Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Trickiest Part Of The 9th Of Av

Today is the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, or Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. All sorts of horrific events have happened on this day. To mark the day, Jews observe a whole series of limitations: no eating, no drinking, no washing, no wearing of leather shoes - heck, you're supposed to avoid all levity.

You might think that for me the hardest part is going 25 hours without eating or drinking. But you'd actually be incorrect. Sure, it's no fun be hungry throughout the day, and I get cranky something fearsome, but I'll make it through.

No, the hardest restriction I have on Tisha B'Av, is that you're not supposed to greet others. Here's why, as summarized on this handy Jewish Holiday cheat-sheet:

Greeting? An odd feature of Tisha B'Av is that it's traditional not to greet people during the fast. This comes from Jewish mourning practices. When one visits a house of mourning, it's not usual to greet people either. It's OK if you slip up and say hello by accident in either case--you'd be surprised how polite people are.

It's remarkably difficult to not say hello to people who very much enjoy seeing. And how do you resist not kvetching about how hungry you are and making light of the situation? It's just not how me, or other folks in my shul, are wired.

As noted in this wonderful article, Tisha B'av is a strangely lonely holiday. Besides not greeting with people, there's no marathon communal service (for Conservative Jews, anyway) throughout the day to commiserate with others. No, it's off to work, each person taking their thoughts and fast with them.

I can't help but think there's an important and powerful lesson here. We take one day where we actively deny ourselves the benefit of coming together as a joyful community, and thereby remind ourselves what a luxury it truly is. It may not appear like something we have to work for, but it most certainly is.

For another excellent read on the topic of Tisha B'av, may I suggest this article. And if you haven't read Eicha yet, I'd suggest that too.

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