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This Sunday marks one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar Tisha B’av. The Hebrew word Tisha B’av translates as the 9th day of the Hebrew month Av, a date which throughout Jewish history has come to manifest tragedy and disaster[1]. Many observe the day by practicing customs of mourning such as fasting and abstaining from pleasurable activities and practices. Special scriptural readings, such as Lamentations and the Book of Job, which discuss the calamitous events may also be read by some in synagogue services throughout the day.

Amongst the many catastrophes which have occurred on this date both the destruction of The First Temple in 587 BCE and The Second Temple in 70 CE may perhaps be considered most poignant. This is because, as the Temples’ Hebrew name Beit HaMikdash (which translates as The Sanctified House) infers, the resonance of a Temple to its worshipper is something far more elusive then the mere physical space encompassed within its parameters. A Temple is a spiritual place: divine, sacred and holy[2].  It is a place of sanctuary and a place of refuge[3]. It is a place of connection and identity: where one is able to enter into “the house of the Almighty”[4]. Thus, the destruction of the Temples can be seen to signify not only the great loss of their physical presence, but also its subsequent theological connotations of deprivation in the freedom to have, and be protected in, a place of religious sanctuary. Therefore on Tisha B’av when mourning the demolition of the Temples grief can be understood to transcend their ostensible physical loss. Rather in furtherance, the frightening social ramifications of what it meant for the Temples’ to be destroyed are also recalled and the hateful narratives which emanate from this denial of the right to religious practice are also remembered with sorrow.

In Lamentations it is outlined how “Judah has gone into exile because of misery and harsh oppression”[5]. It is here that the contemporary salience of Tisha B’av can regretfully be recognised. The very culture which facilitated the Babylonian’s and respectively the Roman’s invasion on the Jewish people’s holy place of worship continues to manifest. It is a culture of intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. It is a culture which catalyses divide and constructs toxic narratives of the undesired ‘other’. It is a culture which even in this past year has (amongst other things) continued to threaten holy temples across the globe and deny people of the right to safely practice their faith in their place of worship[6].

We must take action to rectify the social deficit that is prejudice. We must unite and make space for faith and identity to be practiced freely, without worry of threat. Because if we do not minority groups will continue to have what is sacred to them threatened and forcefully projected outside the fabrics of society and into exile.

This Tisha B’av I encourage us all not only to remember the great loss that was the destruction of the Temples, but to actively engage in thought about the cultures of hate which deemed there be no space for Jewish worship. Let us elevate this theme of counteracting oppression into today’s context and unite together to ensure protection for those groups on which discrimination continues to prey and push into exile.

 

Esther Sills

Programme Manager

 

[1] Tannit 4:6

[2] I Kings 8:27

[3] Exodus 25:8

[4] Genesis 28:16-17

[5] Lamentations 1:3

[6] Examples include Sri Lanka, Pittsburgh, Christchurch