Tisha B'Av: an Educator's Perspectives

I. Rationale

Tisha B'av must be one of the least covered, least taught dates in the Jewish calendar in the general community; the only facilities in contact with a significant proportion of young people are the various community and organizational camps.

Yet every Jewish festival is a combination of different messages in varying formats; the study of the cycle of the Jewish year in its relevance to Jewish life and the individual is therefore incomplete without Tisha B'av. Some schools may approach this by cramming a few lessons in to the end of term, when students' minds are elsewhere; others may include it in part of the History, Jerusalem or Calendar sectors of the curriculum, a commendable selection of context. The real-time immediacy of the day of note to the young person will, however, be missing.

Even at a camp setting, however, where the topic is addressed at the appropriate time, there is a chance that the relevance -- equally important -- will not be evident. For how can one grieve today over something one has not personally loved, cherished or revered in one's own life?

For the observant, there is the gradual intensification of mourning customs which permeate everyday life, instilling a sadness which culminates in the lyrical outpourings of the traditional Kinot recited on the 9th of Av, and the mounting influence of the spiritual trial of the fast.

For those in Israel, there is the opportunity to visit the Kotel, to be present when thousands of people are seated on the ground in front of the remaining outer Temple Wall and experience the unusual atmosphere of communal grief.

Judaism and Jewish life revolves, too, around collective memory: knowledge and customs which pass from generation to generation to guarantee the perpetuation of relevance through emotions and acts.

For the traditional adult, this is the significance of breaking the glass under the chuppah [marriage canopy]; mentioning Jerusalem in prayers; leaving one corner of one room unpainted - because joy is incomplete without a rebuilt Jerusalem.

To many young people, however, these experiences are distant, even unknown.

In order to make the significance of Tisha B'av relevant to the geographically or spiritually remote, it is therefore necessary to: create - a sense of identification with
- and love for what has been lost,
as well as to:
introduce an experiential element into this teaching, prior to the transmission of the main content.

This identification should be with the Jewish people, with its land and complex sequels of exile, with its life, values and hopes for the future.

In other words, appreciation of and participation in the day of Tisha B'av is the sum total of a successful education process throughout the year, the camp or the course, irrespective of level, point of entry or content focus.

II. Defining the Approach

A. Associations

1. Associative fields:

Start by brainstorming with staff - some suggestions:        land            causeless hatred        destruction        exile           corruption              redemption        suffering       death                   Jerusalem        society         homeless                Temples        tragedy         desolation              walls        Shoa            longing                 trauma ...

2. Associative-emotive objectives:

A good one to brainstorm with the staff - a few have already been mentioned above. Suggestions are:

        curiosity       identification          love        tension         sense of loss           grief        devotion        consolation             hope        longing...

Questions you might want to ponder include: do we wish to generate fear or is this undesirable/taboo?

B. Methodology

Note: If you choose a ceremony to mark any particular point in the day, this will be the sum total of all your programming; it could hardly be an isolated event!

1. Process - Everyone participates together

  • Clarification: Trigger and evaluate each stage of your program with exercises via questions, role-plays [dilemmas], "post box" collections of reactions to ideas/statements/events, video interviews or whatever, to ensure participants relate to the content experientially.
  • Stories: Jewish tradition is replete with teaching from stories [true or legendary]; older students are able to integrate them with reality through serious debate.
  • Workshops:See presentation ideas below. Choose a sub-theme appropriate to your group[s] and have them develop it through one of the media.
  • Simulations: Focus on the value and significance of Tisha B'av, using debate roles and questions, rather than reenacting a tragedy.

2. Outcomes - Everyone participates in turn in presentations.

  • Readings: Tanach, liturgy, poetry - don't go overboard, listeners are passive.
  • Drama: Can be combined with readings using shadow theater, mime, movement.
  • Visuals: To create or watch - they are informative, inclusive, impressive and associative [videos, slides...].
  • Sound: Music and effects for background or play.
  • Artistic: Make posters, exhibitions, models, masks, decor as an exercise.
  • Exhibits: Charts, Time-lines etc. make effective frameworks for and reinforce your content.


1. The Point of Entry:

Whether you intend to tackle the thorny issues of Tisha B'av from a mainly national, historical, calendrial or religious angle, it is strongly recommended that there be some associative point of entry. This can be a story or some exercise about sadness/happiness, loss beyond the family, a pot pourri of community memory... Here again, we are not aiming to create socio-drama, nor create a reenactment, but to draw the group closer to the topic through identification.

2. The Focus :

Whatever your interpretation, your focus should be Tisha B'av and its relevance, messages today, to your population. From the outset, you have the option of using the Jerusalem/Zion theme in any of its presenting forms. If your focus is set, most pitfalls can be avoided.

i. Through History

On the 9th of Av, one can feel the weight of tragedy through the ages, resulting from the realities of Jewish life in exile from the moment of siege, through destruction to the Shoa.

If using the Jerusalem prism, you would focus on the Jewish people's eternal connection to Jerusalem, wherever they are or have been.

  • Pitfall #1:
    One should beware of creating a program with a siege mentality. The Jewish calendar, for example, already marks Yom Hashoa; this is not that day and to teach the one instead of the other may make everyone sad but it is both misleading and misdirected!
    • * Retain, instead the images and messages in another format - the day of Tisha B'av marks five tragedies in Jewish history [the destruction of both Temples, the fall of Betar, the beginning of the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492, the beginning of deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto].
    • * Create a dilemma in role-play or debate around the late Prime Minister Menahem Begin's suggestion to combine Yom Hashoa with Tisha B'av!
  • Pitfall #2:
    Jewish history is vast and overwhelming; a complex maze of movement with extreme hardships in the battle for survival and Jewish life. Students lose track of the time framework; they may absorb the lessons of our trials rather than taking pride in achievements and seeing hope for their own future.
    • * It is vital to build a reference system [chart, maps, index...] and teach the events in proportion to the wealth of Jewish knowledge, writings, cultural prosperity, more fortunate eras.

ii. Through the Calendar

There are very few totally isolated events in the Jewish calendar: even Purim spans 3 days from the Fast of Esther to Shushan Purim, while Yom Kippur, with its parallel customs of fasting and denial, completes the Yamim Nora'im - the Ten Days of Awe. Each is a period of remembrance and learning, and for self-examination.

If you choose to work around Jerusalem, many of our calendar dates center on the city; contrasting them offers interesting insights into her central role in Jewish life.

  • Pitfall #1:
    Focusing on the denial and fasting, the most visible elements of the day.
    • * Select the messages of Tisha B'av and the wish to express one's feelings; search for a way to make that expression public [without making it a media event!].
    • * Examine, also, the impact of the customs and history associated with the entire period of the three weeks on the consciousness.
  • Pitfall #2:
    Ignoring the day entirely or the associated mourning customs, and fasting.
    • * Is Tisha B'av too heavy? Is Purim too frivolous? Every special day in the Jewish year has its meanings and main features; to omit one of them would be to deprive the year of its balance and some of its continuing values.

iii. At National Level

The Jewish people exiled from the land, the Jewish people's survival, the Jewish people return, a nation rebuilt; Jerusalem and Zion as national values and symbols.

A nation rebuilt? Why continue to commemorate Tisha B'av?

  • * The hope of the exile was for redemption: the spiritual rebuilding of a people in its own land. [Each stream of contemporary Judaism views the State of Israel in different terms.]
  • * The reason given for the exile in Jewish tradition is primarily moral: it is equally important to examine the value-related causes attributed to the destruction of the Second Temple, such as "causeless hatred", corruption etc, which destroyed the social and moral fabric of society - and to explore them in the modern context!
  • * Outside the messianic interpretations, one might also relate to the current significance of the Jewish state for Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.
  • ** Also: explore the significance of a nation mourning and collective memory.
  • * You can create a dilemma debate setting around either of the following themes:
    • - Should we continue to fast on Tisha B'av now that we have a Jewish state?
    • - After the Destruction, the Jewish people went into Exile. Are we living in Exile or in a Diaspora? [How do we define and relate to each of these terms? What definition do we have of our present and vision of the future?...]

iv. Through Religious Observance

Individual and family observance, culminating in community gathering, fasting all over the world, faces to Zion and Jerusalem.

The day and its customs seem extreme, even off-putting.

  • * The customs for Tisha B'av resemble mourning, but they are national in significance. The fasting resembles Yom Kippur, but it is observed together with the symbols of mourning. Tisha B'av has a significance of its own in its essential differences.
  • * Focus on the readings, the build-up, the wish and the right to grieve, even with groups which will be observing all the customs.
  • * For non-observant groups, see also ** above and the dilemma on fasting now we have a Jewish state.



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08 Jun 2005 / 1 Sivan 5765 0