The Taste Has Been Removed

A Message from Dan Sztrajt, Assistant Principal and Head of Jewish Life

On Tisha B’Av we commemorate much more than the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, we mourn a seismic shift in Jewish identity, a period in time so fraught with rapid change that it altered what it meant to be a Jew for the next 2000 years. 

This period was foretold in Deuteronomy, “In the morning you will say, would that it were evening, and in the evening you will say, would that it were morning”. The Talmud, in Tractate Sotah 49A, explains this as a cursed time when each evening we yearn for the next morning to bring better news, but in fact each day brings progressively more troubling news, “because their situation is continuously worsening” (Sotah 49A). The Talmud recognises that the destruction of the Temples themselves were not the most troubling element, but rather the uncertainty of such rapid changes for the community.

This year we are confronted with a very real understanding of what it is like to live through a period of constantly evolving circumstances. We wonder each evening what the infection numbers will be the next morning and how these may impose a different regime of restrictions on us. We are anxious with this uncertainty because it seems that our ‘situation is continuously worsening’. Just like the destruction of the Temples, it is not the existence of Covid-19 that worries us, it is this perpetual flux of changing conditions.

The parallels are even more pronounced when we read Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar’s Talmudic commentary on the same verse which says “since the destruction of the Temple… the taste and aroma has been removed from fruit.” While this may have been meant as a metaphor, it is almost eerie to consider this as analogous to today’s Coronavirus symptoms. We too now long for the sweetness of being in the classroom together and enjoying each other’s company on the playground at lunchtimes.

Having said all of this, what can we learn from these similarities? Perhaps we are now more able to appreciate the tragedy of Tisha B’Av, not only as destruction, but as prolonged uncertainty. On the other hand, we know Judaism adapted to its new reality and would eventually thrive becoming the religion we are so familiar with today. Some would even say that this calamity ultimately lead to the establishment of Rabbinic Judaism, democratisation replaced centralised control by the social elite, and individual prayer substituted gruesome sacrifices. What better lesson could we take from Tisha B’Av than the knowledge that uncertainty eventually ends, and things do get better. When we are challenged, we grow. We find innovative solutions to what once seemed like unsolvable problems. We develop new appreciations for what is really important to us and in the process, make our lives even richer than before. If we are still here thriving 2000 years after the destruction of our Temple, we will surely be here thriving after Covid-19 too.

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