For many years I’ve taken a rather minority stance and have fasted on Tisha B’Av only until noon. While I haven’t advertised it, I haven’t hidden it either. It seemed to me that closing my eyes to the re-establishment of a sovereign Jewish state with her capital, Jerusalem, in our eternal Holy Land was showing ingratitude to our Creator. However, while I still hold this position, I plan on Sunday to fast the full twenty-five hours.
In the Jewish year there are only two mandatory fasts, Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, and they serve totally different functions. Yom Kippur‘s fast frees us from physicality so we can focus on the spirit. Tisha B’Av breaks the spirit so we can focus on just how out-of-balance is our physical world, lacking the Bet HaMikdash, a “house of prayer for all nations”.
Although there are a number of rabbinically ordained fasts, most of them mourning other tragic disasters throughout Jewish history, there is also another, entirely different class of fasts. The Talmud Ta’anit centers on fasts that coalesce Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, when we face an existential threat, represented in these discussions, but not limited to, draught. As the threat grows, so do our prayers, our cries to the Almighty and our communal fasts.
This year, Israel, Jews worldwide, and, indeed, all of humanity face the existential threat of suicidal international enabling nuclear weapons, weapons capable of wiping out huge swaths of humanity, to be acquired by those who truly are Amalek, the polar opposites of human compassion, people who are the descendants of the evil Haman who swore to destroy the entire Jewish People. The savage, brutal despots who rule Iran (and it must be emphasized that they do this while brutally suppressing the resistance of many, perhaps even most Iranian people) are closer now than such malignant fanatics have ever been to acquiring the means to slaughter many of our fellow Jews as well as many fellow humans around the world.
If ever in my lifetime there has been a call for a Ta’anit Tzibur, a public fast where we cry out for God’s Mercy, it is this Tisha B’Av. I will still acknowledge the fragile miracle of Medinat Yisrael, reishit tz’michat geulatenu, The State of Israel, the first bloom of our Ultimate Redemption, once the sun passes overhead. But I will continue fasting this year as part of an endangered Am Yisrael throughout the remainder of the day.
Our tradition teaches us over and over and over that Am Yisrael B’Yachad, a united Jewish People, will always thrive. This year, let’s ignore our differences if for just a day and join our hopes and cries and prayers together.