Haftarah Helper: Tisha B’Av

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In Tisha B’Av’s Torah reading, Moses prophesies that God will eventually annihilate and exile His people for defecting to idolatry after their conquest of the Land. In the Haftarah, Jeremiah describes the coming brutal fulfillment of that prophecy.

In God’s voice and with his own blistering words, Jeremiah lambasts Judah for its idolatry, deceit, and treachery. People slander and scheme against one another; after many generations, the trust and knowledge of God that undergirds society are destroyed. God, therefore, has no choice but to utterly devastate Judah, its cities, and its residents. The approaching destruction shakes the Land and terrifies the people. Foreigners will exile and further torment the few survivors. Some verses portray Judah as understanding all of this as God’s planned punishment, but others show them actively rejecting these ideas.

The Haftarah is a kaleidoscope of despair, switching rapidly and without clear differentiation between the distraught perspectives and actions of Jeremiah, the people, and God; these are marked below in purple. In Jeremiah’s despair, he envisions and bewails God’s destruction, is physically discomforted, wishes to abandon his people, and cries until out of tears. The people’s despair causes them, variously, to vainly seek protection in walled cities, to feel shame at the loss of their Land, and to pointlessly confess their sin. God summons expert women mourners to magnify the public despair with lamentations, wailing, and crying.

The Haftarah concludes with a complete reversal as Jeremiah presents a stirring aspiration.[1] Instead of measuring themselves by wealth, strength, or intellect, the people must pursue knowledge of God and found society upon kindness, justice, and righteousness.

Haftarah Breakdown

Likely speakers of the Haftarah’s alternating perspectives are noted in purple.

Verses 8:13-17: God is sending Babylon to utterly destroy Judah. Terrorized by the approaching danger, Judah recognizes that God is punishing their sins, and seeks refuge in fortified cities, but God and Jeremiah state that this will not save them. (13- God; 14-15, Judah; 16- Jeremiah/Judah; 17- God)

Jeremiah 8:13 ירמיהו ח:י״ג
“I will surely consume them,” says the Lord. “There shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade. What I have given them, shall pass away from them.” אָסֹ֥ף אֲסִיפֵ֖ם נְאֻם־ה’ אֵין֩ עֲנָבִ֨ים בַּגֶּ֜פֶן וְאֵ֧ין תְּאֵנִ֣ים בַּתְּאֵנָ֗ה וְהֶֽעָלֶה֙ נָבֵ֔ל וָאֶתֵּ֥ן לָהֶ֖ם יַעַבְרֽוּם׃


Verses 8:18-23: Judeans have been slaughtered. Having angered God, nothing or no one can save them now; the time for salvation or healing has passed. Jeremiah wishes he could cry endlessly, and bewails the destruction. (18- Jeremiah; 19a- Judah; 19b- God; 20- Judah; 21-23, Jeremiah)

Jeremiah 8:21 ירמיהו ח:כ״א
Oh, were one to turn my [Jeremiah’s] head into water and my eyes into a fountain of tears, I would cry day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! מִֽי־יִתֵּ֤ן רֹאשִׁי֙ מַ֔יִם וְעֵינִ֖י מְק֣וֹר דִּמְעָ֑ה וְאֶבְכֶּה֙ יוֹמָ֣ם וָלַ֔יְלָה אֵ֖ת חַֽלְלֵ֥י בַת־עַמִּֽי׃ {ס}


Verses 9:1-5: Jeremiah wishes he could flee to the wilderness to escape Judah’s lies, cheating, slander, deceit, adultery, and treachery. They refuse to know God, and must protect themselves from one another.

(1- Jeremiah; 2-4, Jeremiah/God; 5- God)

Jeremiah 9:3 ירמיהו ט:ג
A man must guard himself from his neighbor. You must not trust in any brother. For every brother acts deceitfully, and every neighbor goes about with slander. אִ֤ישׁ מֵרֵעֵ֙הוּ֙ הִשָּׁמֵ֔רוּ וְעַל־כָּל־אָ֖ח אַל־תִּבְטָ֑חוּ כִּ֤י כָל־אָח֙ עָק֣וֹב יַעְקֹ֔ב וְכָל־רֵ֖עַ רָכִ֥יל יַהֲלֹֽךְ׃


Verses 9:6-8: God exclaims the impossibility of not punishing His nation of schemers. (God)

Jeremiah 9:8 ירמיהו ט:ח
“Shall I not punish them for these things?” says the Lord. “Shall My soul not avenge itself on a nation such as this?” הַעַל־אֵ֥לֶּה לֹֽא־אֶפְקָד־בָּ֖ם נְאֻם־ה’ אִ֚ם בְּג֣וֹי אֲשֶׁר־כָּזֶ֔ה לֹ֥א תִתְנַקֵּ֖ם נַפְשִֽׁי׃ (ס)


Verses 9:9-15: Even as Jeremiah mourns God’s imminent desolation of Judah, it still fails to understand its downfall’s cause: for generations, they abandoned Torah in favor of stubbornness and idolatry. God will exile and further persecute survivors among unknown nations. (9- Jeremiah; 10- God; 11- Jeremiah; 12-15, God)

Jeremiah 9:15 ירמיהו ט:ט״ו
I will scatter them among the nations, whom neither they nor their fathers have known; and I will send the sword after them until I have consumed them. וַהֲפִֽצוֹתִים֙ בַּגּוֹיִ֔ם אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א יָֽדְע֔וּ הֵ֖מָּה וַֽאֲבוֹתָ֑ם וְשִׁלַּחְתִּ֤י אַֽחֲרֵיהֶם֙ אֶת־הַחֶ֔רֶב עַ֥ד כַּלּוֹתִ֖י אוֹתָֽם׃


Verses 9:16-21: God summons wailing women and their daughters to hurry and lead all in grieving the destruction as well as the shame of Jerusalemites’ abandonment of the Land. God will destroy all human life, leaving no one to collect corpses of all ages rotting in the streets. (16-17, God, 18-20, Judah; 21- God)

Jeremiah 9:19 ירמיהו ט:י״ט
Indeed, O women, hear the Lord’s word, and let your ears receive His His mouth’s word. Teach your daughters a lamentation, and each woman to her neighbor, a dirge. כִּֽי־שְׁמַ֤עְנָה נָשִׁים֙ דְּבַר־ה’ וְתִקַּ֥ח אָזְנְכֶ֖ם דְּבַר־פִּ֑יו וְלַמֵּ֤דְנָה בְנֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ נֶ֔הִי וְאִשָּׁ֥ה רְעוּתָ֖הּ קִינָֽה׃


Verses 9:22-23: Aside from knowing God and acting accordingly, all other human values- wisdom, strength, and wealth- are not praiseworthy. (God)

Jeremiah 9:23 ירמיהו ט:כ״ג
“But let him that glories, glory in this: that he understands and knows Me, for I am the Lord Who carries out kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth, for in these things I delight”, says the Lord. כִּ֣י אִם־בְּזֹ֞את יִתְהַלֵּ֣ל הַמִּתְהַלֵּ֗ל הַשְׂכֵּל֮ וְיָדֹ֣עַ אוֹתִי֒ כִּ֚י אֲנִ֣י ה’ עֹ֥שֶׂה חֶ֛סֶד מִשְׁפָּ֥ט וּצְדָקָ֖ה בָּאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־בְאֵ֥לֶּה חָפַ֖צְתִּי נְאֻם־ה’

With emendations, all translations are from Sefaria.org.  To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email haftarahhelper@gmail.com

[1] Ashkenazim, who until this point have recited the Haftarah with Eicha’s mournful melody, here switch to the ordinary Haftarah melody.