Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Three Weeks 2016

No Half-Fast: Abq Jew must tell you that he does not like to fast. (Does anyone?) Even the thought of going without food gives Abq Jew headaches - which, the rabbis tell us, is sufficient reason to break a fast.

How convenient.

Yet here we are at the beginning of the The Three Weeks.
The Three Weeks or Bein ha-Metzarim (Hebrew: בין המצרים, "Between the Straits") (cf "dire straits") is a period of mourning commemorating the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temples.  
The Three Weeks start on the seventeenth day of the Jewish month of Tammuz — the fast of Shiva Asar B'Tammuz — and end on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av — the fast of Tisha B'Av, which occurs exactly three weeks later. 
Both of these fasts commemorate events surrounding the destruction of the Jewish Temples and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the land of Israel. 
According to conventional chronology, the destruction of the first Temple, by Nebuchadnezzar II, occurred in 586 BCE, and the second, by the Romans, in 70 CE. 
We traditionally "observe" The Three Weeks by minimizing (but, pointedly, not eliminating) our joy and celebration.

How? No shaving, no haircuts, no (lehavdil) listening to music. No reciting a shehecheyanu blessing on new clothes. And no weddings or other simchas.

Although, as the rabbis say, "communities and individuals vary in their levels of observance of these customs."

But wait!
There are special rules for 5776 / 2016!

"How so?" Abq Jew hears you ask.

There are special rules because the 17th of Tammuz actually fell on Shabbat. We are not allowed to fast on Shabbat - in fact, we've got to get three full meals in. So we postponed the observance of Shiva Asar B'Tammuz until the next day - Sunday.

And we will do similarly for Tisha B'Av.

So now, Abq Jew will  ask the simple and provocative question that he knows you, his loyal readers, are also asking.

If we're going to postpone 
Shiva Asar B'Tammuz and Tisha B'Av
for a day, why not postpone them forever? 
Why are we fasting, anyway?

For as Rabbi Daniel Greyber, rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, NC, pointed out last year in The Forward:
The Book of Lamentations, which we read on Erev Tisha B’Av, begins with stark words: “Lonely sits the city once great with people.” The text tells the story not only of Israel in 586 BCE, when the First Temple was destroyed and we were exiled to Babylonia, but also of thousands of years of Jewish history: “Her enemies are now the masters, / Her foes are at ease because God has afflicted her.” 
But the present reality of Israel couldn’t be more different. We are not exiled. Our enemies are not our masters. Our foes are not at ease. Instead, we have a powerful army. Jerusalem is a bustling, modern city full of life and vitality. The words of Lamentations contradicted the truth of my experience. Was I really supposed to ignore all that and fast and mourn and cry?
Rabbi Greyber then offers this insight:
Talmudic scholar Moshe Benovitz, a former teacher of mine, has one of the most original - and important - responses to that question. 
Benovitz is a Zionist, and he celebrates Israel’s Independence Day, but he argues that Yom Haatzma’ut - a holiday created by Israel’s Knesset - is not the Jewish tradition’s way of celebrating our people’s return to our land. 
What is? 
Turning Tisha B’Av into a day of feasting and joy.
The prophet Zechariah predicted long ago that one day Israel’s fast days “will be for the house of Judah joy and gladness.” 
When Jews have sovereignty, as we do now! Because we have a State of our own, Benovitz even argues we are living in the messianic era.

But, Abq Jew bets you're not surprised to hear, Benovitz's is not the majority opinion.

For that, Abq Jew turns (and returns) to the Conservative Movement, whose anthem of Tradition and Change speaks to his heart and to his brain.

Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute, asks his version of our question:
In light of the rebirth of the State of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem, should we continue to fast on Tisha B'av and the other three fasts which commemorate the Destruction of the Temple?
And offers a long, detailed, and comprehensive answer in a Responsum which begins:
In order to answer this question, one needs to examine three aspects of Tisha B'av, historical, halakhic and ideological.
Abq Jew, for historical reasons, is most interested in the historical aspect. When the Second Temple was standing, did we fast or otherwise observe Tisha b'Av?
It seems clear that, during the Second Temple period, when the Temple stood and a large percentage of the Jewish people dwelt in its own land, the Jewish people continued to fast on Tisha B'av and apparently on the other three fast days instituted in memory of the Destruction of the First Temple. 
This is not the answer that Abq Jew was hoping for. How about a half-fast - fasting for only half a day on Tisha b'Av, especially when its observance was postponed to Sunday?
We can derive from [one] episode [in the Tosefta] that during the period of the [Second] Temple the members of [one] particular family fasted for half a day when Tisha B'av was moved to the tenth of Av because of Shabbat. But the rest of the Jewish people fasted the entire day on Tisha B'av.
Rabbi Professor Golinkin  reaches this conclusion:
What should we do? 
We should fast all day on Tisha B'av, while ruling that the other three fasts are optional. 
This is the approach of Rav Pappa in Rosh Hashanah 18b as codified by the Geonim and Rishonim who ruled according to the simple meaning of the Talmudic passage. 
By so doing, we acknowledge the miracles of the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948 and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 by downplaying the three fast days, while indicating that we are still far from peace by fasting on Tisha B'av.

Rabbi Daniel Greyber concludes his article in The Forward by stating:
Part of the strength of Zionism was its willingness, even desire, to forget Jewish history. Forgetting a history of passivity and suffering may have helped Zionists summon the chutzpah to found the State of Israel. 
But forgetting history is also a weakness; Zionism sometimes entails so much forgetting of the Jewish past that we are too quickly left without roots. 
Our challenge is to create an approach to Judaism that is neither so tethered to the past that we deny the miracles unfolding before us, nor so disdainful of history that we forget our identity and the gift of an ancient tradition.
And by asking:
Could Tisha B’Av become a Jewish festival? 
Could Jews knowledgeable of Jewish history and dedicated to observance of God’s laws gather around the table on Erev Tisha B’Av, recall the suffering of our ancestors and, over a glass of wine and a sumptuous feast, recite blessings of thanks for returning us to our land? 
I don’t know. I have yet to find - or foster - a community within which to do so. I remain part of the Jewish community at large and continue to fast. 
Still, as Tisha B’av rolls around again ... I wonder about what could be.

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