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    Rejoicing on Tishah B’Av – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Shouldn’t the fast of Tishah B’Av become an occasion for celebrating now that the Jewish people have a state in the Land of Israel and Jerusalem has been rebuilt?

    The destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts, 1850

    A. In the 17th century, the false messiah Shabbetai Zvi promoted his messianic claims by making Tishah B’Av a yom-tov and telling his followers to rejoice on the day as they would on the normal festivals.

    This was partly because 9 Av was his birthday; it impressed him to think that Judaism had long believed that it would be on this date that the Messiah would be born.

    But it was more than personal considerations that led him to change the mood of the day.

    Zechariah had prophesied that in the messianic era, fast days such as 17 Tammuz and 9 Av would “be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons” (8:19).

    Convinced that the messianic prophecies had been fulfilled in himself, Shabbetai Zvi believed the time had come to make Tishah B’Av a festival.

    His pretensions brought great suffering to the Jewish people. He himself ended up in another religion, though some continued to believe in him.

    History views him as one more pretender. But though the real Mashi’ach is yet to come, many argue that the wondrous re-emergence of Israel and its survival against all odds, is a messianic beginning, and some suggest that the mood of Tishah B’Av must change – if not to make the day a yom-tov, at least to lift some of the gloom.

    The answer is not basically political: it is spiritual. With the destruction of the Temple came not merely the exile of the Jewish people but the exile of the Shechinah, the Divine Presence.

    In spite of the great blessing which Israel represents to our people and – if only the world knew it – to humanity as a whole, so much still needs to happen before the messianic era of peace, justice and truth can be said to have arrived.

    One day the Amalek spirit will vanish and the Shechinah will be at ease. Only then will Tishah B’Av be “joy and gladness and a cheerful season”.

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