Jewish: Tisha B’Av, reflecting on loss from Jerusalem to Gulf

SUNDOWN MONDAY, JULY 19: A three-week period of increasing mourning ends for Jews today, as they lament what often is described as the saddest day in the calendar: Tisha B’Av. Feelings of displacement, disparity and unbearable grief arise from Jewish communities around the world, as families recall the fall of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE. (Judaism 101 has more.) Through a 25-hour fast, many devotees reflect on God’s disfavor at different periods throughout Jewish history, from the return of Moses’ 12 scouts sent to observe the land of Canaan to the failure of Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the Roman Empire in 135 CE. (Wikipedia has details.) It can be difficult, though, for modern Jews to understand the feelings their ancestors had thousands of years ago. Today, families also commonly reflect on calamities closer to our era. Some Jews commemorate the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 (which caused Christopher Columbus to embark on his journey one day late, the day after Tisha B’Av) and the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto—all of which were believed to have happened on or very near to Tisha B’Av. (Think you know all about Tisha B’Av now? Test your skills with a quiz from My Jewish Learning!)

It will be common today to find Jews dressed in clothes of mourning, refraining from smiles and reading from the book of Lamentations in the synagogue. For Tisha B’Av, the ark—the home of the Torah in a synagogue—is draped in black. In an article from, a Jewish website, one woman tells the recent heartbreaking story of losing her baby son—and how that loss brought her to unexpectedly and unwillingly better understand Tisha B’Av. By holding her son’s blanket, she explains, she feels close to what used to be, just like the Western Wall gives a hint of the Temple—yet she still yearns for the “real thing.”

There are many new issues around the world that Jews may reflect upon on this solemn day. writes about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. As Jews lament all of the “precious things” Jerusalem had before destruction, today we mourn the precious aquatic ecosystems, pristine beaches and other wildlife destroyed by human error.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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