Tishah B’Av – ask the rabbi

August 5, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
Read on for article

Rabbi Raymond Apple explains Tishah B’Av.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


The fast of Tishah B’Av is the culmination of the Three Weeks, which are known as “Bein Ham’tzarim” – “Between the Straits”.

This is based on a verse from Echah 1:3, “All her (Israel’s) pursuers caught her between the straits”.

One view is that the verse is metaphorical and indicates, “The Jewish people were in desperate straits”.

The Arugat HaBosem carries out a count and finds that the letters of the verse, “kol rod’fehah hisiguhah bein ham’tzarim”, have the same numerical value as “heimah chaf-aleph yamim miyud-zayin b’Tammuz ad Tishah B’Av” – “these are the 21 days from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av”.

The Midrash Echah Rabbati recalls the blossoming almond-twig that Jeremiah saw and says that it takes 21 days for the blossoms to turn into almonds.

In other words, the pain caused by the enemy worsened from day to day until it reached its peak (or nadir) on 9 Av.


The Book of Lamentations (Echah) 2:5 says, “God has become an enemy”.

It reminds us of the beginning of Psalm 22 which asks, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken us?”

Feeling that events too horrific to handle have blackened our lives, we fear that even God has let us down and we cannot see any support or relief coming from Him.

We can’t possibly understand or explain how bereft and abandoned God has made us feel.

Do we realise how bad He Himself must feel when some of His children have defied Him so cruelly whilst others think He doesn’t care about them anymore?

There is a time when He can only help us if we try to help Him.

No wonder Etty Hillesum, about to be deported from Amsterdam in July 1942, said, “I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away. We have to safeguard the little piece of You, God, in ourselves. We must help You and defend Your dwelling-place inside us to the last…”


There are five chapters in M’gillat Echah, the Book of Lamentations read on Tishah B’Av. Tradition ascribes these chapters to the prophet Jeremiah.

When you read the book you see how the poet’s style changes.

The first chapter is searing but simple; and only as the book progresses does the author use more complicated language.

The explanation might be tied up with the impact of the events of the destruction.

At first the author is almost struck dumb at what has happened. He can hardly do more than, in effect, to say, “Woe is me! Woe is me! Veh iz mir! Veh iz mir!”

Like Jeremiah, all we want to do, all we can do, at first is simply to weep.

Time allows us to look for words and to speak through the midst of our tears.

It is not (despite the common saying) that time is a great healer – it isn’t, and the trauma never goes away, but what happens is that we begin to get used to the pain.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.



One Response to “Tishah B’Av – ask the rabbi”
  1. Lynne FOWLER says:

    Dear Rabbi Raymond Apple
    Some time ago I wrote the following email to you at OzTorah and I have not yet received a reply. It may have gone astray so I am writing again through JWire and hope you can help. Thank you
    Lynne Fowler 32 Castle Pines Drive, Norwest, 2153 NSw
    Dear Rabbi Raymond Apple

    I am writing to you as I have been aware of your presence in Sydney for many years and because of your compassion and wisdom.

    I am 74 years old and have lived all my life in Sydney Australia. I am married to David Richard Alan Fowler who is 77 years old and has also lived his whole life in Sydney.

    We were married at St Thomas’ Enfield in September 1966 and have three adult children. My husband’s father, Alan Francis Fowler born in Sydney in 1903, was Jewish. He was born Alan Francis Davis to Daisy Goldring and David Davis. Both their families, the Goldrings and the Davises came to Australia in the early 1800’s and both families were instrumental and involved in the establishment of the Great Synagogue in Sydney and the Synagogue in Ballarat.

    Alan Fowler (nee Davis) was brought up by his grandparents in Lavender Bay as his mother Daisy had divorced David Davis c.1904. She had gone with him to Melbourne but when his job required him to go to New Zealand she returned to her parents’ for the birth of Alan and did not continue in the marriage. The divorce papers revealing this event and a photograph of David Davis were sealed in the Supreme Court and our daughter Kathryn who was a paralegal had them released to her for inspection in 1994. Daisy subsequently eloped with the family groom, Gladstone Fowler, and went with him to Broken Hill. Daisy and Gladstone had two sons and two daughters and followed the Anglican lifestyle. When Alan was 13 his mother claimed him and had him apprenticed to an engraver in Sydney.

    Now I am coming to the reason for writing. David’s father met and married Madge Lawler and had Patricia Joy Fowler (Aland David became AKA Fowler) in 1927. A few years later they had another daughter, Shirley Fowler. We have only last Friday 3rd May 2019 been advised that Shirley was born with … Tay-Sachs Disease. She was placed in Stockton and died in the 1960’s. My husband, David Fowler, only discovered the existence of Shirley Fowler when he was fifty years old. No one in the family had told him but he had endured years of puzzling behaviour within the family.

    Alan Fowler met and married Jean O’Donohoe in January 1941 and David was born in November 1941. Alan was 39 years old and Jean was 19. The lived in Summer Hill and moved to Strathfield in 1945 and David was sent to Methodist Newington College when he was four years old as a weekly boarder.

    Madge Fowler had custody of both Patricia and Shirley. She remarried years later and had another daughter, Vicki, twenty years after Patricia.

    David and I were unaware of most of the above. In 1968 we had our son, Darren David Fowler and we now have some understanding of the odd reaction of his family which was more marked when we went on to have Kathryn in 1970 and Alison in 1973.

    I have researched this disease and it appears that, although extremely rare, it seems that both parents have to be carriers for it to manifest. Our son married a Chinese girl and we have two lovely grand-daughters. Our daughter Kathryn married a man whose parents migrated from Ireland in the 1960’s and they have two daughters and a son. Our other daughter Alison is not married. I note that scholars in Jewish high schools in Sydney and Melbourne are offered DNA testing and screening for the possibility of being a carrier of the gene mutation.

    My school years were spent with Eva Weinstock (now Eva Fischl) as a best friend who I keep in touch with. I worked for Michael Hershon as his Secretary before I was married and over the years David and I who had a Jewellery Shop and business, like most Australians grew up with people of many faiths, origins and backgrounds. It has always surprised me that some Jewish people we meet make it quite clear that they want no association with us beyond that which is necessary as someone has “married out”. So many people we meet – especially in Australia and America – have Jewish forebears and I feel should be encouraged to be proud of this. We and our children certainly are as we are also proud of all our forebears. One of David’s cousins has proved her Jewish heritage down the female line and her children have been brought up in the Jewish faith. I believe that Jewish heritage is not recognised down the male line?

    Our oldest grand-daughter is a Solicitor in a very large firm in Sydney and her sister is currently living in Ireland. Our only grandson now17 years old lives with his parents in Japan. Having discovered the association and the possibility of being a carrier of Tay-Sachs Disease I will be alerting them and suggesting they should consider DNA testing. It seems that Shirley’s condition may have been the reason for Alan and Madge to divorce. Neither appears to have “bad-mouthed” each other and although they each did have another child (David and Vicki) these pregnancies seem unplanned. If it is at all possible for anyone to avoid dealing with this terrible situation I will do whatever is necessary.

    I hope you are able to help me with dealing with this situation and any information and advice will be greatly appreciated

    Thanking you and trusting in your discretion.

    Lynne Elizabeth Fowler (nee Boys)

    6th April 2019

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.