What Are We Mourning?

This week, Jews of all stripes will observe TIsha B’av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, a day of fasting and mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. What are they mourning?

G-d decreed that the Jewish people should be in exile. We say in our prayers, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” Exile means not having Jewish sovereignty, as the Gemara says, “There is no difference between the current era and the Messianic era except for our subjugation to the nations” (Shabbos 63a). A Jew living in Eretz Yisroel under Turkish or British rule was considered to be in exile, his/her immediate geography notwithstanding.

Today, there are those Jews who accept exile and those who don’t. Those who don’t might be religious, they might sit on the floor and mourn on Tisha B’av, but they don’t really understand what they are mourning about.

They think they are smarter than Hashem and don’t have to follow His plan. They think it was an accident that we went into exile, so a concentrated effort could rectify this “mistake”. “Geopolitical conditions,” they say, “have made it possible for Jews to resettle in their ancient homeland, Eretz Yisroel, once again and fulfill the dream of centuries.” They don’t realize that Hashem scattered us around the world for our own safety, as the Gemara says (Pesachim 87b).

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, chief rabbi of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 30s, explained it well with the parable of a wise prince who became seriously ill. His father, the king, sent for the best doctors and brought them to his hospital bedside, and the king himself stood there together with him. Could one imagine that such a wise boy would ask his father and his doctors to free him from the hospital and send him home while still sick? And even if he did make such a foolish request, they would not grant it, despite their mercy and love for him. Leaving while not completely recovered would put his life in danger. Rabbi Sonnenfeld continued:

We, the Jewish people, are in exile because of our sins. The exile is the Jewish people’s hospital. It is unthinkable that we should take for ourselves power in our land before our healing process is complete. Hashem protects us and shields us while doling out to us our medicine in exact amounts. We are certain that when the time comes and our healing from our sins is complete. And even when we pray for our redemption, we ask only that our healing process be complete quickly – not that we should return to the King’s palace while still sick, G-d forbid. (Mara D’ara Yisroel v. 1 p. 145)

Yes, we are mourning for our spiritual losses, but our spiritual healing is dependent on the physical exile. To mourn over the illness while attempting to escape from the hospital early is to deny this principle.

The Zion we long for is a spiritual place, a place where all the ancient commandments will be restored, the Jewish people will serve Hashem and be a light to the nations – not a place where Jews will live by the sword, every day clashing with enemies and provoking the condemnation of the world.

For centuries, the remnant of the Temple, the Western Wall, known to Jews as the Kosel, has symbolized our mourning for what we have lost. Ironically, the Zionists have used both Tisha B’av and the Kosel as nationalist symbols. In the 1920s, Zev Jabotinsky’s militant Beitar youth group started an annual custom to march to the Kosel on Tisha B’av night. In 1929, despite warnings from the British authorities of the tension growing between Zionists and Arabs over the holy site, several hundred youths of the Beitar group marched to the Wall, holding half-mast flags. When the march reached the Wall the youths grew silent and swore: “Hear O Israel, the Wall is our Wall, the Wall is one!” Then they marched around the Old City walls. Returning to the city, they went up to the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, met with Rav Kook and told him about the march and the oath they had taken to defend the Wall till their last drop of blood. Rav Kook strongly approved of what they had done. (Malachim Kivnei Adam, p. 184)

The rest is history: in the riots that broke out in reaction to the Zionist claim to the Wall, 133 Jews died in Jerusalem and Hebron.

Today as well, the Kosel is being used to symbolize Zionist sovereignty over the most holy of sites. And now, those Orthodox Jews who think that “the Wall is our Wall” are locked in struggle with various other groups who wish to exert their own influence over the Kosel.

But the Kosel is not ours to decide who should pray there. In earlier periods, the Kosel was not used for public prayer services of any kind. It was a holy place where Jews came to pray privately. It was the Zionists – who are not known for praying at all – who sought to turn it into a public synagogue during the 1920’s.

In 1928, when the Zionist Vaad Leumi (National Council) came to Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, who had lived in the Holy Land for some 60 years, to get support for their contention that the Wall had always had the status of a synagogue, Rabbi Sonnenfeld replied as follows: “October 14, 1928…As regards the question: Was it the practice to bring an ark and Torah scrolls to the Wailing Wall? – I know that never has there been such a practice; and likewise today, I am totally dissatisfied with the practice.”




Tisha B’Av