This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Chazon – the Sabbath of vision. It refers to Isaiah’s vision of the destruction of the Temple which is found in the Haftarah reading (Isaiah 1:1-27) on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av.
During the heat of summer comes this holy day of Tisha b’Av. It is a solemn day on which we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and the burning of the city of Jerusalem. The restrictions on Tisha b’Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur: to refrain from eating and drinking (even water), washing, bathing, shaving and wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes, and engaging in sexual relations.
Unique to Tisha b’Av is a prohibition against the study of Torah (which is a joyful endeavor); instead, we study sad and painful passages such as the Book of Lamentations, Job, and parts of Jeremiah. Many traditional mourning practices are observed: we refrain from smiles, laughter, and idle conversation; and we sit on low stools. In the synagogue, the Book of Lamentations is read; the liturgy is marked by a haunting melody; the lights are dimmed; the Ark is draped in black or it is left open and emptied of all Torah scrolls; we sit on the floor or low benches; we don’t wear a tallit or t’fillin.
What does Tisha b’Av mean for Reform Jews? Historically, the Reform movement has downplayed the observance of Tisha b’Av because we may not mourn the destruction of the Temple; we may not consider ourselves in exile; we may not pray for the rebuilding of the Temple or for the return of the sacrificial cult; and we may not accept the theology that our tragedies were punishment for our sins.
However, Tisha b’Av does afford us the opportunity to experience communal grief for all Jewish tragedies and to reflect on our own personal losses and grief. Although we may not feel in physical exile, we may be in spiritual exile or in exile from communal life. This may also be an appropriate time to recall other human tragedies such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Reading the Book of Lamentations can teach us that what is painful to us can be talked about; and it can model for us how to handle grief, cope with a crisis, and express our rage: that lament is a first step towards healing. Please join us (virtually) on Erev Tisha b’Av, Wednesday, July 29 at 7:00pm, to study Eicha–the Book of Lamentations–together.