02 Jul 2015

The Happiness of the Month of Av – 5775

The Happiness of the Month of Av – 5775

If there’s one thing Jews are notorious for, it’s not being able to agree.  As the satirical saying goes ‘two Jews and three opinions! Yet, if you were to take a group of 100 educated Jews and ask them the following question, I am confident that you would receive a unanimous answer.

What, in your opinion, is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar? Surely Tishah B’av – the ninth of the Jewish month of Av. Various distressing things happened to our ancestors on that day. It was decreed upon our ancestors not to enter the Land of Israel in the time of Moses. Both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. The city of Beitar, south of Jerusalem, was captured.

Later in history it was also on Tishah B’Av, on 18 July 1290, that King Edward I signed the edict whereby all Jews were banished from England – in which they had lived for over two hundred years.

And of course, as our community well knows, it was on this day (July 30, 1492) that the Jews of Spain were expelled. Indeed a historically sad and troubling today.

Prophet Jeremiah in the Book of Lamentations however, had a radically different understanding of this day. He referred to this day as a ‘Moed’ – a Festival! Indeed, the halachic codifiers basing themselves on this verse that implies that Tishah B’av is a happy day, rule to omit tahanun (supplicatory prayers recited after the repetition of the amidah). How are we meant to make sense of this?

There is a legendary story about Napoleon Bonaparte. The French leader went for a walk one summer night and heard voices lamenting in a strange language. Upon asking why the men inside were sitting on the floor and mourning, he was told that these were Jews grieving for their destroyed temple in Jerusalem. “How long ago did this happen?” asked Bonaparte. “Eighteen-hundred years” was the answer.

“A nation that can mourn for so long the loss of its land and temple,” the emperor is supposed to have said prophetically, “will return one day to their land and see it rebuilt.”

Within the darkness, gloom and sadness of Tishah B’av lies a reason to celebrate. The fact that we still exist and care about the destruction of the Temples is ultimately a reason to rejoice.

May we see the rebuilding if the Temple speedily in our days, Amen.