When tragedy strikes, we can be overwhelmed with a flood of tears, regrets, shock, disbelief and more. Tragedy can be personal, as in the death of a loved one, or it can be en masse, as in the genocide of an entire community.
On July 27, 2004, the Jewish people will participate in the annual commemoration of a communal tragedy. Tisha be-Av (the Ninth of Av, a Jewish calendar month) memorializes the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (586 BC and 70 AD respectively). To be more precise, Orthodox and Conservative Jews will observe the day; Reform Judaism traditionally has not done so because the Temple is not as religiously significant for them as for others. However, some Reform Jews do fast on Tisha be-Av and use the day as an occasion to recall other tragedies in Jewish history.
And indeed, eerily enough, other Jewish tragedies did occur on the Ninth of Av, including the expulsion of the Jewish people from Spain in 1492. World War I also began on the Ninth of Av, which from a Jewish perspective, could be said to mark the beginning of the road to the Holocaust. These events are also recalled on Tisha be-Av. In the synagogue, worshippers read the book of Lamentations—some of the most mournful passages of Scripture—on the night of Tisha be-Av.
The first stop for learning about Tisha be-Av is the informational web sites.
For insights from traditional Jewish viewpoints, see the following sites (some may not be updated for 2004, so check before assuming that English calendar dates on these pages are correct for this year):
Tisha be-Av has also figured in the arts. When he was 24 years old, Jewish composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote his first symphonic effort, the Jeremiah Symphony. In the third movement, he incorporated part of the text of Lamentations, with the soprano singing the traditional melody used on Tisha be-Av. Bernstein explained that the symphony offered "comfort, not a solution." He knew that he could not offer a tidy answer to tragedy.
According to the notes of one recent reissue, "The long finale is really the centrepiece of the symphony, setting words from the…Hebrew version of the Book of Lamentations…in which the prophet laments the fallen and abandoned Jerusalem. This movement was composed several years earlier, before the Second World War, but its apocalyptic aura gave strong resonance to audiences recently made aware of the horrors of the Holocaust."
To order any of the various recordings of the powerful Jeremiah Symphony, search at amazon.com.
Quite a few books deal with issues of suffering and tragedy. Rabbi Harold Kushner's, When Bad Things Happen to Good People is perhaps the best known. Rabbi Kushner's portrayal of God as all-good but not all-powerful is worth reading to see how one popular author handles the "problem of pain."
However, while those of us who follow Y'shua (Jesus) may empathize with the rabbi's personal pain, we know that his "solution" is inadequate. God is both all-good AND all-powerful. For a more biblically-oriented approach to dealing with personal or communal tragedy, one of the following books will prove more helpful:
- Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey.
- Where is God When It Hurts?, an earlier treatment by the same author.
- The Problem of Pain, a classic by C. S. Lewis.
As believers in Jesus, we know that He is the ultimate Answer to life's tragedies—partly because He is the ultimate Participant. And yet, we have to admit that there are some answers that will have to wait, and we cannot neatly solve or explain life's tragedies. God does not provide all the answers or solutions, but offers comfort leading to hope, and we can offer the same.
All books referred to above are available from amazon.com.
This Tisha be-Av, as our Jewish people mourn the series of tragedies in Jewish history, followers of Y'shua can make it a time to reflect on how God the Father took a great tragedy of His own and turned it into the victory of the Resurrection. And if you are in the midst of a personal tragedy, be sure to pick up one of the above books by Yancey or Lewis, alongside the Bible, to help you work through your experience in light of what Jesus has done for us.
PLEASE NOTE: we do not necessarily endorse all the content you will see on all of above or previous sites mentioned, but if you read them judiciously, we hope you will find them both interesting and helpful for learning.