Judaism appealing to a modern,
scientific milieu, the reformers
emphasized the ethical elements
of Jewish teaching and minimized
ritual law. The transition from
sacrificial worship to verbal prayer
brought on by the destruction of
the Temple was not seen so much
as a tragedy, but as an important
step in the development of Judaism
toward pure ethical monotheism.
American Jews' lack of familiar-
ity with Tisha b'Av can likely be
traced back to that early decision.
The Reform movement is the larg-
est denomination among American
Jewry today, and there are a sig-
nificant number of Reform temples
across the country that do not
mark Tisha b'Av on their calendars.
But in the last several decades,
more and more Reform rabbis and
communities have begun reintroduc-
ing some kind of Tisha b'Av obser-
vance into their annual schedule.
In an interview with the Jewish
Chronicle in 2011, Rabbi Lawrence
Hoffman, the Barbara and Stephen
Friedman Professor of Liturgy,
Worship and Ritual at Hebrew
Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion in New York, attributed
the shift to two causes. First, the
Holocaust and the subsequent
founding of the state of Israel,
events that brought the experience
of national tragedy and a strong
sense of unified peoplehood into
the modern Jewish experience.
Interestingly, the second develop-
ment Hoffman identified was the
growth of Jewish camps. As the
anecdote above illustrates, Tisha
b'Av's placement during the summer
months made it a natural choice for
inclusion within the Jewish edu-
cational programming at Reform
Jewish camps. Rather than focus
on the destruction of the Temple,
Hoffman explains, educators taught
their campers about the Holocaust
and other tragic events from
throughout Jewish history. Moved
by the experience, young people
brought the observance of Tisha b'Av
back to their home communities.
Despite these changes, Hoffman
aptly described the current attitude of
the Reform movement toward Tisha
b'Av as "ambivalent:' Like those
skeptical campers, many American
Jews are still just finding out about
Tisha b'Av for the first time. ❑
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