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Observing Tisha b’Av in a Reform community

Rabbi Maurice Michaels discusses the observance of Tisha b’Av at SWESRS – South West Essex & Settlement Reform Synagogue.

The traditional liturgy for the service for the Eve of Tisha B’Av is the normal evening service with the reading of the Book of Lamentations and a series of kinot (elegies) inserted between the Amidah and Aleinu. The kinot began to be written some time between the 7th and 10th centuries and have continued until modern times. They are often arranged in alphabetic form, in a variety of guises, or as an acrostic on the name of the author.

Originally relating to the destruction of the two Temples, they have been expanded to include reference to other catastrophes, such as that of Rabbi Menachem ben Jacob of Worms on the massacre at York, and of Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg on the public burning of Torah scrolls in Paris. Kinot tend to be rather long and very gloomy, in keeping with the day.

While keeping to a similar structure, the Service  at SWESRS aims to provide an historical perspective, less poetic but more chronological.  It utilises material from a variety of sources, ancient and modern; from traditional Jewish texts and secular documents.

Yet holding a service for Tisha b’Av inevitably must raise questions: Why do we need to commemorate the destruction of the Temples? Surely from the viewpoint of a Reform congregation we are not looking for the Temple to be rebuilt?  And if it was because we also lost the land, well has it not now been recovered?

For a long time Tisha b’Av was not part of the Reform Movement’s calendar, for these very reasons.  But the emphasis on the Temple has, in more recent times, been superceded by a growing awareness of the need to remember the other events of oppression and persecution that befell our people at this time of the year. This was partially brought about by the Shoah, which rightly has a separate day when we commemorate the victims of the Nazi Holocaust; but which highlighted the need for earlier catastrophes not to be forgotten. There has also been a general move towards tradition, which while probably not increasing observance of the laws and customs applicable to the day and the three week period leading up to it, has generated a greater knowledge of Tisha b’Av

So it is that we feel that a short period of prayer and reflection will not only serve to remind us of our tragic past, but also will create within us the will to work towards a world in which all nations can live together in peace and justice, thereby fulfilling the promises of our ancient prophets.

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