Reasonable Doubts Blog

Is it wrong to fast on Tisha Be’Av?

Posted in holidays by Cheryl Berman on the July 23rd, 2010

Recently I noticed an article in Haaretz written by Anshel Pfeffer entitled It is wrong to Fast on Tisha Be’Av. Pfeffer’s arguments were twofold. Firstly he argued that for the first time in history we live in a world in which Jews who do not live in Zion do so of their own choice. Even countries like Iran allow their Jews to leave, those Jews who do not, elect not to for financial reasons. Secondly, the Temple has not been built because the Jews did not want it to be built. In 1967 when Israel conquered Har Ha’Bayit they were all ready to blow up the mosques and construct a third Temple. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan rejected those plans and elected to hand Har Ha’Bayit over to the Muslin Wakf. According to Pfeffer “secular Jews have no affinity to a priestly caste sacrificing heifers and goats, while the great majority of religious Jews are not very eager themselves.”

When I first read the article I was struck by two opposing things. First, I was struck by his misguided assessment of the religious population. Religious Jews know that we can’t just decide when to build the Bet Ha’Mikdash on our own.  God has a say, of course.  Had the Messiah  come in 1967 we would have fought Dayan’s decision.  But he didn’t, so we left it as Dayan desired and continued to pray for the day the Messiah would lead us to Har Ha’ Bayit

But then I thought about Pfeffer’s article some more.  Perhaps Pfeffer had revealed an aspect of the modern religious consciousness that we as religious Jews would rather had left untouched.  The fact is how many religious Jews really would feel comfortable with the notion of animal sacrifice as a means of getting closer to God? I don’t know what the Third Temple will look like.  Perhaps, as Rav Kook posits, there will be no more animal sacrifices in the time on the Third Temple, and perhaps there will. But if the majority of rabbanim are correct and animal sacrifices will be restored to the Jewish people, we will have to adapt to a completely  foreign method of communicating with God. The fact is most of us don’t see the connection between the death of an animal, and all the various customs surrounding that death, and our connection with our creator.

In truth, I think I always felt like the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim with regard to animal sacrifices. The Rambam describes an evolutionary system in which Jews of ancient times had to be weaned off of idolatrous practices and sacrifices were allowed as means for them to serve God. But civilization has developed and sacrifices have been replaced by a more lofty method of communicating with God – prayer. Then I read about the autistic animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin.

Dr. Grandin described herself as thinking in pictures, having very simple emotions (mainly fear ), possessing hypersensitivities to touch and certain sounds. In other words she functions exactly like animal. This visceral insight into the mind of animals allows her to work on behalf of the humane treatment of animals. By 1997 (the year the article was published in the New York Times) she had designed livestock facilities for nearly half the cattle in the U.S. And Canada.

Among the livestock systems she redesigned were kosher slaughterhouses. Her description of one of her experiences in designing a kosher slaughter house in Alabama was surprisingly mystical. She explains,

”When I held his (the cattle’s) head in the yoke, I imagined placing my hands on his forehead and under his chin and gently easing him into position,” she wrote in her book. ”Body boundaries seemed to disappear, and I had no awareness of pushing the levers.”

She compared it to a state of Zen meditation: ”The more gently I was able to hold the animal with the apparatus, the more peaceful I felt. As the life force left the animal, I had deep religious feelings. For the first time in my life logic had been completely overwhelmed by feelings I did not know I had.”

There is no doubt in my mind that this woman’s experience was similar to those of generations of cohanim, Leviim, and Jewish pilgrims who made the trek to Jerusalem three times a year or more to bring their offerings to Hashem. There is something religiously powerful about holding a life that is drifting off to God, in the palms of your hands. There is something uniquely terrifying about knowing that this life is leaving this world is lieu of your own. There is no more potent reminder of the specialness of life than the messiness of death. There are so many messages for us behind the karbanot, if we were only sensitive enough to intuit them.  Mr. Pfeffer, you are very much mistaken, there is every reason to mourn this Tisha Be’Av. We must mourn that we lack a proper understanding of why we must mourn. After 2000 years we have no idea what we have lost.

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One Response to 'Is it wrong to fast on Tisha Be’Av?'

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  1. noam said,

    on August 11th, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    You see there are things that we dont understand, yet.
    And thats OK ’cause one day we will.

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