Religion & Beliefs

How Do We Remember?

How do we approach Tisha B’Av? We Jews in the Diaspora are thriving. Day schools and supplementary schools have increasing enrollment, synagogues serve as icons of religious expression and community stability, and summer camps now comprise one of the fastest … Read More

By / July 28, 2009

How do we approach Tisha B’Av? We Jews in the Diaspora are thriving. Day schools and supplementary schools have increasing enrollment, synagogues serve as icons of religious expression and community stability, and summer camps now comprise one of the fastest growing programs across all denominations of Judaism. We have done such a great job growing that on Tisha B’Av we have trouble reliving the pain and anguish that accompanied the destruction of the Temple. When I try to understand the magnitude of the Temple’s destruction, I seek the familiar and the common. I turn to September 11, the day where the West’s international financial headquarters were attacked and attempt to relate it to the loss of the Temple. But I realize that this is not the most appropriate analogy, for the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) clearly was not merely a structure that represented financial stability and independence. We come closer when we begin to imagine what it would have been like if the World Trade Center, the White House, the Capitol, Congress, the Senate, the Pentagon, and every religious institution in America were all destroyed. It is only in that very moment, when I reflect on the significance of each of these buildings together, that I can begin to comprehend what the prophets were attempting to convey in their writings about the devastation that followed the loss of the Temple. It was not just the loss of a building; the Temple’s destruction meant the loss of our people’s governing infrastructure. With the loss of the physical Temple, we also lost the procedures and practices that enabled Israel to best govern its people. Of course, those procedures and practices were replaced, as much as possible. But they could not be replaced entirely. My understanding of what was lost was deepened recently when I attended a rally outside the home of a recalcitrant husband who refused to give his wife a get (Jewish divorce document).[1] Most of the participants at this rally were college-aged men and women.  I recognized many of the women from the Beit Midrash (Study Hall) at Stern College where I had spent many years immersing myself in Biblical and Rabbinic texts. One woman came over to me with a look of pain and disgust. Her eyes were filling with tears; her head was beginning to fall forward. As she approached me she began to speak in a voice that was barely audible. So I leaned in closer to hear her say, "How can I be a part of a religion that allows men to treat their wives like this?" In that moment I could only embrace her and hope that she makes it through this tough time in her relationship to Judaism. But as I got on the subway to go back to my apartment, I continued to be haunted by the woman’s pain. Her struggle resonated with me. I too struggle with aspects of Judaism that seem so removed from our lives today. As a Modern Orthodox woman, I pride myself on balancing my Judaism with secular culture, reaping the benefits of both while remaining committed to halakha (Jewish law). So when I see individuals using the Jewish legal system in an abusive way, I question how a system that I have grown to love and respect could allow such atrocities to occur. And it is only in that moment that I can truly grasp the loss of the Beit Hamikdash. The Beit Hamikdash was not only a building that represented the financial, socioeconomic, military, and religious capital of our nation; it also embodied the progression and evolution of halakha. It is by no means a coincidence that the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) sat to adjudicate cases in the chambers of the Beit Hamikdash. It is not without design that the Temple, which contains the ability to achieve a relationship with God, was also the epicenter of the Jewish legal system. The destruction of the physical structure of the Temple brought about the end of an era that allowed for an organic and natural flow of Jewish life in general, and of halakha in particular. So, this year as I enter the period of mourning the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, all that I will need to enable me to understand the magnitude of its loss is the name of one agunah, for that one name will remind me of the national tragedy that we suffer in our post-Beit Hamikdash era. And at that moment the message of Tisha B’Av is clear: remember and never forget. For if I forget, then I lose my ability to hope that, along with the rebuilding of the third Beit Hamikdash, will come change. #


Malka Adatto is Director of Cases in the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, an Education Fellow at the Jewish Center, and a lecturer at Yeshiva University where she is a Senior Fellow in the Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS). In addition,

A different version of this article first appeared as "The Meaning of Tisha B’Av Today" in the Summer 2008 issue of the JOFA Journal, the publication of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. JOFA works to expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha.

Image thanks to


[1] Biblical Judaism allows for unilateral divorce to be initiated by the husband. The wife may be divorced against her will if her husband gives her a get (Jewish divorce document). Though Rabbinic Judaism has made strides throughout the generations to protect women, starting as early as the institution of the ketubah and continuing through the edicts of Rabbi Gershom in the 11th century requiring the wife’s consent to divorce and even to more modern institutions like a prenuptial agreement, there is still the possibility that the wife may end up an agunah, a woman chained in a marriage. If the wife desires to divorce, the husband must willingly authorize the writing of the get. If he is so inclined, however, he may refuse to divorce her, or, worse, use the get as a means to extort large sums of money.