Saturday, July 25, 2015

Relating to Tishah B'Av

It's difficult to mourn the Destruction of the Temple, since most of us don't have any particular desire to engage in Temple service, and the persecution and massacres that were involved took place a very, very long time ago. Perhaps one way to relate to it is to read about the distressing phenomenon whereby our enemies today deny that there ever was a Jewish Temple in Israel - with the resultant conclusion that the Jews have no historical right to be in Israel. To quote Professor James Davila: There is an increasing practice among journalists of writing as though the existence of the ancient Jewish temples on the Temple Mount is a disputable question with two legitimate "competing narratives."

Many people tap into the mood of the day via contemplating the Holocaust. I'd like to share some recommendations for books about the Holocaust that I find particularly moving - please feel free to share other recommendations in the comments section.

Yaffa Eliach, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust - I haven't read this in many years, but I remember it being very powerful. There's valuable mussar in the story about the survivors whom, at a wedding many decades later, asked the waiter not to clear off the table, because they still found it reassuring to see food in front of them.

Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, Responsa From The Holocaust - It's incredibly moving to see what kinds of halachic questions people were asking during this period, and how desperate they were to maintain allegiance to halachah even under the most adverse circumstances.

Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning - A classic. Everyone should read this book.

Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper's Wife - This is the true account of how a non-Jewish couple, who ran the Warsaw Zoo, used the zoo to hide Jewish fugitives during the war. What I find particularly humbling is that they had a beloved young son, who would have been brutally killed had their activities been discovered. How many of us would place our children's lives at such risk in order to help people of a different religion?

May there be no more such suffering - and may the Jewish People's right and reign over their homeland be uncontested.


  1. I find the best way to get in the right mood for 9 Av is to do 2 things:
    1) Remember that 9 Av is a conditional holiday. It only exists as long as we're in Golus. And Golus is also conditional on us learning the lessons of why the last Temple was destroyed (may it be speedily rebuilt) and rectifying them
    2) Personal insight (a rare commodity): what did I do in the last year to contribute to 9 Av happening on schedule this year? How did I fail myself, my people and God's plan for history?

  2. Thank you for this list. I've read the first few books, but I've never heard of the Zookeeper. Sounds like a book I should read.

    I wanted to add to this list some Holocaust books which moved me more than the rest:
    1) The Scent of Snowflowers. (Rivka Leah Klein)
    Written by a woman who was pregnant with her first child when the Nazis invaded Hungary. It tells the story of a righteous gentile and his family who risk their own lives to save the author and many of her relatives.

    2)Gizelle, Save the Children
    Graphic and painful- the story of four sisters in Auschwitz

    2) To Vanquish the Dragon
    (Pearl Benisch)
    6 years of increasing horror under Nazi rule in Poland. The author suffered through it all, but manages to stay strong, and even humorous. No graphic verbal image and very little despair although the horror was clearly spelled out.

  3. I fully agree with R' Natan's recommendation about Yaffa Eliach's book, "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust". I would particularly recommend the tales involving the Spero family (the 'old' Bluzhever Rebbe, the rebbetzin, and her sons. Those stories were told to Prof. Eliach in a Brooklyn College class that the rebbe's daughter-in-law (married to the younger son) attended. The stories have a claim to reliability (having been told to the daughter-in-law by the participants). They also show the older Speros in an unconventional light. Rav Spero was a rather worldly figure for a chasidic rebbe, having interacted with Gentiles both in his town and in German spas - relationships that saved his life. The rebbetzin (his cousin and 2nd wife) was of a heroic mold who was not afraid to use her knowledge of the German language and culture to socialize with German officers and garner life-saving information. The stories are both moving and inspiring.

    When the older son (the current rebbe)was married, a Yiddish reporter covered the wedding that he described as the most unusual wedding that he had experienced. It started with the rebbe passing on the custom to break a glass after the Chupah saying, "We don't need that to remind us of the Churban". Throughout the night, the singing and dancing was interrupted by crying as the festivities invoked memories of lost loved ones that would overwhelm the celebrants.

    May our perseverance despite the Holocaust be the merit that insures that such tragedies will not be repeated, and invites a true consolation.

  4. "Perhaps one way to relate to it is to read about the distressing phenomenon whereby our enemies today deny..."

    I like your idea, even though I'm afraid my emotions would drift towards anger and frustration instead of sadness.

  5. "The Cantonists", by Larry Domintich. First-hand accounts of one of the darkest periods of Jewish history. Hard to read without welling up. Appropriate mood literature.

  6. "It's difficult to mourn the Destruction of the Temple, since most of us don't have any particular desire to engage in Temple service"

    Another one shortcoming to denying any mysticism YIdishkeit.

  7. May I humbly suggest that not missing the Temple is a problem we should attempt to corect?

    After all, the Temple is the "ultimate" and if we don't miss it, we should perhaps study what the Temple was supposed to represent so that we start missing it.

  8. > May I humbly suggest that not missing the Temple is a problem we should attempt to corect?

    Why? The destruction of the Beis HaMikdash is what made the Tzedukim irrelevant and paved the way for the ascendancy of Rabbinical Judaism. The Judaism of the Temple cult shared some things in common with current-day Judaism, but most of it would seem to us to be another religion entirely.

  9. Another one shortcoming to denying any mysticism YIdishkeit.

    There's nothing particularly mystical to slaughtering a cow and spreading its blood around an altar. Or rather, the mysticism is an attribute you apply to the ritual, and not an intrinsic part.

    Additionally, the vast majority of Jews are neither Levi'im nor Kohanim, and therefore cannot participate other than as observers.

    Similar to what Yehudah wrote after you, it's far better to mourn the idea of the Temple than the Temple itself.

  10. Yehuda inspired me to share this excellent model of the 2nd Beis haMikdash, which can be set as your computer's wallpaper:

  11. Josephus's "The Jewish War" can still be read with relevancy today. He details the events of that war and the destruction of the Jewish nation and the Beis Hamikdosh.

    The destruction of the Temple was the centrally important and symbolic act of the destruction of Jewish national existence in Eretz Yisrael. Two million Jews died during that war and hundreds of thousands were taken to Rome as slaves. Josephus recounts many of these details.

    Above all else Tishah B'Av is (for me) a reminder that the love of the Land of Israel and the holy Temple is central to our Jewish identity. This holds true even if there will no longer be Temple sacrifices. It is the spot where our ancestors brought sacrifices to G-d beginning in the 10th century BCE!

    From this fact alone and the subsequent centrality of the spot to which we direct our prayers to this day defines its existential holiness, even if we no longer relate in a intuitive way to animal sacrifices.

    If any people can lay claim to a spot of land on the earth's surface, it is the Jewish People's claim and right to possess and own the Temple Mount and our holy city of Yerushalayim.

  12. Temujin wishes to add his humble hopes and prayers for a united Jewish people in a strong, secure, whole and prosperous homeland, a people ever striving to enrich and improve Almighty's wondrous creation in myriads of diverse ways while at peace with the world...and its own differences. May all here have an easy fast and may we all indeed merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit ha Migdash in our times.

  13. Related question: the "nachem" prayer in Mincha (in the Sephardic version, at least ) asks God to comfort the mourners of Jerusalem, and describes the city as "destroyedhumiliated, desolate... bereft of her sons etc."

    Most people do not think this accurately descibes the bustling city of Jerusalem today, yet are hesitant to skip these lines because they're printed in the siddur.

    I'm curious how the readers of this post act in practice: say it, skip it? Or turn it into past tense as R. Haim David Levy suggested?

  14. "Most people do not think this accurately descibes the bustling city of Jerusalem today..."

    Try walking in Silwan, which is the true Old City. Much of modern Jerusalem is still accurately described in נחם and more importantly, we are still waiting for the בית המקדש.

    That being the case, there has been much discussion on the subject- Rav Ovadia Yosef has a famous תשובה on this in יחוה דעת (unfortunately, I don't have the exact citation.) Alternative versions of נחם have been proposed by others included R' Shlomo Goren. I'm not sure if any of them have become pervasive.

    כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה

  15. Those sins that were the cause of the destruction of the Temple, are also what is preventing it from being rebuilt today.

    I recommend as essential reading, articles on charedi transgressions against themselves, the state of Israel, and against the freedom to practice religion in the way each individual group sees right and proper for themselves, e.g. WOW, etc.

    We must bear in mind all transgressions especially on such days.

  16. Most people would tell you that the main advantages of a rebuilt Temple are that (1) God would be imminently present on earth (hashra'at haShechinah), (2) the Jewish people would be recognized as worshiping the true God and following the true religion, and (3) there would be a restoration of justice.

    As for sacrifices, we already enjoy feasting on meat meals with family and friends on Sabbaths and holidays and on special occasions. How much more so if the meat had been sacrificed to God on His altar!

    This would be a problem for vegetarians, of course, but personally I have never been one.

  17. In its collective conscious, the Jewish people do not want to return to the Temple way of life. It's not just because we no longer see spirituality in sacrifice; it's also because we find the idea of a privileged priestly class undemocratic, and the tummah/tahara system strange or divisive. Because the people do not want it, we do not have it.

    By contrast, the collective Jewish conscious never lost its connection to the land of Israel, and the desire to reclaim it. Because the people wanted it, we now have it.

    1. Do you think it's "undemocratic" when I and my fellow kohanim go up to bless you, or get the first aliya? Do you think it's "undemocratic" that we can't marry the same number of people as you? I'm sorry to hear that, but hey, that's Judaism.

  18. Even if some/many Jews cannot relate (or find it difficult to relate) to the destruction of Temples millenia ago, modern Jews can and do certainly relate to destroyed synagogues, which have "replaced" the Temples as the spiritual and religious centers of world Jewry. On Tisha B'Av and other sad days in the Jewish calendar, we should remember the many synagogues that were damaged, looted, and even destroyed over the centuries, including the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Also, I think modern Jews can also relate to the notion of "exile" and what it means to be cast out from one's home. This has practical applications in our world: families turned out of their foreclosed homes; folks who make the streets and cars their homes; peoples exiled from their towns or countries as a result of ethnic cleansing and war. The Holocaust is the most notorious massive example of "exile" imposed on a modern people and it happened to us Jews! If that doesn't reconnect modern Jews to Tisha B'Av, I don't know what will.

    Have an easy fast,
    M. Singer

  19. if you are in israel, perhaps attend one of these events:

    "Tonight we don't learn Torah'

  20. "It's difficult to mourn the Destruction of the Temple, since most of us don't have any particular desire to engage in Temple service, and the persecution and massacres that were involved took place a very, very long time ago."

    Tisha Ba'av is not merely about the lack of temple services in the strict sense, rather it is a day that we mourn the lack of kavod hashamayim that exists in the world. Chazal say that as a result of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash there was a general withdrawal of G-dliness from the world. Today perhaps more than in any other time in history do we know all too well what the world could look like without G-d in the equation. It is something to mourn indeed.

  21. Here is interesting Holocaust testimony by Rabbi David Bar-Hayim's father, Rabbi Michael Mandel:

  22. This I heard from Machon Shilo's Rabbi David Bar-Hayim.

    The Temple was where Jews recharged their spiritual batteries and could sense HASHEM's closeness. There is nothing that can accomplish for us what the Temple could accomplish for us spiritually.

    Regarding the fact that many of us can not "relate" nowadays-I would compare it to Sabbath observance. You have to do it to truly understand its spiritual value. There is an experiential aspect which no amount of explanations can replace.

  23. Mishna Torah said...
    > Today perhaps more than in any other time in history do we know all too well what the world could look like without G-d in the equation.

    What does that mean?

    If you mean that lack of belief in God leads to atrocities, belief in God is largely irrelevant to morality.

    Most of the tragedies of Jewish history were perpetrated by religious people. Religious Seleucids put statues of Greek gods in the Beis HaMikdash .Religious Christians went on Crusades, instigated and participated in pogroms, and kept Jews out of the trade guilds. It was Their Most Catholic Majesties who expelled the Jews from Spain. The Nazis marched to war with “Gott mitt uns” emblazoned on their belt buckles, just below the eagle clutching a swastika.

    There are many fine people who do a lot of good things motivated by their religious beliefs. There are people, like Islamic terrorists, who do terrible things motivated by their religious beliefs. There are non-religious people who do great things, and who do horrible things.

    I can mourn the destruction of the Temple as a human tragedy, a terrible event when thousands, maybe millions were slaughtered or enslaved and a great cultural center was destroyed. But I don’t see how “Godliness” is makes a difference one way or another.

  24. It's difficult to mourn the Destruction of the Temple, since most of us don't have any particular desire to engage in Temple service..

    After 2000 years of longing, can you so casually dismiss the Jewish desire for the redemption and the rebuilding of the 3rd temple?

    If you can only mourn for rituals you can understand, then at least focus on other aspects of what we're missing. For example, the Temple was the place Jews gathered together to serve God 3 times a year.

    ..and the persecution and massacres that were involved took place a very, very long time ago.

    So why is that not worth mourning over? The Romans massacred over a million Jews after the Jewish-Roman wars. If not for all the massacres against the jews, the Jewish nation would be many times larger today.

    The point of Tisha b'Av is to remember all of Jewish history, not only the last century.

  25. I'm quite disturbed. I've just discovered that the Jews were irreligious even when the temple was standing, and that king Yoshiyahu "found" a Torah scroll. Uh oh.....

  26. Bruce said, "I've just discovered that the Jews were irreligious even when the temple was standing"

    True, but the Temple was standing almost 400 years before that--people would tend to revere something less as they get used to it.
    That can't be compared to the rebuilding of the Third Temple--it would require visible displays of ruach hakodesh (what is the proper location of the altar, where is the anointing oil, ashes of the parah adumah etc.) that would leave no room for skepticism, even in this age. If there was such an arousal among Jews after a "natural" event like the Six Day War, this would be a much more momentous occasion.

  27. I do not think it is correct to turn Tisha B'Av into another Yom Hashoah. It is entirely possible to mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and all it represents without wanting to watch animals being sacrificed. We are mourning our loss of sovereignty, the galut that led to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust, the fact that over 6 million Jews do not see that the Geulah has begun and choose to live outside Israel. If you concentrate on the glory that the Bet Hamikdash represented to the Jews and the whole world you can better understand the loss. There are good websites that can make the Bet hamikdash real. I also recommend reading "The Voices of Massada" by David Kossoff which tells the (fictionalised) story of the 2 women who survived Massada and brings to life what the destruction of the Bet hamikdash and Jerusalem meant.

  28. That the Temple existed on the Temple Mount is beyond reasonable dispute, even if specific dates are hard to prove because they are so far in the past.

    But the value of observing Tisha B'Av is independent of the precision or provability of the events it recalls. It unites us as a people, while strengthening our compassion, our commitment to justice, and our dedication to Hashem.

  29. This is to update my comment written 2 years ago. I learned just before the 3 weeks that my Torah Vodaath classmate, the Bluzhever Rebbe, R' Zvi Yehuda (Hersh) Spira had passed away and was buried on Har Hazeitim next to his father, the 'old' Bluzhever Rebbe, R' Yisroel Spira. Thus have passed 2 figures whose remarkable stories, together with the even more remarkable stories of the 'old' Rebbetzin, are featured in "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust". It is worthwhile to read the obituaries in Hamodia and (gasp) Yated available through Google to get a picture of the magnitude of the loss - particularly today.

    Y. Aharon

  30. "It's difficult to mourn the Destruction of the Temple, since most of us don't have any particular desire to engage in Temple service,"

    Assuming you are not a vegetarian, can you - or anyone else - actually explain what is so wrong with animal sacrifice?


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