07 August 2022

A day to recall the Holocaust
and disasters in Jewish history

A Holocaust memorial at the Jewish cemetery in Berlin … Tisha B’Av, beginning this evening, recalls major disasters in Jewish history, including the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This evening (7 August 2022) marks the conclusion of Tisha B’Ab or Tisha B’Av (תִּשְׁעָה בְּאָב), literally the ‘Ninth of Av,’ the annual fast day in the Jewish calendar recalling many disasters in the course of Jewish history, particularly the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

Tisha B’Av is never observed on Shabbat, so when the 9th of Av in the Hebrew calendar falls on a Saturday, as happens this year, the fast is postponed until the 10th of Av.

Tisha B’Av, which concludes at nightfall this evening (7 August 2022), is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is associated with many other disasters in Jewish history.

Traditionally, the day is observed through five prohibitions, including a 25-hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which is read in synagogues, mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, followed by the recitation of kinot or liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and of Jerusalem and recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres of mediaeval Jewish communities during the Crusades, the expulsions of Jews from Spain by the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.

According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4: 6), five events occurred on the Ninth of Av that are recalled in the traditional fasting.

The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE, and the people of Judah was sent into exile in Babylon. The destruction of the Temple destruction began on the 7th of Av (II Kings 25: 8) and continued until the 10th (Jeremiah 52: 12).

According to the Talmud, the actual destruction began on the Ninth of Av and it continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.

The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the exile of the Jewish people. The Romans later crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and killed over 500,000 people, and then razed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area in 135 CE.

Over time, Tisha B’Av has come to be a day of mourning not only for these events, but also for later tragedies, including:

● The First Crusade began on 15 August 1096 (24 Av), and 10,000 Jews were slaughtered in its first month in France and the Rhineland.
● The Jews were expelled from England on 18 July 1290 (9 Av).
● The Jews were expelled from France on 22 July 1306 (10 Av).
● The Jews were expelled from Spain on 31 July 1492 (7 Av).
● Germany entered World War I on 1-2 August 1914 (9-10 Av).
● Himmler formally received approval from the Nazis for the ‘Final Solution’ on 2 August 1941 (9 Av).
● The mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began on 23 July 1942 (9 Av).
● A bomb attack on a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires killed 85 people on 18 July 1994 (10 Av).

Many religious communities mourn the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av, adding the recitation of special kinot related to the Holocaust. Additionally, as members of the Cork Jewish Community were reminded in prepration for this afternoon’s Tisha B’Av commemorations, ‘contemporary Jews often use this day to acknowledge that evil exists in the world, whether we want it to or not, and to reflect how we can make the world a kinder, more welcoming place for everyone. What can you do to give back in a meaningful way?’

This day is significant in the Sephardic tradition in ways that surpass how other holidays are observed, or even how this date is observed in other Jewish traditions. The reason lies in the convergence of this date and the date when Spanish Jews were exiled from their home in Spain in 1492. That year, the King and Queen issues their Edict of Expulsion on 31 March and it was to be completed in four months by the end of July. That date was the day before 9 Ab, making the link to the earlier destruction of Jerusalem particularly strong for Sephardic Jews.

This connection is even stronger because, according to the prophet Obadiah, the Jews of Sepharad were descendants of the exiles of Jerusalem (Galut Yershushalayim Asher B’Spharad), and the the rabbis of Spain understood Sepharad to mean Spain.

The fast on Tisha B’Ab lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the preceding evening lasting until nightfall the next day. The five traditional prohibitions on Tisha B’Av are:

● eating or drinking;
● washing or bathing;
● application of creams or oils;
● wearing (leather) shoes;
● marital or sexual relations.

If possible, work is avoided during this period. Ritual washing up to the knuckles is allowed, as is washing to remove dirt or mud from one’s body.

Torah study is forbidden as it is considered a spiritually enjoyable activity, although one may study texts such as the Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and chapters of the Talmud that discuss mourning and the destruction of the Temple.

Before the evening services begin in synagogues, the parochet covering the Torah Ark is removed or drawn aside, lasting until the Mincha prayer service. Old prayer-books and Torah scrolls are often buried on this day.

Plaza de Juda Levi in Córdoba … recalling Judah Halevi, who wrote kinot for Tisha B’Av (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The scroll of Eicha (Lamentations) is read in synagogues in the evening, and in many Sephardic congregations the Book of Job is read in the morning. The morning is spent chanting or reading kinot mourning the loss of the Temples and the subsequent persecutions, often referring to post-exilic disasters.

The most popular kinot were written by the eighth-century liturgical poet Elazar Hakallir, Judah Halevi (1085- 1145), the Spanish philosopher regarded by many as the greatest post-biblical poet, and Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1058).

Other kinot were written in response to tragedies in Jewish history, including the public burning of the Torah in Paris, the massacres of Jews during the first Crusade, the slaughter of the Jews of York, and the annihilation of European Jewry in the Holocaust.

In western Sephardi Tisha B’Ab services, there is a tendency to emphasise hope for ultimate redemption and national and spiritual restoration, as part of the recalled collective grief.

This is reflected in one the most celebrated compositions by Judah ha-Levi often heard in synagogues on Tisha B’Av:

Zion, wilt thou not ask if peace’s wing
Shadows the captives that ensue thy peace
Left lonely from thine ancient shepherding?
Lo! west and east and north and south – worldwide
All those from far and near, without surcease
Salute thee: Peace and Peace from every side.

The way Tisha B’Ab is marked at Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, for example, poignantly evokes melancholy emotions. The Hehal (ark) is draped in a black cloth, as is the Sepher (Torah scroll). Furthermore, the synagogue, famous for its chandeliers, instead uses ‘low lights’ for illumination. These candles attached to the benches themselves, provide just a minimal glow so that the prayers can be recited.

This is one of the most intricate musical services of the year in a synagogue with such an elaborate liturgical tradition. Each kinah (‘lamentation’) is read according to a unique melody, reflecting the significance of the sufferings remembered on this day.

This year, for the first time since Covid, Bevis Marks Synagogue welcomes back Hazan Nachshon Rodrigues Pereira from Amsterdam to lead these intricate, haunting, and remarkable services. The traditional greeting for 9 Ab in Spanish and Portuguese communities is Morir habemos, to which the reply is Ya lo sabemos.

The Bevis Marks Tisha B’Ab service last night was at 10:30 last night and the service this morning at 9 am.

‘After the fall’: a poem by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for Tisha B’Av:

The Mishna says
senseless hatred
knocked the Temple down

not the Romans with their siege engines –
or not only them, but
our ancestors too

who slipped into petty backbiting
ignored Shabbat
forgot how to offer their hearts

we’re no better
we who secretly know we’re right

we who roll our eyes
and patronise, who check email
even on the holiest of days

who forget that
a prayer is more than a tune
more than words on a page

in Oslo parents weep
and we’re too busy arguing
motive to comfort them

across the Middle East parents weep
and we’re too busy arguing
borders to comfort them

in our nursing homes parents weep
shuddering and alone
and we’re too busy —

even now what sanctuaries
what human hearts
are damaged and burned

while we snipe at each other
or insist we’re not responsible
or look away?

Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Sunday 7 August 2022

‘When they got into the boat, the wind ceased’ (Matthew 14: 32) … a gondola at Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (7 August), and later this morning I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church in Stony Stratford. But, before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season.

In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘They got into the boat and went on ahead to the other side’ (Matthew 14: 22) … boats at Messonghi in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 14: 22-33 (NRSVA):

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29 He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Today’s reflection: ‘O God of earth and altar’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

This morning [7 August 2022], as I prepare to attend the Parish Eucharist, I have chosen the hymn, ‘O God of earth and altar,’ by the English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936).

This hymn is over 100 years old, yet its concerns are very relevant today, as we are invited to pray about the plight of a world torn by poverty, war and misrule and offered cheap and trite answers by cruel opportunists whose only interest is in power.

In addition, the story of the tune and how Vaughan Williams first heard it have very clear links with the story in this morning’s Gospel reading.

The hymn was first published in the English Hymnal (1906), edited by Canon Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams (No 562), and is included in the New English Hymnal (No 492), where it is set to the English folk melody, King’s Lynn, arranged by Vaughan Williams.

Although this hymn is not included in the Irish Church Hymnal, Edward Darling and Donald Davison, in their Companion to Church Hymnal, suggest the solemn, robust tune underlines the message of the text.

Vaughan Williams, who also used this tune in his ‘Norfolk Rhapsody No 2,’ first heard it in East Hordon, Essex, on 23 April 1904. At the time, he was travelling around the English countryside, collecting traditional folk songs to use in his own compositions. He heard this tune a second time in King’s Lynn on 9 January 1905 when he was introduced in the Tilden Smith, a pub in the old North End, by the Revd Edward Evans or the Revd Alfred Huddle to the singers Thomas Anderson, a 70-year-old fisherman, and James ‘Duggie’ Carter.

The weather that day was rough and the fishermen were unable to get out on The Wash. They had gathered in the Tilden Smith, and among them were Duggie Carter and Joe Anderson, who were singing out songs like the ‘Captain’s Apprentice,’ ‘Dogger Bank’ and ‘The Mermaid.’

The words of the original song that provides this tune tell of a young poacher who was transported to the convict settlement in Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania. The melodies are said to have influenced some of Vaughan Williams’s later works, including his Norfolk Rhapsodies and Sea Symphony.

The Tilden Smith then stood at the heart of the North End, which was a self-contained fishing community, just a few streets away from Saint Nicholas Chapel, also known as the fishermen’s church. The nearby Fisher Fleet was home to hundreds of boats, while up to 1,000 people lived crammed into the warren of cottages. It has since been bulldozed by slum clearance and to make way for new roads, and the Tilden Smith was renamed The Retreat.

‘Duggie’ Carter sang ‘The Captain’s Apprentice’ and Joe Anderson sang ‘Young Henry the Poacher,’ which Vaughan Williams used in the English Hymnal in 1906 as the tune for Chesterton’s poem. The hymn, No 562, bears the name King’s Lynn. Both Carter and Anderson were known well by the curate of Saint Nicholas’ Chapel, the Revd Alfred Huddle, and would have sung in the chapel regularly, as well as in more secular settings.

GK Chesterton, who was born in 1874 in Campden Hill, Kensington, was a prolific and well-known journalist, author and poet. He found Christianity provided the answers to the many dilemmas and paradoxes he found in life.

He was a friend and contemporary of writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc and HG Wells. He died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in 1936. His ‘Father Brown’ mystery stories (1911-1936) remain popular and have been adapted for television.

O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.

‘Peace. Be still’ … Christ calming the storm … the Cameron window in Saint Seiriol’s Priory Church, Penmon, Anglesey … see Matthew 14: 22-33 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The Collect:

Almighty Lord and everlasting God,
we beseech you to direct, sanctify and govern
both our hearts and bodies
in the ways of your laws
and the works of your commandments;
that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever,
we may be preserved in body and soul;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that have taken holy things;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise
be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Sunday 7 August 2022 (Eighth Sunday after Trinity):

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘International Youth Day.’ It is introduced this morning by Dorothy deGraft Johnson, a Law student from Ghana, who writes:

‘Irina Bokova, (Director-General of UNESCO), in a statement celebrating International Youth Day, said “Young people are not just our future; they are also our present.”

‘International Youth Day, observed in August each year, is an international day that celebrates, recognises and empowers young people throughout the world to make contributions to their communities and the world at large. The planet is presently home to the biggest generation of youth in history. Young individuals represent optimism and many more capabilities for the future.

‘Unfortunately, this potential is frequently stifled. Many young people over the world are smothered by poverty, sickness, a lack of resources, lack of access to education, health and job opportunities among others. Many young people’s goals, opportunities for growth and world-changing potential are limited.

‘As we mark another anniversary as a community and a church that cares for the youth just as Jesus did, let us hold on to the faith and work towards that day when the world will be open for the youth to explore and grow, hopefully reaching their full potential. Happy International Youth Day!’

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Living Lord,
may we all be filled with the energy of youth.
Let us not be stuck in our ways,
but embrace and adapt to change.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Fishing boats on the Quays in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org