As July begins, the three-week mourning period between the 17th day of the month of Tammuz and the 9th day of the month of Av continues. On the 10th day of the month of Tevet in the year 586 BCE, the Babylonians commenced their siege of Jerusalem, on the 17th day of Tammuz, six months later, the conquerors breached the city walls, and on the 9th day of the month of Av – Tishah B’Av – they destroyed Jerusalem and King Solomon’s Temple. Like the 10th day of Tevet, Tishah B’Av is a day of mourning and fasting. In addition, people gather to read M’gillat Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, which provides a harrowing account of the destruction of Jerusalem.
On Tishah B’Av we recall that devastating catastrophe. But that date is also seared in the memory of the Jewish people because it marks the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, as well as other experiences of destruction – churban – throughout our history – most notably, the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492. So, should we also remember our other experiences of churban – including those that did not take place on the 9th day of Av – when we commemorate Tishah B’Av? How we respond to this question depends on what it is exactly that we are commemorating: the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple, specifically, or the Jewish experience of churban, in general?
Living as we do in the shadow of the Sho’ah, if we do think it is appropriate to recall our long history of churban on Tishah B’Av, perhaps we need to ask ourselves further, more challenging questions: What is the purpose of remembering? Do we do it in order to rehearse our sorrows? To reinforce our particular identity as Jews; and our sense of being singled out – by the Eternal One and by others? Or is the purpose of remembering to remind ourselves of our responsibility to challenge the oppression of other peoples as well? The Torah exhorts us, repeatedly, ‘Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ – so that we remain sensitive to the plight of other victims of persecution.
From the perspective of the Torah, remembrance is a call to action. The liturgy for Tishah B’Av we use at BHPS includes, alongside the remembrance of our people’s suffering, remembrance, both, of the Great War, which began on July 28th 1914, and the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 1945 respectively. Some years, these dates actually coincide with Tishah B’Av, reinforcing the message that we are called remember, both, on our own people’s behalf, and for the sake of the world around us. And so, on Tishah B’Av – as on Yom Ha-Sho’ah – if our remembrance moves us to declare: ‘Never Again!’ let us also add: ‘Never Again to any people!’