Why you should fast on Tisha B’Av

July 20, 2010 by

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I’m sitting on a stepstool, laptop balanced unsteadily on my knees. It’s Tisha B’Av eve, and I won’t be eating or drinking for the next 25 or so hours. By midday tomorrow, I’ll be allowed to sit on a normal chair, but I can’t wash my hands past the knuckles until after sundown. I can’t wear leather shoes all day either, no big deal nowadays what with Shoresh sandals or Crocs. It’s tougher not to be able to say hello or goodbye to friends and acquaintances, another sign of mourning that will mark the day

I’m doing all this because I’m an observant Jew and I’m following Jewish law. Halacha demands that I commemorate the day that both Temples were destroyed. As a religious Jew, I’ve been taught to see unity in Jewish history. The ninth day of Av, tradition tells us, was the night that the spies sent by Moses to check out the land of Canaan returned to the Jews in the desert and sent them into a panic; when the Jews cried at the thought of entering Israel, G-d declared that this date would be one of sorrow and pain, culminating in the burning of the Temples and the beginning of Jewish exile.

That, in a nutshell, is why I and observant Jews all over the world are fasting tonight and tomorrow.

But you, a non-observant Jew, should be fasting as well, this year more than ever.

Natan Sharansky has identified three “Ds” that distinguish anti-Semitism from fair criticism of Israel: demonization, double standards, and delegitimization. The last is the most dastardly and devastating, attacking the very essence of Zionism and the right of Jews to live in Israel. Much of the world accepts today what they call the “Palestinian narrative” which makes Jewish Israelis newcomers to the region, the last colonial occupiers in a post-colonial world, brought here by guilt-stricken Europeans to atone for the Holocaust.

For two thousand years, Jews all over the world have fasted on Tisha B’Av. Post-Holocaust guilt may have given the nations of the world the push to acknowledge the Jewish claim to the land, but that claim is based on an unbroken chain of thousands of years of Tisha B’avs. No so-called narrative, however compelling to a post-modern world, can beat a history written down thousands of years ago and kept alive generation after generation by Jews fasting, crying, mourning for the land of their fathers. No Palestinian narrative can write the Jewish people off of the land that they never gave up.

My mother survived a year in Auschwitz. Her right to live in Israel doesn’t come from her year of starvation there; it comes because she, like her parents before her, and generations of her family before them, fasted for at least one day a year, on Tisha B’Av, suffering hunger and thirst to keep the dream of returning to Israel alive.

By tomorrow night, I will be slightly dehydrated. I will probably have a headache from lack of caffeine. My lips will be cracked. My back will hurt from sitting too long on a low stool and sleeping without a pillow.

And all this will be my way of saying that I have a right to live in the land of my fathers, a land to which I as a Jew have an unbroken claim. And whether or not you wear a kippah, whether or not you eat kosher, if you live in Israel or simply believe that Jews have a right to live here, you should go hungry for one day to be part of the eternal history of your people.


Dr. Emmy Zitter is English Department Head at Michlalah-Jerusalem College.


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