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A Meaningful Observance for Tisha B’Av

Francesco Hayez painting of the destruction of the Jewish temple

Francesco Hayez painting of the destruction of the Jewish temple

Saturday night began the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av. This is a fast day, and traditionally requires a great deal of mourning. When determining our individual observance, however, we must remember core Jewish values. Judaism emphasizes the wellbeing of individuals and their safety. One should not put themselves in a position of harm because they are trying to follow religious traditions. Judaism recognizes this with the concept of Pikuach Nefesh, the saving of a life.

So, when it comes to holidays like Tisha B’Av, it is important to include all Jewish individuals, notwithstanding any accommodations for their disability. Tisha B’Av is a period of intense mourning for many and encompasses fasting and a separation meal. However, this is not always possible for people with disabilities. There could be a multitude of reasons why a Jewish person with a disability is not fully able to partake in the “traditional” aspects of Tisha B’Av. This does not mean that aspects of the holiday cannot be altered to be more inclusive of people with disabilities!

For people with disabilities who take medications, some require taking them with food and/or water. An example might be someone with diabetes. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes cannot fast for an extended period, as this can harm their blood sugar and lead to devastating consequences. To be more inclusive of people who cannot fast, it is paramount for members of one’s family and congregation to acknowledge that if someone cannot fast, it is not because they are not committed or devoted to Judaism. Rather, it is due to a health condition or disability that they cannot control. Just as with Yom Kippur, another holiday that has a main component of fasting, it is only mandated for an individual to fast if they are healthy enough.

Tisha B’Av is also a period of strong mourning, which can be very triggering for individuals with psychiatric disabilities or those with certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety and PTSD. Focusing on loss can trigger memories or incidents in those with PTSD and can provoke intrusive thought for those with various forms of anxiety disorders. One way that surrounding members can be more inclusive and accommodating of those who may be struggling is to offer the opportunity for the individual to not participate in this period of mourning. They can also provide a quiet room for those who may need to step away and take some time to themselves if they still wish to participate.

The last component of Tisha B’Av is the “Separation Meal.” This also can be altered to be more inclusive of those with disabilities. Traditionally, this meal is done on a low stool or on the ground. This is not always possible for those who use wheelchairs, other assistive technologies or devices or people with other disabilities that prevent them from bending down. The laws of Tisha B’Av state that if an individual must use a chair, they must be placed in a separate space than usual. But this should not be the case for those with disabilities. One should not be separated due to their disability. By providing chairs for people to sit on if they should need it and allowing those using wheelchairs or assistive devices to comfortably use these devices, the same goal of the separation meal can still be achieved.

As I said above, when it comes to Jewish holidays, the goal should always be to put the safety and life of Jewish individuals first, while still allowing for the observation of that specific holiday. There are many ways that individuals with disabilities can fully participate in Tisha B’Av without putting themselves in harm’s way, and I hope this article has helped you to think about that. Stay tuned here for more articles about observing different holidays in a way that includes people with disabilities.

Meet the Author

Nicole Olarsch

Nicole Olarsch graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in the Spring of 2021, with a BA in Sociology and Gender and Sexuality Studies. She was involved in the building of a new club on campus, The Deaf and Disabled Student Union.

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