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Tishah B'Av

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain on July 31, 1492, occurred on the same day as the destruction of the first and second Jerusalem Temples. Jews the world over traditionally observe these and other historic tragedies on Tishah B’Av with prayers of mourning and fasting.

Why does the exile from Spain rank as one of the greatest tragedies to befall the Jewish people? Jews had been banished from other European realms, including England and France, but they were few in number and influence. The Jewish population of Spain, more than 550,000 strong, constituted well over half the Jewish...

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Let me start by being very clear: I don’t yearn for a return to sacrificial rites, holy priests, or incense-burning in the Temple. I don’t miss the Temple itself, nor is the Western Wall a particular source of inspiration or empowerment for me.

In fact, some of the inspiring figures of Reform Judaism – Isaiah, Amos, and the first generation of rabbis – were prophets who criticized the corruption and evil that came from the Temple culture. Today, every Reform rabbi knows well the words of Isaiah 1:10-17:

“Hear the word of the Eternal, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the...

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William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name?” The holiday of Tishah B’Av, which literally translates to the “Ninth of (the month of) Av” is so named to remember the destruction of the ancient temples in Jerusalem (in 586 BCE and 70 CE) said to have occurred on that day. Reform practice of this occasion varies, but in many Jewish communities, the day is traditionally one of introspection and mourning. This year and next, though, something curious happens: Tishah B’Av will be observed on the tenth – not the ninth – of the month of Av.

Why is this occasion...

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I had never even heard of Tishah B’Av until I was 12 years old and participating in the inaugural season of the Camp Institute for Living Judaism (later to renamed URJ Eisner Camp) in Great Barrington, MA. Since then, I have struggled with the significance of this day for me as a Reform Jew.

On Tishah B’Av, traditionally observant Jews fast in memory of the two magnificent Temples of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. The also commemorates other historical tragedies. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a...

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Hineh mah tov umah na'im shevet achim gam yachad!Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for people to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

In the Jewish world, countless services and lifecycle events open with this verse, attributed to King David. For those who derive inspiration from these words – and the many melodies set to them – this verse provides comfort, engenders connection, and transforms gatherings.

I’ve always felt that the wide use of this verse may also be a reminder that goodness in coming together is not necessarily a default state. Rather, Psalm 133:1...

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