We recently had the privilege of speaking with Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb about the deeper meaning of Tisha B’Av. Rabbi Weinreb, a clinical psychotherapist and internationally-renowned Torah scholar, hosts the OU’s annual Tisha B’Av webcast. He is also the translator of the kinot in The Lookstein Edition of the Mesorat HaRav Kinot (co-published with the OU).
Note: Page numbers mentioned in this article refer to The Mesorat HaRav Kinot.
1. On Tisha B’Av we recite Kinot, mournful poems that intensify the sad ambiance of the day. Which themes would you say are central to Kinot? What are they there to teach us?
RW: I’m convinced that the writers of kinot throughout the generations wrote them as a cathartic experience to express their grief, as a personal and national catharsis. They’re a vehicle to express our grief, and that’s ideally the feeling that we should have when we read them. Obviously we don’t have the same feelings that panged the original authors, but that’s the task of the teachers today: to convey to the reader the expression of pain, which can be therapeutic.
Personally, I use the kinot as a teaching tool. They weren’t composed to teach Torah per se since we’re forbidden to learn Torah on Tisha B’Av, though there is a lot of teaching material that comes from kinot.
One thing that strikes me is the absence of the quest for revenge, for nekama. In the kinot, we mainly find descriptions of catastrophes throughout history, of the destruction of the two Temples, the Crusades, of the enemies, and then there’s the conclusion in the last verse to bring the geulah. But the expression of nekama – which we do find in Tanakh – doesn’t appear in the kinot. The authors weren’t concentrating on nekama when they wrote their kinot; instead they express the powerlessness of the Jews in Galut. When you’re really powerless, you don’t have the room for revenge.
This starts to change with the Holocaust. This is why the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is such a strong emblem of nekama. It’s not that they thought they’d defeat the Nazis; but the drive to resist, to fight against the Nazis, it was a catharsis for them. One particular expression of this is the Bobover Rebbe’s kina about the Holocaust. There, he does mention nekama, but it’s not a rageful search for vengeance.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.