“Oh! Rabbi, we don’t do these minor ones. I don’t even know really what they are.” I have heard that comment plenty of times over the years. I am always fascinated when someone decides that she doesn’t celebrate a particular Jewish observance or event but also knows next to nothing about that event. I want to use this issue to highlight two such days that happen in summer and early fall that have been fairly neglected by many American Jews.
Tisha B’Av is the day on the Hebrew calendar when the City of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. The name means ninth of (month), Av. The first destruction was by the conquering Babylonians in 586 BC. The second time was at the hands of the Roman Legions in the year 70CE. In both cases, the temple was looted, the kohanim killed and the surrounding city burned. Later in history, on this same day came: the opening month of the First Crusade (1096) when 10,000 Jews in the Rhineland were massacred, the final day for Expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the declaration of war beginning World War I, the start of Deportations to Treblinka from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942) and the terrorist bombing of AMIA, the Jewish communal building in Buenos Aires (1994) that killed 86 and wounded 300. That is a lot of coincidence for one day in history. We observe Tisha B’Av as a total fast day, just as on Yom Kippur. Tradition is to sit on the ground while reading the biblical book of Lamentations and to recall all of the tragedies that befell the Jewish people on this date. It is appropriate to discuss the meaning of tragedy and renewal in the context of a nation or people. Some see the renewed State of Israel as redemption from such national tragedy. Others suggest that we must be equally vigilant even so. Certainly Tisha B’Av strongly links all Jews one to another. This year, Tisha B’Av falls on Saturday night-Sunday, July 28-29. Please visit the Temple Beth Shalom website for details about our observance of this solemn, yet central day.
The other neglected day is Selichot. This is not attached to a specific date on the Jewish calendar. Rather, it marks the formal start of High Holy Days, beginning on the Saturday night one week prior to Rosh Hashanah. Selichot means “forgiveness” as we start the process of asking God to forgive us.
Process is the keyword for Judaism because it strongly maintains that we cannot simply appear on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, saying in effect, “Here I am. I’m sorry. Now let’s go back to normal.” We must demonstrate our serious commitment to a process and Selichot night helps us to take the first steps, beginning to place us in a receptive frame of mind. Sephardic Jewish tradition calls for Selichot each dawn during the Hebrew month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Ashkenazic tradition is to begin on Saturday night. In either tradition, there is a short recitation of meditations, biblical selections and prayers focused on God’s sovereignty and our growing sense of contrition. The melodies are those of the High Holy Days familiar to many of us. It is traditional to gather for Selichot late at night. At Temple Beth Shalom, we most often begin around 11 p.m. Along with the formal Selichot, we have the chance to consider the theme of teshuvah (repentance and renewal) through media, discussion and reflection. This year, Selichot will be held on Sept. 8. Mark your calendar and join us to usher in the High Holy Days with sacred music and the poetry of the season.
Whether or not we are able to join others in community on these two days, I hope that we will be inspired by their respective messages. These are two deeply spiritual occasions and each has the power to transform us. May our summer be filled with many opportunities for renewal that will leave us physically and philosophically stronger.
Rabbi Michael Goldstein is the rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Spokane. He has been serving the congregation since 2009. He moved to Spokane from New Jersey, where he served at Congregation Bnai Tikvah.