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Review: In the Narrow Places

The Temple must still be mourned

    Erica Brown
    Maggid/OU, distributed by Kuperard, £15.99

    We are now in the middle of the Three Weeks, the period from the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, to Tishah b'Av, commemorating the destruction of the two Temples (which begins on Monday week).

    Most Jews may be aware of this season of mourning to the extent that no marriages take place then. But for many, as leading American Jewish educator Erica Brown notes in her book, they are simply not part of the religious calendar. The Three Weeks seem to fall at the wrong time of year, in sunny summer when thoughts are turned to holidays rather than in the darkness of winter.

    Even the observant can find it hard to live up to the spiritual demands, she argues: "We measure ourselves by outward displays of mourning - the unshaven beard, the unironed clothes... but the heart often remains untouched."

    Alternatively, we may distract ourselves from the main focus of the fasts- loss of the Temple and exile from the Divine Presence - by dwelling on other catastrophes such as the Crusades (which are included in the Tishah b'Av liturgy) or the Shoah. Recalling other historic tragedies may help us achieve "the same emotional outcome," she says, "but it is missing the point."

    In a set of short essays, one for each day of the Three Weeks, she suggests how to find personal spiritual meaning in recollection of these ancient events. She does so chiefly through exploring the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other biblical texts, which we routinely recite but whose soul-stirring poetry we too often ignore.

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