Why does Israel observe Tisha b’Av every year?

Tisha b’Av is a Jewish fast day which has been commemorated annually on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. by Jews wherever they lived, for over two thousand years.

It commemorates the destruction of the two Jewish temples built in Jerusalem: the destruction of the first temple, Solomon’s Temple, destroyed in 423 BC by the Babylonians, and the destruction of the rebuilt second temple by the Romans in 70 Ad. Both events symbolized the end of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel in those times, and both entailed exile of the Jewish people from their native land.

Today happens to be Tisha B’Av, and while normally I commemorate this day outside of the modern State of Israel, this year I am fortunate to be spending it in Jerusalem.

In fact, I can tell you that this is no minor fast. In addition to a full day of fasting and prayer, many institutions sponsor talks and film screenings relevant to the theme of the destruction of the temple and the exile of the Jewish people.

Why do we continue to observe this National Day of Mourning?

One answer from the religious community – the community which regulates these religious rituals – is that although we now have political sovereignty, we have not yet achieved spiritual sovereignty in which all peoples respect each other and work together for the common good.

In Jerusalem, on Tish b’Av, I participated in a film festival called “The Earth Trembles”: Contemporary Israeli films on contemporary social and political subjects were screened in the presence of the producers and actors.

The strength of the Jewish people is in its capacity to remember, not to forget, and to learn from the past. Education for all, starting at birth, is a very large part of the Jewish endeavor.

I believe that this is why we continue to observe the fast of T’isha b’Av – because we have so much to learn from both the heroes and villains of the past.