Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Teaching about Churban Yerushalayim

I had the privilege of spending most of my Tisha B'Av listening to Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schachter expound upon the kinnot. Rabbi Schachter picks up where Rav Soloveitchik left off, splitting his time (and it is a LOT of time) between formal shiurim and overviews of selected kinnot, and much of his material comes from or is at least inspired by the The Rov, who Rabbi Schachter spent many a Tisha B'Av learning from.

One point that he made several times today (as well as in past years and in his book about Tisha B'Av based on the teachings of The Rov) is that Rav Soloveitchik was opposed to the creation of a separate day to commemorate the Holocaust, believing that Tisha B'Av was intended to be the catch-all day for all Jewish tragedies. Just as we have kinnot on Tisha B'Av about the Crusades and the burning of the Talmud in France in 1242, and no other day is designated to mourn these tragedies, so too the Shoah should have been subsumed under the rubric of Tisha B'Av. In fact, Rav Soloveitchik would put forth maximal effort to refer to the Shoah in his discussions on Tisha B'Av, and Rabbi Schachter followed suit today.

My purpose in this post is not to discuss the existence of an independent Yom HaShoah. I would like to consider, instead, a related educational thought. While it may be possible and perhaps even proper to include the Holocaust in our thoughts and discussions on Tisha B'Av, Yom HaShoah is reserved for the discussion of the Holocaust, and only of that horrific event. While I have no argument with that approach - it is, after all, the reason that the day was created - it struck me that there is no time during the school year when we focus on the most significant tragedies in Jewish history, namely the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.

Now, one can say that this is not our fault - had the Babylonians and Romans had the good sense to attack during the winter months then we would be able to have programs, assemblies, yemei iyun and so on discussing Churban Yerushalayim. However, since they forgot to coordinate their pillaging with the Yeshiva calendars, we have no choice but to cede this all-important aspect of Judaism to summer camps. Assuming our students go to camp, and assuming that they are in camp for Tisha B'Av, and assuming that kids in a camp mode can focus adequately on Tisha B'Av when it is 90 degrees outside and they have no air conditioning.

I would suggest two openings during the school year, and I welcome suggestions or solutions that are already being done. The first one is to seize upon the oft-overlooked fast of Asara B'Tevet. This fast suffers by being the shortest in terms of time, is often on a Sunday or during a winter vacation, and has become a universal fast in the sense of it being Yom Kaddish HaKlali or being a fast for events that took place on three consecutive dates. However, it is the only one of the four fasts connected with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash that a school can reliably use. Shiva Asar B'Tamuz and Tisha B'Av are in the summer, and no one is going to run a Churban Yerushalayaim program the day after Rosh HaShana. Hence, perhaps Asara B'Tevet could be used as a mini-Tisha B'Av - not as sad, not as intense, but an opportunity to speak to our students about what we have lost.

The other opening is when we teach about davening and birchat hamazon. It struck me that we do a horrible disservice to our students when we teach them an upbeat and happy tune for ובנה ירושלים in birchat hamazon. Rather than allowing them to focus on the fact that we are asking for Hashem to rebuild something that we desperately need back, we song-song along, oblivious to anything other than the proper clapping or banging rhythms for this part of the tune. One of the Rebbeim in my school occasionally highlights to our students the centrality of Yerushalayim as evidenced by our having to remember it every time we eat a cookie and have to make an על המחיה afterwards. Would that we would all have this consciousness.