How do we respond to the destruction of holiness? Standing amid the ruins of the Temple Mount, the sage Rabbi Akiva shocked his companions by laughing (see Talmud Makkot 24b). The normative stance was one of mourning, and Jewish practice has traditionally taken this very seriously. According to this striking statement from the Rambam, all instrumental music is forever banned from Jewish life following the calamity of Tisha b'Av:
Maimonides goes on to explain, based on the Talmud in Sotah 48a (which itself is based on a verse from the Book of Lamentations: “The Elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music” [Eicha 5:14]), that vocal music was also forbidden in some contexts but that all of the Jewish people have become accustomed to singing nonetheless.
Though the Rambam's decree about instrumental sounds seems cut and dry, clearly Jewish people from every background listen to and play all kinds of instrumental music in modern times. The custom, however, is still to refrain from instrumental music during the Three Weeks of increasing mourning that lead up to Tisha b'Av, when we commemorate the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. And this practice recalls the experience of those exiled from Jerusalem...
The video above is a song without instrumental accompaniment, a searing and soaring d'veikus nigun wholly appropriate for a day of such despair. Its name, "Nachamu Nigun," alludes to Tisha b'Av and the collective cry for comfort.
After breaking the fast following the 9th of Av, this period of mourning ends, and the Shabbat that immediately follows is known as Shabbat Nachamu, taken from the Haftorah reading for that day, which says...
This Haftorah is the first of seven readings of consolation the build toward the Rosh HaShanah and the High Holidays, a period of personal introspection and ultimately collective celebration for the chance to begin anew.
With such light dawning on the horizon, here is another melody of comfort, a song of uplift, this time featuring instruments.
Come and see Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Trio record L'eila live from the studio!
Join us July 28 at 7 p.m. Eastern, exclusively on Bandcamp, to hear the next album from Rising Song Records as it's created.