Mourning Temple Earth: Tisha B'Av for Our Generation

This summer, Tisha B’Av -- the traditional Jewish fast day of mourning for the destruction of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem --  begins Saturday evening July 21 and ends Sunday evening July 22.  

This timing may offer more space than usual for exploring how to make it not only a memorial of past disaster but a forward-looking practice in the spirit of the closing words of the biblical book that is read that day --  Eicha, the Book of Lamentation:  “Chadesh yamenu k’kedem: “Make our days new, as they were long ago.”

On 9 Av the summer of 2010, the summer of the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, The Shalom Center held a demonstration at the US Capitol that used an English-language version of the Book of Lamentation. It did "make our days new." It was focused not on the ancient Jerusalem Temples but on Temple Earth today, protesting the lack of government action to control  the Carbon Pharaohs that are scorching our planet, devastating neighborhoods or regions,and killing humans and other life-forms, like this sea gull in the Gulf eight years ago.


This reinterpretation of the ancient Book of Lamentation was written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen, then an intern at The Shalom Center.

Rabbi Cohen’s  “Eicha for the Earth,” chantable to Eicha trope, treats the endangered Earth itself as the Holy Temple of all the cultures of Humanity and of all lthe life-forms of the planet, now under attack by Carbon Pharaohs as the Temple in Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonian and Roman Empires.

Hundreds of people, including members of other religious communities and also a number of “secular” but spiritually  concerned environmental activists, took part in 2010 -– maybe the first time in history that a sizeable number of non-Jews  observed Tisha B’Av.

We have used “Eicha for the Earth” a number of times in the years since, in various Jewish communal observances of Tisha B’Av. Last year, the National Havurah Summer Institute used it on Erev Tisha B’Av, which fell on the first night of the Institute. People responded with great excitement and involvement.

This summer,  could congregations add the reading of "Eicha for the Earth" to their own observance of Tisha B'Av?  In communities across the country, could Jews join in multireligious groups, working with climate activists, to create public multireligious events similar to what we did in 2010, prayerful and powerful?

There is ancient midrash that looks deeply into Tisha B’Av to see it as not only a uniquely Jewish experience but as a crystal of universal experience. Says the Talmud, “When was the first “Eicha”? 

The answer:  ”Ayekka,” using the same consonants with different vowels.  God’s own wail of disappointment in the Garden of Eden. Obviously pointing to a universal human experience of exile, the ruination of the first Temple of all humanity --- the delightful Garden of all Earth. 

For the text of “Eicha for the Earth” and for the pattern of an observance of Tisha B’Av that includes it and other sources that speak of grief and also of hope and joy, in the tradition that Mashiach is born on Tisha B’Av, see 

For an exploration of rabbinic midrash on the universality of Tisha B’Av, see

Also,  Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I wrote a midrashic tale called “The Last Tisha B’Av”  about how the Mashiach, in a truly Messianic way, goes about building the Third Temple as an act of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation. On the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, for Mincha when traditionally t’fillin are wrapped and the hope element is renewed, we have told the story, and various communities have used it this way without us, on their own.  You can see it at --

<>.   People have written us that they found it very moving.

 You might want to do in your own community what we did in Washingon in 2010: Bringing together a sizeable multireligious crowd to chant the wrenching words of "Eicha for the Earth" at a public place could challenge political or corporate leaders to go beyond their apathy or greed.

I would be glad to hear  thoughts from any of you-all about these approaches and to hear about any plans you make to use either or both of these resources. Write me at <>. And please,  if you do use "Eicha for the Earth" in any of these ways, let us know. If it is comfortable and appropriate for you to take a photo, we would love to see it.

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