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    Fasts & feasts

    Eating and not eating are integral to every human culture. When things go well we eat and drink; when we are suffering we can’t eat or drink.

    Reciting Kinnot at the Kotel on Tishah B'Av

    Reciting Kinnot at the Kotel on Tishah B’Av

    In Jewish culture the culinary test always reveals our mood. The happy days are marked by feasting, the sad ones by fasts. There are even gradations within the feasts and the fasts. Bearing in mind that Tishah B’Av is this coming week, let’s look at the fasts.

    All except two – Yom Kippur and Tishah B’Av – are daytime fasts lasting from sunrise to nightfall. By way of contrast, the two long fasts begin before sunset and last until nightfall the following day.

    Even the people who don’t bother too much about the daytime fasts are particular about the long fasts. Both of these fasts have a spiritual dimension, but Tishah B’Av is more historical. It has been said that on Yom Kippur nobody wants to eat and on Tishah B’Av nobody can eat.

    Think about the tragedies that this sombre day represents. They comprise a centuries-long series of calamities caused by anti-Jewish cruelty. As one of the medieval poets said, “How can food be sweet to my taste when my eyes are full of tears?”

    We do well to commemorate the tragedies and to honour the martyrs. We can’t eat.

    But the next day we have to find the bright side and recognise that one after another of our enemies has disappeared from the stage, and Judaism and the Jewish people still live.

    Those who wish us harm in our own days will also finally be swallowed up by history, and we will live to vindicate our faith that the Messiah will come. God will have the last laugh and then “the fasts will become… joy and gladness and cheerful seasons” (Zech. 8:19).

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