern Europe and during the 20th century also.  Some of these fast days never caught on beyond their local, historical context (for example, most communities today no longer observe the 13th or 20th of Sivan as a fast day in memory of the massacres carried out by the cossack, Chelminitski in 17th century Poland), but others are universally accepted and treated as required.

Tisha b'Av, the 9th of Av, is such a Fast Day.  It is observed in memory of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples and additionally commemorates the day the twelve spies came back with their bad report on the land of Israel during the Exodus, the defeat of the Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans in 132-35CE, as well as the expulsions of Jews from England and Spain during the Middle Ages and other events.  Some communities use the day as of memorial for the Holocaust also.

It is a full day fast, lasting from evening to evening.  One is also forbidden to wear leather, clean or adorn oneself beyond what is required for hygiene, or engage in marital relations.  It is also customary to come to synagogue and hear the book of Lamentations read, usually done while sitting on the floor or low benches and with the room dimly lit.  Some congregations will dress the Ark or bimah in black crepe for the occasion and otherwise denote the solemnity of the day.  Nevertheless, as a rabbinically required holiday, one can use electricity, work, drive, etc., though care should be given to avoid any kind of festivities or any other enjoyable activities that day.

This year, it is critical, going back to our First President's decree, to observe this year's Tisha b'Av as a day for reflection and re-dedication to the modern state of Israel and our fellow Jews whose lives are at risk there today.  I encourage all members of our community to add to their observance of the fast day this year by also designating funds for charity in support of Israel and otherwise working to advocate for our homeland.

The rabbis tell us that the Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred amongst the Jews.  Tisha b'Av should be a yearly reminder to us to keep strong our bonds with Israel and all Jews and remain a strong and secure community.

Wishing you an easy fast,

Rabbi Benson

Friday, July 25, 2014

Read This: Left-Wing Rabbi Defends Israel

Rabbi Menachem Creditor is a rabbi whose work and convictions I admire though I tend to disagree with him on many things.  This piece he wrote is not one of those things.  Impressive when any of us can look at a situation and not just be bound by our past convictions or others' expectations of us:

"I'm Done Apologizing for Israel"

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Aaron Benson