2014-07-23 / Religion Column

This year’s Tisha B’Av fast will be unlike any other in my life

RABBI NOAH ARNOW
Congregation Beth El

This may sound strange, but I like fasting. Let me qualify that. I don’t “like” fasting. But I find fasting on Judaism’s major and minor fast days a powerful and meaningful experience. I have fasting on the brain now because we are approaching Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the day on the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of both the first and second temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively. Tisha B’Av is the other “major” fast day, where, like on Yom Kippur, we fast from sundown to sundown. This year, Tisha B’Av begins Monday night, Aug. 4 at 8:11 p.m. and ends at 8:39 p.m. the next day, Aug. 5.

But why do I find fasting meaningful? Thank God, my family and I have plenty of food to eat. The problem for us, like for so many Americans, is not eating too little, but rather, eating too much. Very rarely am I really, truly hungry. It’s not a feeling I know so well. But actually, one out of six Americans struggles with hunger, with having enough food each day. So for me, fasting reminds me, in a very small way, of the way my body feels when I am much hungrier than I usually am. And my hope is that that feeling, that hunger, makes me a little more conscious of and empathetic towards those who are hungry not by choice but by circumstance.

Fasting also helps focus my attention on the spirit of the day. I spend a good deal of time eating, and thinking about what it is that I’m going to eat. Eliminating eating from the day gives me a lot more time, and a lot more headspace to think about other things. And there is a kind of strange mind-body symbiosis that occurs, I find, where fasting heightens one’s awareness in certain ways. When I fast, ideas and feelings often have a greater focus and clarity. And this is certainly a purpose of fasting on these days—to have a heightened awareness of the essence of the day and the purpose(s)of our fast.

Fasting together with Jews around the world, and knowing that for two millennia, Jews have fasted on these days, makes my fasting feel that much more contextualized. I am not making this fast up all by myself—I am part of a chain of tradition that extends backwards in time (and, God-willing, forwards too), as well as across the globe. I am part of something larger than myself.

But this year, I will be spending Tisha B’Av differently than I ever have before. I will not be at Cong. Beth El, my home for the past four years. This year, I’ll be on the road for Tisha B’Av, driving from South Jersey to St. Louis, Missouri, where in August I will become the rabbi of Kol Rinah, a wonderful Conservative congregation in St. Louis, the city where my wife grew up and where my inlaws live. And as we drive across the Midwest on Aug. 5, I’ll be fasting, for Tisha B’Av, of course. But my fast that day will also be one of sadness, of leaving this wonderful community and leaving so many people with whom I have shared moments of holiness. And it will also be a fast of anticipation at the exciting newness of joining a new community, a new congregation.

Thank you to Cong. Beth El and the entire Jewish community of Southern New Jersey, and I wish you—and me—a meaningful fast this Tisha B’Av! .

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