21 July 2023

‘Even now what sanctuaries
what human hearts
are damaged and burned
while we snipe at each other?’

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

Patrick Comerford

Tisha BeAb or Tisha B’Av (תִּשְׁעָה בְּאָב), literally ‘the Ninth of Av,’ is an annual fast day in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of both the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred about 655 years apart, but on the same Hebrew calendar date.

Tisha B’Av is never observed on Shabbat, so when the Ninth of Av falls on a Saturday, the fast is postponed until the Tenth of Av.

This year is the Hebrew Year 5783, and Tisha B’Av begins at sundown next Wednesday (26 July 2023) and ends at nightfall on Thursday 27 July 2023.

Tisha B’Av recalls 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 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 was built by Ezra and Nehemiah and 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 preparation for last year’s 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?’

In the Sephardic tradition, on the Shabbat before the fast of Tisha BeAb, communities begin to read the Book of Debarim (Deuteronomy 1: 1 to 3: 22). In the beginning of Parashat Debarim, Moses recounts the call to appoint judges for the people, so that the burden of leading the people does not fall on his shoulders alone.

In his call to appoint judges, Moses emphasises the need for them to be wise and knowledgeable, and whose true characters are known to the people. He values the personality, characteristics and morality of those chosen to serve as judges.

This is intimately connected to Tisha BeAb, as the destruction of the Temple is attributed to a lack of justice in society. In the Haftara which is read on this Shabbat, Joshua laments the lack of justice in Jerusalem, and prophesises that the redemption will ultimately be achieved through the restoration of the judicial system.

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’Av 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.

This year, Bevis Marks is welcoming Hazzan Nachshon Rodrigues Pereira from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam to lead thr services on Tisha BeAb, on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

In western Sephardi Tisha BeAb 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 BeAb 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.

The traditional greeting for 9 Ab in Spanish and Portuguese communities is Morir habemos, to which the reply is Ya lo sabemos.

‘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?

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (54) 21 July 2023

The entrance to Holy Trinity Church, Achill Sound, Co Mayo (Photograph © John Lucas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (16 July 2023).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass windows in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Holy Trinity Church was designed in a mediaeval Gothic style, with an exposed timber roof construction and with the chancel lit by an elegant Trinity window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Achill Sound, Co Mayo:

For many years, I stayed on Achill Island regularly, often visiting three or four times a year, staying in Dugort and going to church in Saint Thomas’s Church.

Achill is part of the Westport group of parishes, where the Revd Suzanne Cousins was instituted as rector earlier this month. These parishes in Co Mayo include Holy Trinity Church, Westport, Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, Christ Church, Castlebar, and Turlough Church.

Two of the former churches in the group of parishes are both named Holy Trinity: the church on Inishbiggle, which I discussed earlier this month (8 July 2023), and the church at Achill Sound.

When I last visited Holy Trinity Church, Achill Sound, it was long closed and was being converted into a private residence. But that project seems to have been postponed or abandoned in recent years.

Holy Trinity Church overlooking Achill Sound, separating the Corraun Peninsula from Achill Island, was built by private contributions, supported by a grant from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Building work began in 1849, and the church was consecrated in 1852.

Holy Trinity Church was oriented on a north-south axis rather that the traditional east-west layout. It was built on a compact rectilinear plan form in a multi-toned fieldstone with ‘sparrow pecked’ that produced a mild polychromatic palette. It was designed in a mediaeval Gothic style, with an exposed timber roof construction and with the chancel lit by an elegant Trinity window.

This is a four-bay double-height church. It has a three-bay, double-height nave opening into single-bay double-height chancel, and a single-bay single-storey porch. There are lancet windows, a pointed-arch door and a cut-limestone shield date stone (1849).

The stump is all that survives of a polygonal turret, and polygonal spire was never completed.

The church closed ca 2004, and was undergoing restoration in 2006-2011. It remains an important part of the mid-19th century architectural heritage of Co Mayo.

The graveyard is heavily overgrown with thick Rhododendrons. But one section that was cleared in recent years has 11 Commonwealth war graves from World War II.

Building work began in 1849, and Holy Trinity Church was consecrated in 1852 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3 He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

Holy Trinity Church was undergoing restoration in 2006-2011, and it remains an important part of the mid-19th century architectural heritage of Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Achill Sound separates the Corraun Peninsula from Achill Island off the coast of Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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