Words from the Rabbi – Tisha B’Av 5783

Thank God, I’m usually pretty good at fasting.
I’m sure that at the end of the fast of Tisha B’Av (which starts this Weds evening) I’ll be tired, and grumpy, perhaps I’ll have a bit of a headache, but ultimately I know I’ll be fine once I’ve had a cup of tea and something to eat. The hunger is easy to bear, because I know it’s only temporary. 25 hours later, I’ll be eating and drinking again.

Not everyone is so lucky.

As the cost of living crisis has really taken hold in our country, more and more people are having to skip meals in order to make ends meet. A survey recently revealed that a staggering 5% of adults (1 in 20) said they had run out of food in the previous two weeks and been unable to buy more. You can read more here.    Many people are even worse affected.

The fast of Av was instituted as a way of mourning the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. By foregoing bodily pleasures such as eating, drinking, bathing, and intercourse, Jewish people have sought to feel the sadness and the loss of such a central institution. Over time, Tisha B’Av accrued many other tragedies that happened on or near the same date – the beginning of the first Crusade in 1096, the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, from Spain in 1492. We can add on to it our own personal losses, our own tragedies.

For many of us in our community, the fast of Tisha B’Av is an opportunity to ‘play-act’ poverty, to have the tiniest taste of what it’s like to go hungry from the security of a full pantry. There are many for whom it won’t be play-acting, but an everyday part of life. Whilst I can experience a kind of ‘comfortable’ hunger, knowing that I will soon eat again, many within the community and especially beyond are struggling.

The book of Lamentations that we read on Tisha B’Av says “Better off were the slain of the sword / Than those slain by famine” (Lam 4:9). At least the violent deaths of war are quick.

In Hebrew Lamentations is called Eicha which means ‘How?’ We should ask ourselves the same question. How can people be hungry when there is plenty of food going to waste? How can food bank use be so high in a developed country like ours? How can we sit and eat our food without making an effort to help those who are hungry?

The Psalmist tells us that God “gives food to all flesh” (Psalm 136:25) – the problem isn’t lack of supply, the problem is lack of distribution.

This Tisha B’Av, if you know you have enough food to eat to break your fast, ask yourself how you can help others have the same.

Thanks to the generosity of members and supporters of New Stoke Newington Shul, I have a rabbinic discretionary fund, which I can use to further the charitable aims of our community. If you’re in financial need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me in private. If you’d like to donate to the discretionary fund, you can do so here:  https://nsns.shulcloud.com/payment.php

If you’d like to donate to the Hackney Night Shelter, supporting the homeless in Hackney, you can do so here https://justgiving.com/page/stokey-shul