Why I’m Fasting on Tishah B’Av, and Why Now: A Reform Perspective

July 31, 2017Rabbi Ilana Schachter

As a Reform Jew, I never felt called to fast on Tishah B’Av. In some ways, I’ve felt that the destruction of the Temple was directly responsible for Rabbinic Judaism and my way of Jewish life, which is not something I want to mourn.

One Tishah B’Av in Jerusalem, however, one of my teachers challenged this. He shared that he, too, had never fasted on Tishah B’Av – until the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. On the brink of peace, at a time of great and intense hope for Israel’s future, witnessing the assassination felt, to him, like something broke forever. He felt the brokenness so deeply that he could no longer opt out of fasting. Tradition teaches that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred, in the world.

For him, it was in the moment of Rabin’s assassination when he fully understood the term sinat chinam and felt that, so long as senseless hatred still exists in the world, Tishah B’Av had relevance and meaning for him and the Jewish people.

Today, my teacher’s words resonate with me even more deeply as I look at our country in its current state. Just as he felt the acute shattering of hope so many years ago, I too feel that something has shattered and is in need of great repair. The sinat chinam seems to reveal itself in new ways every day, whether it takes the form of new legislative policy or vandalism of a Jewish cemetery or acts of arson targeting our Muslim neighbors.

And so, for the first time in my life, I cannot opt out of fasting, of mourning, of praying with my whole body for peace, for restoration of what is broken. Fasting is not merely a tool for focusing one’s attention, but it is also a protest and a call to change. In the presence of such senseless hatred and violence, I feel driven to act.

I have seen a similar response within the Reform community.

At Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City, in lieu of a traditional service commemorating the destruction of the Temple, we are beginning the observance of Tishah B’Av with a healing service – looking at opportunities to heal the brokenness, to piece back together the broken shards in ourselves and in our communities. Rather than simply remembering and mourning destruction, we are looking at Tishah B’Av as an opportunity to act, to transform destruction into construction, loss into growth.

The destruction of the Temple was not merely physical loss, but a spiritual crisis for the Jewish people. I believe that many of us find ourselves in a similar crisis today. This year, as I join so many Jews around the world who fast, I feel aware of my own agency, and I take solace in knowing that I am not alone.

May we work to repair the shards of brokenness created by senseless hatred so that we can realize the words of the Psalmist: The world will be built with lovingkindness.

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