Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mourning or Study on Tisha B'Av?

There is an apocryphal legend concerning Napoleon. One day on the ninth of Av he was walking past a synagogue when he heard the crying from within. He inquired as to the reason for their wailing and was told that they were weeping over the destruction of the temple. When was it destroyed, he asked. 1800 years ago was the answer. Napoleon reportedly responded: "I vow that this people is destined for a future in their own homeland. For is there any other people who have kept alive similar mourning and hope for so many years?"

The Laws of Tisha B'Av are designed to thrust us into a national state of mourning whereby individually and communally, every person becomes a mourner. It is an incredible process, as after 3 weeks of absence of public celebration, nine days of no wine nor meat, nor bathing, we sit on the floor like mourners and take off our leather shoes, we neither eat nor drink, and we wail the loss of our Temple and national glory. we become a nation of mourners. This is quite something, and there are many many testimonies throughout the ages that have expressed quite how monumental all this is.

I say all of this because I got a mailing announcing proudly a full morning of shiurim and lectures on the morning of Tisha B'Av. If I recall, the email said the the entire thing will be broadcast live by podcast. For some years now, shuls have put on learning programs, lectures, movies and other events in order to help congregants connect with Tisha B'Av. It is difficult to sit all day chanting Kinnot phrased in a difficult allusory poetic form in a language that one barely comprehends. And yet there is a basic distinction between study and mourning. The kinnot which wail or lament the Hurban, are exactly that. They are like a wail. And we sit on the floor and moan. They do not inspire; they depress. A shiur is intellectual, it is interesting, enlightening and informative. The Kinna is a very different world. It is devoid of the historical novelty, the chiddush in the third Chapter of Eichah, or the Rabbinic brilliance and mussar of Midrash Eicha. In many ways, I think we have lost the ability to mourn effectively!

If Napolean entered our shuls, he wouldn't see wailing. He would see a study hall - just that everyone is sitting on the floor!

I don't have a great solution. I also find Kinnot hard. I also connect better with study and programming. I just wonder whether we have actually - in our desire to "do" Tisha B'Av well - whether we have in fact changed Tisha B'Av into yet another study day.

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