Monday, July 19, 2010

Tisha B'Av

In the Jewish calendar, Tuesday, July 20 (which, of course, begins at sundown tonight) will be Tisha B'Av, the fast of the ninth of Av (the fifth month of the Jewish year 5770). It is observed as a day of mourning to commemorate the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and the second by the Romans in 70 A.D.) By extension, it also commemorates other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout their history - among them the expulsion of the Jews from Spain on August 3, 1492 (9 Av 5252), the same day incidentally on which Columbus set sail on his first voyage to the New World.

Traditionally, Tisha B'Av is preceded by a three-week period of increasing mourning, during which weddings and other such celebrations are not permitted. On Tisha B'Av itself, a strict fast is observed along with many traditional practices of mourning (sitting on low stools and refraining from laughter and idle conversation). In synagogue the book of Lamentations is read, and the Torah Ark is draped in black.

Tisha B’Av is a reminder not only of the Temple and its long abandoned rituals but of the special significance for Jews of Jerusalem as the Holy City and of the fundamental importance of the actual land of Israel in God’s covenant with Abraham. A Christian will naturally recognize in Abraham’s descendent Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that “in your descendents all the nations of the earth shall find blessing” (Genesis 22:18). What seems beyond debate (to me at least) is the specificity of God’s promise to Abraham about the land as a component of that covenant.

Speaking of God’s covenant with Israel, St. Paul wrote the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Scholars and theologians may debate how to relate this saying of St. Paul to the rest of the New Testament and what it may mean in practice for the mission of the Church today. What must it also mean for our attitude to the physical place itself?

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