Broken Homes Erev Tisha B’av

In a Facebook post this past week, a prominent Jewish thinker and teacher wrote as follows:

“It’s time to stop using the expression “broken home.” Please.

As a child of divorced parents,” she goes on to write, “I… wish that my parents hadn’t lined us up on the living room couch and told us that they were getting a divorce. But as the oldest, I felt the burden of their unhappiness on us, and that, too, was too much for children to bear.

Now 40 years later, in a loving marriage of my own and with children and grandchildren, I have one thing to ask of a society so sensitive about language. It’s time to drop the expression “broken home.” Each time I hear the expression, it breaks my heart a little. I want to shout back: “I am not broken. I am strong. And I am loved.””

 

With all due respect, and I mean that in the fullest sense of the expression, as I have the utmost respect for the writer of this comment – I disagree.

While she does go on to acknowledge that of course, divorce causes the children to be broken in some way, she argues that so many other things in life break you as well.

And that is true, so many things break you as well. But I would argue that none break you quite the same way as a broken family. And that’s something that we as a society seem to have forgotten – the value of an intact family.

In 2021, 40% of births take place outside of the context of marriage. This is up from 28% in 1990, and far higher than most other countries. Almost 50% of marriages in the US will end in divorce. And over 50% of Americans are single, whereas in 1950, that number was 22%. Something changed. Something dramatic changed.

While we all know how essential family is, admittedly, it’s hard to explain. The arguments against family, or the predominant modern way of thinking that may not be opposed to family, but certainly does not see family as being all that important, has some compelling questions for us, such as:

Why burden ourselves to this commitment called marriage? It’s just a ‘construct’ anyway? And if it’s not working, move on.

Why bother having children? Or why bother having more than 1.9 children with all the obligations and burdens it entails?

Why invest so much energy into familial relationships? If my siblings do not get along with me, who cares? I have plenty of good friends.

And at the end of the day, it’s just biology!

Maybe this thinker was right, a broken family is just one of many ways to be broken. What is family anyway?

 

And yet, we all know intuitively, even if we cannot articulate it, that family and family relationships are so important. There is a certain magic and comfort that we -usually- find with our family. What is it? What is the magic of family?

According to the Torah, the significance of family is not the shared DNA. The significance of family is the invisible matter that stands between us. It is the responsibilities that bind us – the care that a parent must provide a child, the respect a child must give to a parent, the concern a sister must have for her brother, and the commitment that a husband and wife must have for one another. And not only is it commitments that bind us, it is our family stories; the shared experiences, the joys and the setbacks and everything in between, that mold us into a single entity.    

Responsibilities to one another and shared identity, two of the highest values in our faith, and simultaneously, those are two values viewed as backward and archaic by much of our society. Our society celebrates rights, not responsibilities. Our society celebrates the individual, not the collective. The pillars upon which family are established, a sense of identity broader than just myself, an alterable responsibility, are no longer in vogue. So it’s no surprise that families are falling apart.  

***

In defense of the author of that aforementioned Facebook post, her main point was to not box in the children of a divorce; to not see them as less than or to make assumptions of their ability to have a solid relationship. And with that, I fully agree. Many have incredibly successful and loving relationships. But not because they were not and are not broken; they are. One way or another, the trauma of not having a full family cannot be escaped. Someone who has a prosthetic leg and successfully runs a marathon, still has a prosthetic leg. Similarly, someone whose family is not intact and has a wonderful marriage, still has an essential part of them, that is broken. If they are successful in not perpetuating what they experienced, it is not despite what they saw, it is likely because of it. My parents got divorced when I had already moved out of the home. I was independent. And nonetheless, there is a part of me that is forever broken. So yes, I firmly believe and try to live with the idea that divorce should not define a child of divorced parents negatively, but it will always define them. Our parents, our siblings, our children, are an integral part of who we are. Any fracture in those relationships is a fracture in our identity.

***

Tonight, we will be commemorating the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. As we all know, its destruction is attributed to Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred. The story that is meant to illustrate this point is found in Meseches Gittin, the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza It’s a story of a man who is friends with Kamtza and an enemy with Bar Kamtza. This man makes a party and sends an invitation to Kamtza but the invitation ends up with Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza comes to the party, the host throws him out of the party, and Bar Kamtza goes ahead and informs on the Jewish People to the Romans which leads to the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. This is THE story of baseless hatred; how the host hated Bar Kamtza, how Bar Kamtza hated the Jewish People.

Now who is to blame in this story?

The host, presumably. Bar Kamtza, most certainly.

And yet, the Talmud tells us that Kamtza is also to blame. Rav Yochanan proclaims that the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Now what did Kamtza do? He doesn’t even show up in the story?!

The Maharsha suggests that Kamtza was Bar Kamtza’s father. Bar, after all, means, the son of. Bar Kamtza is the son of Kamtza.

You see, the real story of Kamzta and Bar Kamtza is not one of societal hatred; it’s a story of a broken home. It’s a story in which a father does not have a loving relationship with his own child; how he is able to be best friends with a man who hates his own son. That is the sinas chinam, the baseless hatred, that we are meant to work on during this time. Yes, our society needs healing, but our first responsibility is healing our home.

***

On most years on Erev Tisha B’av, it is customary to eat an egg before the fast begins. An egg is a sign of mourning, some explain, because it is round, and reminds us of the cycle of life. I wonder if perhaps we eat an egg because its shell reminds us of the fragility of life. Perhaps we eat an egg to remind us how easy it is to lose what is important to us unless we constantly invest in it.

We all know how important family is – everyone here will tell you it is the most important thing in the world. But family, a solid family, takes work and effort; we need to constantly remind ourselves how fragile the bond between us is, especially in a world where the value of family is cheapened.

Obviously, not every marriage is meant to last forever, as Jews we believe in divorce. Not every parent-child or sibling to sibling relationship can be maintained, there are times when estrangement is the right thing to do. This is not a critique or commentary on any particular person or decision. It is an observation that as a society, we cannot lose sight of the importance of family and how we are obligated to those closest to us before anyone else; our family’s identity is our identity and family is our primary responsibility.

And so, we cannot work on bridges between communities or within communities, until the bridges of our own family are intact and strong. We cannot refrain from gossiping about others but speak about siblings behind their backs. We cannot afford to read books, listen to podcasts, or go to trainings on becoming better professionals before we become better parents, spouses, and siblings. We cannot spend so little time with our family, and when we do allow it ourselves to be so distracted. Let’s not allow ourselves to forget that the most precious things in life are fragile, nor to be swayed in thinking that family is unimportant. We know that a broken family is the worst form of brokenness.

One of the most well-known prophecies of the Messianic era, one that we sing at every Jewish weddings is, Od yishama b’arei Yehuda uv’chutzos Yerushalayim, there will be heard again in the cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem, kol sasson v’kol simcha, the sound of joy and happiness, kol chassan v’kol kallah, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride. We believe that the rebuilding of the Temple begins with the rebuilding of the home. May we see them both rebuilt speedily in our days.

Laws of Tisha B’av

The following activities are forbidden on Tisha B’av: 

– Eating and drinking (If one has any medical concerns please contact me before the fast)

– Intimacy

– Studying Torah that does not pertain to Tisha B’av

– Washing oneself in any way. This includes a prohibition against brushing one’s teeth and putting on deodorant. However, one may wash their fingers upon waking up. If one’s hands become dirty in any way, one can wash whatever part of their hand is dirty. If one wishes to bathe a child or wash dishes and their hands will get wet in the process it is permitted to do so.

On Tisha B’av one may not wear leather shoes. 

One should not greet others. If one is greeted, it is permitted to respond. 

One must sit on a low stool until Halachic midday, which in Baltimore will be at 1:13 PM on Tisha B’av.

One should not work for the first half of Tisha B’av. Ideally, one should not work the entire day.

There are some who sleep in a less comfortable fashion on the night of Tisha B’av. For example, if they normally sleep with two pillows they sleep with one. If they normally sleep with one pillow they sleep with none. If one can do so, it is a meaningful custom. If it will prevent them from sleeping and they will have a harder time fasting, or they have some condition which will make sleeping (or the next day) extremely uncomfortable, there is no need to do so.

 

Laws of Erev Tisha B’av that falls out on Shabbos

This year, Erev Tisha B’av falls out on Shabbos. There are a number of unique laws: 

There are differing opinions about learning Torah after midday. Ideally one should study sections that relate to the laws of Tisha B’av or the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash.

The regular seudas hamafsekes that is eaten before Tisha B’av (eating an egg etc.) does not take place. Rather, one may eat regular Shabbos food until the fast begins. One may eat Shalosh Seudos together with friends and family (if this what is normally done). 

The fast begins at sunset.

All the other restrictions begin at nightfall. 

One says the blessing on the candle after Shabbos. 

The rest of Havdalah is not made until Sunday night after the fast. One who davens maariv should add ata chanantanu and one who does not should say, Baruch Hamavdil. 

Havdalah on Sunday night consists of the bracha on the grape juice/ wine and the final bracha. 

If one needs to break the fast they should first make Havdalah  as it is described above. However, instead of grape juice or wine, it should be said with orange juice or coffee.

My Heart is Not in the East – a prayer for the Nine Days

How long can I beg Him to take me home when all I need to do is buy a ticket?

How long can I beg Him to rebuild Jerusalem when a new development sprouts every week?

How long can I beg Him to “see with my eyes” when all I have to do is open them?

My hypocrisy chips away until my soul is calloused. My prayers become more superficial by the day; my dreams more faint. My heart is in the East… I think. At least that’s where I saw her last.

***

So I fly on eagles wings to where I belong. I take in the sights, the sounds, and the smells of my beloved city until she overwhelms my senses. I caress the stones, kiss the walls, I’m infatuated by her beauty.

But in those narrow streets, I seem to lose sight of You. In the roar of Torah learning and heady spirituality, my soul is deaf to Your loneliness. In the heart of Jerusalem, I have forgotten; I am home, but You are not here.

My heart is not in the East.

My heart is with You.

Please come home.

 

Laws of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days of Mourning

The Three Weeks of Mourning begin Saturday evening, June 27h. It is a time of mournful reflection for the destroyed Bais HaMikdash and subsequent tragedies. In order to instill within ourselves a sense of loss, our Sages instituted numerous restrictions to create a feeling of sadness. The Talmud writes that one who mourns the destroyed Jerusalem will merit to see it rebuilt.

It is customary not to say the blessing of She’hechiyanu during the Three Weeks. Therefore, one should avoid eating fruits that they have not eaten for a year, as this would necessitate saying the blessing. In addition, one should not wear new clothing that requires making the blessing of She’hechiyanu. This includes new suits and new coats. One may purchase these items during the Three Weeks, it is wearing them for the first time that is a problem. One may purchase and wear any other type of clothing during the Three Weeks.

One may not cut hair during the Three Weeks. Waxing and eyebrow care is permitted.

One may not listen to lively music during the Three Weeks. This is true for live as well as recorded music. Most have the tradition to not listen to any music, even if it is not lively.

A Capella music is a matter of debate but there is what to rely upon to listen to such music.

Listening to music as a way of staying awake in a car, to help one concentrate or something of that nature is permitted.

The custom is to refrain from doing anything that can even be remotely dangerous during the Three Weeks because of the bad track record the Jewish People have during this time period.Traditionally, this has included swimming in lakes or rivers and getting elective surgery. 

 Laws of the Nine Days

The ‘9 Days’ begin Shabbos, July 10th. In a very general sense, what is forbidden to be done during this period is: Home improvements, laundering, buying or wearing new clothes, eating meat, drinking wine, and bathing for pleasure. We will discuss the details of all these restrictions below.

Home Improvement and Gardening: It is forbidden to do any home improvements such as painting, building, adding extensions. One may not hire a non-Jew to do this type of work either. Light housework, such as sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and basic cleaning is permitted. In terms of gardening, basic upkeep such as mowing the lawn, watering plants and flowers is permitted. Planting new seeds or flowers is not allowed.

Laundering: Included in the prohibition of laundering during the Nine Days is ironing, or sending any clothes to the dry cleaners (even if they will be ready after the Nine Days).

One may wash clothing for children aged six and under.

If one has no clean clothing for Shabbos one may wash clothing on Thursday and Friday so that they will have clean clothing for Shabbos.

Spot cleaning is permitted.

During the first 30 days of mourning for a loved one, one may not wear freshly laundered clothing. The same holds true for the Nine Days when we all mourn the destruction of the Batei Mikdash. The definition of freshly laundered clothing is clothing that has not been worn since it has been laundered. This does not mean that one must wear dirty clothing. Rather, once clothing has been worn for a half hour [prior to the Nine Days] it can be worn during the Nine Days. The prohibition of wearing freshly laundered clothing is limited to outer garments as opposed to undergarments and pajamas.

One is allowed to wear freshly-laundered clothing on Shabbos.

[For all you clever people out there, this may seem to indicate a loophole of sorts. If one can wear new clothing on Shabbos then perhaps one need not wear clothing before the nine days in order to take away their freshness. Instead one can wear them for the first time on Shabbos and ‘break them in’ that way. The problem with this idea is that it violates another prohibition – one may not prepare on Shabbos for the week to come. Therefore one would not be able to ‘prepare’ clothing that they only want to wear during the week by wearing them on Shabbos. Instead,]

If one runs out of clothing that was pre-worn before the Nine Days, one may cause the clothing to be considered not fresh by putting them on a floor that is dusty, removing the creases by stepping on the clothing, or by placing the clothing in a laundry basket with dirty laundry. All of these methods are only to be used post-facto. Ideally, one should prepare clothing before the Nine Days by wearing any outer garment that will be worn for at least a half hour.

As opposed to the Three Weeks when buying clothing of significance is forbidden, during the Nine Days buying any article of clothing is prohibited. (As a practical tip – before going Nine Days without laundry, it’s worth double checking that you have enough clothing! Also, don’t forget to buy non-leather shoes before Tisha B’av.) If there is a major sale which will be over before the Nine Days have passed it is permitted to buy a new article of clothing.

It is forbidden to make any new clothing (sewing, weaving, knitting, etc.) but it is permitted to sew up a tear or a button etc.

It is forbidden to eat meat/poultry or drink wine through the Nine Days. There are two reasons why this is so – 1) meat and wine increase happiness 2) it serves as a reminder of the meat of the sacrifices and the wine libations that are no longer.

One may use meat utensils but may not eat food that was cooked with meat (like eating a potato from a meat chulent).

There are no restrictions of meat and wine on Shabbos.

Included in the prohibition of drinking wine is drinking grape juice. However, any other alcoholic beverage is permitted. Wine that is used for cooking is allowed provided that there is no distinct taste of wine in the food.

Drinking wine/ grape juice on Shabbos is permitted, however Havdallah poses a problem. One should not use beer in place of wine. Rather, if there is a child between the age of 6 and 9 available they should drink the wine/ grape juice. If not, the one who made Havdallah should drink it. As is the case every Saturday night, one should ideally drink a r’viis which measures approximately 3.8 fl. oz.

A few final laws and customs that pertain to the Nine Days:

During the Nine Days, it is forbidden to swim, be it for pleasure or for exercise. If one must swim for medical reasons, please feel free to contact me to discuss further.

One should try not to be involved in a court case during the Nine Days if possible.

The custom is to push off saying Kiddush Levana until after Tisha B’Av because Kiddush Levana is supposed to be said in a state of joy.