Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Tisha B'Av: A Day of Supplication and Commemoration

In a Responsum (Orach Chaim no. 157), Chatam Sofer shares that one year (1811), when he was medically unable to fast on Tisha B'Av, he pondered whether he could receive an aliyah at mincha when Vayechal is read, as it typically is on a fast day. While he initially questions whether a fasting requirement ever precludes an aliyah on a tzom, he particularly weighs whether Tisha B'av is a standard albeit more intense tzom, like be-hab, or whether it is a singular commemoration that transcends the fasting experience. [See a parallel discussion in Responsa of R. Akiva Eiger, Orach Chaim no. 24 and mahadurah tinyana no. 1 regarding the possible disqualification from receiving an aliyah during the keriat ha-torah on Yom Kippur. R. Akiva Eiger distinguishes between the shacharit and mincha keriot in that context! In any case, the parallel investigation is particularly fascinating in light of the special connection between Tisha B'av and Yom Kippur, which requires its own analysis. See Pesachim 54b, Ta'anit 30b. See, also, Chatam Sofer's own perspective on this relationship- Responsa Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim no. 208. I hope to elaborate this point elsewhere.] Chatam Sofer emphatically concludes that the obligation to read the Torah on Tisha B'Av derives from the very stature and character of the day that transcends the actual implementation of the fast. Remarkably, he compares the situation to one who observes a ta'anit chalom on Shabbat or yom tov. There is no consideration that such an individual would be excluded from the keriat ha-Torah, tefillot, or any other manifestation of shabbat or yom tov, notwithstanding his abstention from oneg Shabbat or simchat yom tov due to his fasting obligation, as his impediment is eclipsed by the larger force and relevance of the day. The equation of Tisha B'Av to shabbat and yom tov in this respect is noteworthy. It is reinforced by Chatam Sofer's depiction of Tisha B'Av in this context as a "yom moed de-puranuta hu", a "moed" that is dedicated to the commemoration of the tragic events that befell Am Yisrael on this anniversary, and that was formulated as a time to focus broadly on the implications of national loss and suffering (see Rashi, Divrei Hayamim 35:25), as well being a propitious day to anticipate and derive comfort (nechamah) from the future geulah-yeshuah of Am Yisrael. [Chatam Sofer distinguishes in his ruling between Tisha B'Av and be-hab fasts. He does not specifically relate to the status of Shiv'a Asar B'Tamuz, Asara B'Tevet etc. At the same time, his elevated depiction of Tisha B'Av as a "moed de-puranuta" implies that it is distinctive.]

Chatam Sofer's ruling and analysis reinforce a theme that we have developed previously (The Unique Character of Tisha B'Av). We have argued that while Tisha B'Av certainly is classified among the other tzomot - Shiv'a Asar B'Tamuz, Asara B'Tevet, Tzom Gedaliah, etc. - and thus, included in pesukim in Zechariyah chapter 8, the Mishneh Ta'anit 26a, and Rambam Hilchos Ta'anit chapter 5, there is much evidence that demonstrates that it is, additionally, a singular manifestation and experience distinct from other ta'aniyot. Indeed, it is a "moed" commemorating and mourning the churban - a devastating, transformative double loss (huchpelah tzarot- Rosh Hashana 18b, Tosafos s.v. ho'il) - that galvanizes a profound sense of historical national identity, and stimulates an intense yearning and anticipation for the yeshuah and geulah of Kelal Yisrael. Tisha B'Av is not merely the most intense of the tzomot, it is also a different kind of commemoration and experience.

The fascinating halachic debate about the proper location of "Nachem", the Tishah b'Av insertion in shemonah esrei, supports and furthers this conclusion. The very phenomenon of "Nachem" is noteworthy. The content differs markedly from the parallel "aneinu", recited on all fast days. "Aneinu" addresses a general state of crisis, focuses on the opportunity for effective tefillah it provides (consistent with the principle of "mi-darkei ha-teshuvah" articulated by Rambam in Hilchot Taianit chapter 1 and 5), and implores Hashem to be receptive to our needs. "Nachem" accentuates the "aveilut" motif of this anniversary, focuses specifically on the devastating impact of the churban and the resulting state of Yerushalayim, and invokes Hashem's commitment to restore what has been devastated and bring about the realization of Am Yisrael's ultimate destiny. According to some authorities (Mordechai, Ta'anit 30a), "aneinu" is completely excluded on Tisha B'Av, while the normative view is that "Nachem" is an additional insertion. The Taz ruled according to those Rishonim who argued that at least the hazan should omit "aneinu" in shacharit, given Tisha B'Av's status as a "moed"! [See Taz, Hagahot R. Akiva Eiger, and Dagul Meirevav on Shulchan Aruch no. 577 regarding the parameters of "moed" in this context.] In any case, the fact that "Nachem" is not also integrated into "shema koleinu" (for the tzibur during mincha) or located after "re-eh be-anyeinu" (for the shatz), reinforces the conclusion that it is an independent theme, not simply a substitute for or a more specific intensification of aneinu. The minhag Yerushalayim (and possibly the view of the Mechaber (Orach Chaim 557:1 - see mefarshim) required "Nachem" in each tefillah of this day, like "mei-ein ha-meora" of yaaleh ve-yavo on a typical moed! Moreover, Ramo adopts the ruling of Maharil that includes "Nachem" in the birkat ha-mazon of one who must eat on Tisha B'Av, a phenomenon that is simply inconceivable with respect to "aneinu". [The parallel discussion regarding Yom Kippur is noteworthy, though it is reasonable to distinguish between them, as some poskim do. See also the Gera and the sources cited in Shaarei ha-Teshuvah Orach Chaim 557 who distance themselves from this pesak and who challenge the equation to Yom Kippur.]. The recitation of "Nachem" emerges from these sources as an important expression of this unusual "moed".

It is noteworthy that the source for this unusual insertion is a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Ta'anit 2:2, and a parallel in Yerushalmi Berachot and Shekalim), in which "Nachem" is characterized as "meiein ha-meora"! The Rosh (Ta'anit 4:34) evidently perceived this characterization as significant, as he records that he had been long perplexed why this depiction did not dictate Nachem's recitation at every tefillah ("kol yamai tamhati lamah ein omrim oto ela be-tefillat ha-mincha keivan de-kaamrinan ...mei-ein ha-meora mistama be-kol tefilotv Tisha b'av kaamar"), again presenting a sharp contrast to the parallel "aneinu".

The Yerushalmi queries about the appropriate location in shemonah esrei for Nachem. Curiously, rather than provide a definitive response, the passage conveys a principle from which we are presumably to deduce the law: "kol le-haba be-avodah; ve-kol le-sheavar be-hodaah." The ambiguity of this conclusion unsurprisingly led to conflicting interpretations. The Semag (aseh no. 19) and Ittur (end of Hilchos Megillah) and others placed Nachem in hoda'ah parallel to al ha-nisim, while Re'ah, Ritva, (Ta'anit 30a), Rabbeinu Yeruham and others located it in avodah, like ya'aleh ve-yavo. This controversy is extremely consequential, as it may revolve around the very character of Nachem, and by extension, of Tisha B'Av.

While the Shulchan Aruch adopts the Rif's (Ta'anit 30a, 10a in Alfasi text) ruling that "Nachem" is ideally integrated into "boneh yerushalayim" (based on Avodah Zara 8a - "shoel zerachav ...meiein otah berachah"), the previous debate still resonates with respect to the backup location for "Nachem" when one unintentionally omits it from its preferred "boneh yerushalayim" venue. Magen Avraham, citing Abudraham, inserts Nachem into hoda'ah, while the Taz, vigorously arguing that Nachem is future and bakashah oriented, emphatically rejects this view, even assigns it to a scribal error! [The Taz, himself, suggests that "shomea tefillah", a location for general bakashah and also the venue for "aneinu", should be the secondary location for "Nachem". His view is criticized by other poskim.] Many poskim conclude that avodah, the locus for yaaleh ve-yavo and intimately linked to the churban motif of Tisha B'av (see, for example, shaar ha-tziyon ad loc), is the appropriate backup for "Nachem".

As we have noted, Tisha B'Av is a very extraordinary day. It is a "moed" anniversary that is deeply anchored in commemorating and mourning past losses. At the same time, the capacity to viscerally experience national tragedy from a vast historical distance further forges unity and a sense of identity in Am Yisrael. and justifies a focus on a hopeful future in which the mikdash, Yerushalayim, and the full, rich destiny of Kelal Yisrael will be realized. Hence, it is also a day of bakashah and especially of nechamah. Responding to Taz's argument that "Nachem" is exclusively future-oriented, the Eliyahu Rabbah counters by underscoring the aveilut and commemorative themes that are so central to the "moed de-puranuta" of Tisha B'av. In the final analysis, each view regarding the ideal location and motif of "Nachem" captures a dimension of this complex, crucial day. May we realize the fulfillment of the promised nechamah be-meheirah. [The issue of the proper nusach - "Nachem" or "rachem" is consequential to the issues we have been examining, as well. The proposal of some rishonim and poskim that we might distinguish the recitation at mincha and other tefillot with respect to this question, is particularly intriguing.]

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