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Tisha B'Av
What do Prisoners of Zion have to do with Tisha B’Av? Print E-mail
Monday, 24 July 2023

An Asir Tzion, a Prisoner of Zion, is a Jew who was imprisoned or deported for Zionist activity. The phrase is taken from Kinah (Elegy) #36, written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi which we read on Tish B’Av morning: “Zion, ha’lo tishali l’shlom asirayich”, “Zion, surely you  will inquire after the well being of your imprisoned ones.”

Yuli Edelstein and Natan Sharansky were both “Asirei Tzion” prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union.

The term “Prisoners of Zion” was also used to describe Jewish prisoners in dictatorships unrelated to the Soviet Union, who were arrested for pro-Israel activity or an attempt to encourage aliya. Jews in Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and Ethiopia who were arrested for Zionist activities in the 1940s and 1950s were considered prisoners of Zion as well.

Rav Soloveitchik points out that the word Zion has many definitions. The literal definition from Yirmiyahu 31:20 is a signpost: “hatzivi lach tziyunim”, “set up road markers.” Zion can refer to the Land of Israel, Jerusalem, the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) or the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies).

Rav Soloveitchik explains that Kinah #36 reflects Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s philosophy in Sefer HaKuzari- the land of Israel is unique in a metaphysical sense as well as in a natural sense:

The air is clearer and charged with Ruach HaKodesh, the Divine Spirit. Nature is more beautiful. The rain, soil and stones are physically different. It is a land flowing with milk and honey.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, was a doctor and a philosopher as well as one of the greatest Hebrew poets. He lived from approximately 1075-1141 in Spain, loved the Land of Israel and ached to go there. One of his most famous quotes is: “Libi BaMizrach V’Anochi BeSof Maarav,” “My heart is in the east while I am stranded in the farthest end of the west.”

According to Rav Soloveitchik, the Kinot that are read earlier on Tisha B’Av morning focus on the churban- destruction and exile. Kinah #36 is the turning point as it reminds us of the beautiful life in Jerusalem from before the destruction. Rather than it being Zecher Lachurban (a reminder of the destruction), this Kinah is Zecher Lamikdash (a reminder of the Temple).

Kinah #36 opens by describing the relationship between Zion and its captives and their concern for each other.

Even though the Jewish people were taken away into exile, they are still Dorshei Shlomech- they still send greetings to Zion and are determined to return. The land sends regards back to them.

Both sides kept their part of the bargain:

The Jews have yearned to come back and the land remained desolate until we returned. No other nation was able to properly develop the land as it says in Vayikra 26:32: “And I will make the land desolate and your enemies that dwell in it will be astonished.”

The Midrash, Sifrei Bechukotai 2:65 explains:

This is a noble trait of the Land of Israel that it grants from its fruits only to its children.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s longing for Zion is not just for the land itself, but for the Shechina, Divine Presence, that dwells in the Land. In the Kuzari, he explains that the Shechina never departed from the Land and is still present. According to Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in order to find God, one must go to the Land of Israel.

Prayer in Israel is different than in any other location:

God sends down blessings through the Temple Mount. As well, our prayers go up through the Temple Mount.

No matter how far away we are, when we pray, we face Jerusalem. In that way we keep the bond.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi yearned to visit the places where the prophets spoke to God. He considered every place where God revealed Himself to a prophet to be holy.

“Who can make wings for me so that I can roam afar and move my ruptured heart to your ruptured hills? I will fall to my face upon your land and treasure your stones and cherish your soil.”

According to the legend, in 1140 Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi went to Egypt and then moved on to the Land of Israel. He wrote Kinah #36 while he was on the way to the Land of Israel. Sadly, when he arrived, he prostrated himself on the ground and was killed by an Arab horseman.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi emphasized that the sanctity of the Land of Israel arises from the fact that the graves of our ancestors are there- especially in Hevron. His vision of the Land of Israel is that even the air is spiritual. The earth is sweeter than the finest spices, the rivers drip with honey. He would rather walk barefoot in the Land of Israel than walk in Spain in his finest shoes.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s pining for the Land of Israel is evident. He reminds us of how great Zion was before the destruction and how great it will be once again. We are lucky to have the opportunity to live in Israel or fly in and out when we feel like it, unlike in the days of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi where it was a dream which was only fulfilled by a lucky few and may we put the days of the Prisoners of Zion behind us.

Wishing you a meaningful Tisha B’Av and a Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim,

Sharona Margolin Halickman

Should we update the Nachem prayer? Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 July 2021

On Tisha B’Av afternoon, the Nachem prayer is added into the amida of the Mincha service:

Console O Lord our God,

The mourners of Zion

The mourners of Jerusalem,

And the city that is in sorrow, laid waste,

Scorned and desolate;

That grieves for the loss of its children,

That is laid waste of its dwellings,

Robbed of its glory, desolate without inhabitants.

She sits with her head covered like a barren childless woman.

Legions have devoured her;

Idolaters have taken possession of her;

They have put your people Israel to the sword

and deliberately killed the devoted followers of the Most High.

Therefore Zion weeps bitterly,

And Jerusalem raises her voice.

My heart, my heart grieves for those they killed;

I am in anguish for those they killed.

For you, O Lord, consumed it with fire

And with fire you will rebuild it in the future,

As I said (Zecharia 2:9) “And I myself will be a wall of fire around it says the Lord and I will be its glory within.”

Blessed are you HaShem who consoles Zion and rebuilds Jerusalem.

Now that we have the Modern State of Israel as well as a united Jerusalem, is this prayer still necessary and is it possible to make changes to reflect today’s reality?

In 1967, after the reunification of Jerusalem, Rav Shlomo Goren made some changes to the prayer, adding in excerpts from the Talmud Yerushalmi Brachot 4:3. However, in 1978, he retracted his changes explaining:

I will admit and not regret that after the bloody Yom Kippur War, when there was a moral and national deterioration in the people and the state, and in light of the recognition of the Palestinian people on our part, and the preparations made here for the betrayal of much of our land ... I see no reason to change the original nusach (format).

Rav Ovadiah Yosef was against changing the prayer:

Since the text of the prayer was established by the men of the Great Assembly, we lack the power to change it. Additionally, not only is the physical state of the city on a low level, but the religious level of the people of Israel in general is severely lacking. The Temple Mount and The City of David which is directly south of Temple Mount are almost entirely in the hands of hostile Arabs and are for most purposes “mournful, ruined, scorned and desolate.”

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein recited the regular nusach. However he removed the following words which do not ring true today: 

That grieves for the loss of its children,

That is laid waste of its dwellings,

Robbed of its glory, desolate without inhabitants.

Rav Chaim David HaLevi stated:

I felt on the first Tisha B'Av after the Six Day War that I could no longer say in my prayers these things, which are an examination of a liar before God. Not only throughout the whole year but especially on holidays, including the 5th (Yom HaAtzmaut) and 28th of Iyar (Yom Yerushalayim), Jerusalem is bustling with celebrating, thousands upon thousands of sons of the nation ... but even on Tisha B'Av, the day of national mourning, when masses of Beit Yisrael come to the Western Wall , wrapped in mourning for the destruction of the house, even then a certain corner is felt in my heart, into which mourning can not penetrate, it is a corner of joy at the beginning of the growth of our redemption ... and therefore there is no doubt that there is a liar before God to say this about Jerusalem: "The desolate city of desolation without its sons." 

While it was too soon to change the prayer, one would could not honestly say that the city was in a state of destruction and denigration. Therefore, Rav Chaim David HaLevi added the word “she-haytah — that was” before words of destruction, indicating that the city had been destroyed.

According to the Beit Yosef in Hilchot Tisha B'Av:

A city in Israel is called "chareva", destroyed only when it is under a non-Jewish government. However, when a city is under a Jewish government, it is called "bnuya" built, even if most of the inhabitants are non-Jews.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in Nefesh HaRav taught:

Any time that the Beit HaMikdash is not built- the whole city of Jerusalem is considered as "chareva", destroyed...

We see here that there is a fine line between if we are living at the time of exile or at the time of redemption and therefore it makes sense not to officially change the prayer by adding to it. However, if we want to be true to ourselves about what is happening in the modern city of Jerusalem today it makes sense to remove the phrases that Rav Lichtenstein took out. However, if we follow the thinking of Rav Soloveitchik and Jerusalem is referring to the Temple Mount which is desolate, where Jews are forbidden to pray and are only allowed to visit during certain hours with certain conditions then those words should be left in.

In any case, Tisha B’Av is a time to reflect on our loss of the Beit HaMikdash and even though we have the Modern State of Israel, it will not be fully complete until the Temple is rebuilt speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom and have a meaningful fast,

Sharona Margolin Halickman

Is Jerusalem like a widow? Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 August 2019

In the first verse of Megilat Eicha, the prophet Yirmiyahu describes Jerusalem k’almana, like a widow: “Alas- she sits in solitude! The city that was great with people has become like a widow. The greatest among nations, the princess among provinces, has become a vassal.”

Eicha goes on to tell us that she weeps bitterly at night. She has nobody to comfort her. Her friends are now her enemies, her young children have gone into captivity.

Why is Jerusalem described as k’almana, like a widow, rather than almana, a widow?

In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 104a, Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Jerusalem has merely become like a widow, but not truly a widow. Rather, she is like a woman whose husband has gone overseas, but his intention is to return to her. Similarly, Jerusalem is not permanently estranged from God, but will one day be reunited with Him.

B’nai Yisrael “the husband” left Jerusalem “the wife” during the exile but will eventually come back as it says in Yishayahu 54:4 “Fear not, for you shall not be ashamed: neither be humiliated; for you shall not be disgraced: For you shall forget the shame of your youth, and you shall no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood.”

Radak explains that at the time of the final redemption, we will not experience the humiliations that our ancestors encountered when they returned from exile in the days of Ezra.

We will read in the Haftara for Parshat Nitzavim (Yishayahu 62:5), the seventh Haftara of Nechama (comfort) exactly eight weeks from this Shabbat: “As a young man takes a maiden in marriage, so will your children settle in you; and like the bridegroom’s rejoicing over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

Instead of the image of a man deserting his wife, we have the image of a groom rejoicing with his bride.

We are already fulfilling part of this prophecy. The Jewish people have returned to their homeland. The “husband” and “wife” are now back together. Now we are waiting for all of the “children” who are living throughout the world to return home to Jerusalem and settle in Israel.

Fifteen years ago, in August 2004, Josh and I decided to do our part in fulfilling the prophecy by making aliya along with our two young children Dov and Moshe. Yehuda was born on Chanuka two years later.

May we all be blessed to return to the rebuilt Jerusalem.


How can we rebuild Jerusalem? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 July 2015

This Saturday night and Sunday, we will commemorate the sad day of Tisha B’Av. The Hebrew date of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the month of Av actually comes out on Shabbat this year. Since it is forbidden to turn Shabbat into a day of mourning Tisha B’Av is postponed until right after Shabbat so this year we are commemorating the 9th of Av on the 10th of Av.


We are told in the Talmud, Taanit 30b: “Anyone who does not mourn for Jerusalem will not witness her joy at the time of the redemption.


How do we mourn for Jerusalem?


On Tisha B’Av we don’t eat, drink, wear leather shoes, have marital relations, wash or anoint our bodies. In other words, we make ourselves uncomfortable. We also read Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) and recite Kinot (sad poems about the troubles that befell the Jewish people throughout history). We sit on the floor or on a low stool as a sign of mourning.


What else can we do to mourn for Jerusalem?


Those who have the opportunity to visit Jerusalem can visit the ruins from the time of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).


When one goes to the Temple Mount they are reminded that Jews are not permitted to walk freely or pray there.


On Tisha B’Av last year, we didn’t have to put ourselves into the mood of mourning as we were already mourning for the soldiers who were killed in Operation Tzuk Eitan. Just turning on the TV or opening up the newspaper gave us plenty to cry about.


Ten years ago, we had another reason to cry. Gush Katif was being evacuated and Jews were forced to leave their homes, neighborhoods and businesses which were destroyed. The cemetaries and synagogues were uprooted.


What can we do to rebuild Jerusalem?


The Talmud, Taanit 26b teaches that one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar is Tu B’Av (The 15th of Av), just a few days after Tisha B’Av. How can this be? How can we move on from mourning the destruction to the holiday where men and women would go out to find a spouse in order to build a Jewish home?


The holiday of Tu B’Av teaches us that we must always work on rebuilding. Just as those who are dating need to focus on building a relationship, the Jewish people need to make an effort to build a relationship with the Land of Israel and those living there. We must continue to help rebuild Israel by building homes, industry, schools, synagogues, community centers and parks. We also have to build relationships with one another.


Those who are in Israel can physically build up the land. Those who are not in Israel can visit and support the programs that are being created.


If Jewish people from around the world make a conscious effort to build a relationship with the State of Israel and those living there, we will be one step closer to the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.

The Shidduch Crisis and Tisha B’Av Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 August 2008

In the Talmud, Shabbat 31a we read the following: “Rava said: When they escort a person to his final, Heavenly judgment after his death, the Heavenly tribunal says to him: Did you conduct your business transactions faithfully? Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation (asakta befriah ureviah)? Did you wait in the hope of Messianic salvation? …”


According to the Maharsha it doesn’t say “kiyamta” (did you observe the mitzvah of procreation), rather it says “asakta” (were you involved in procreation) since it is a mitzvah to marry off an orphan.


Even those who, for whatever reason, can’t have children of their own still have the obligation to help find shiduchim (matches) for others in order to bring about more Jewish families who will then be fruitful and multiply.


Just as a couple who is having difficulty conceiving will do whatever it takes in order to try to have a child (whether through fertility drugs, in vitro or adoption etc.), spend as much money as needed and go to the ends of the earth, so too should we go out of our way in the realm of helping people find their basherts (destined matches).


During these three weeks leading up to Tisha B;Av when we cry for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) as well as for other tragedies that occurred throughout Jewish history, we should mourn as well for the houses that were never built since the proper shidduchim were never found .


Remember, whoever makes a bride and groom happy is like one who built a ruined house from the ruins of Jerusalem.


Those who value conducting business in an ethical manner, setting aside time for Torah study and the hope that the Mashiach will come speedily in our day must do what they can to help alleviate the shidduch crisis and help bring about the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.