A key lesson of Tisha B'Av is not to suffer falsehood in silence. Our observance of this memorial day bears meaning when we learn from the sins of the past and vow not to endorse through silence hatred and deceit.
cWhy Are We Sitting Around?: Tisha B’Av’s Message of Truth
Tisha B’Av in just five words:
מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְיָ
The first verse of Psalm 130:
“A song of ascents--
I cry out to you from the depths, Adonai” (Ps. 130:1).
On Tisha B’Av, we descend to the lowest valley of the Jewish experience. We recall the burning of the Temple in Jerusalem not once but twice as well as myriad other tragedies in our long history of persecution and suffering. And yet, even as we cry out to God in desperation, we manage to find in the depths a song of ascents.
The שִׁיר מַעֲלוֹת, the note of harmony in the cacophony of disaster, resounds in the rabbinic memory of the destruction of the First Temple. The sages, in keeping with the teachings and testimony of the Prophet Jeremiah, convict our ancestors for our own downfall. Rav Hamnuna blamed us for not educating our children. Rav Amram denounced our negligence to rebuke one another. And Rava condemned people of faith for failing to uphold justice.
And yet, in time, our people learned to overcome these failures, to rebuild a more holy and honorable society. According to rabbinic tradition, the five centuries following the Babylonian Exile saw dramatic improvement in Jewish clarity of purpose and covenantal commitment. An ember of hope continued to burn, growing over the generations into a rekindled fire of Jewish practice and belief.
So why—the sages ask—was the Temple destroyed again? By this time, they note, our ancestors were עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים, engaged in Torah, mitzvot, and acts of kindness. We lost our home again because—they conclude—we were guilty of a sin outweighing all of those good deeds combined: sinat chinam, baseless hatred.
If there is to be any song of ascent that emerges from the cries of Tisha B’Av, it is the call to repair our community, to rise above our basest selves. To give honor and meaning to our sacred memorial, we must understand what sinat chinam is, how we unknowingly keep it alive, and what we can do to ensure it remains only a relic of the past.
The classic Talmudic story illustrating sinat chinam is known as the tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.
A certain man had a friend Kamtza and an enemy Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza. When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, “See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out.” Said the other: “Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.” He said, “I won’t.” “Then let me give you half the cost of the party.” “No,” said the other. “Then let me pay for the whole party.” He still said, “No,” and he took him by the hand and put him out. Said [Bar Kamtza], “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them, to the Government.”
What started as a simple misunderstanding escalates into a national disaster.
Poor Bar Kamtza receives a mistaken invitation to a party thrown by his enemy, but instead of being welcomed as a guest, he is summarily thrown out. Bar Kamtza tries to be reasonable, he tries to be generous, he tries to be conciliatory, but none of it works. He is humiliated and rejected.
The baseless hatred leveled against Bar Kamtza cannot be tolerated. Raging against the host—and especially the Rabbis who sat by and did nothing—Bar Kamtza sets in motion a series of events that lead to Jerusalem’s ruin. The Talmudic passage concludes: “It has been taught: Note from this incident how serious a thing it is to put a man to shame, for God espoused the cause of Bar Kamtza, destroying God’s House and burning God’s Temple.” This is an unequivocal vindication of Bar Kamtza in the face of undeserved hatred.
The story of Bar Kamtza is a dramatization of two adjacent verses in the Torah’s Holiness Code. Leviticus 19:16 reads לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, “Do not spread gossip among your brethren.” This is the charge leveled against Bar Kamtza by the party host. However, the host’s reaction goes too far, shaming Bar Kamtza instead of welcoming him in. Even worse are the passive rabbis untroubled by the transgression they witness. As if speaking to them directly, the verse in Leviticus continues לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”
This verse is immediately followed by Tisha B’Av’s keystone text: לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ, “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev. 19:17). Inner hatred destroys us. It drives families apart, fractures communities, and pits one segment of society against another. To combat sinat chinam, the couplet concludes הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ, “You surely must rebuke your neighbor.” It is our obligation to stand up, speak out, and drive away all expressions of sinat chinam. In other words, we cannot be like the story’s rabbis, silently endorsing hateful speech.
Sinat chinam comes in many forms, the most pernicious of which is falsehood. In tomorrow morning’s haftarah reading, the prophet Jeremiah denounces and decries lying, highlighting it as an intolerable sin.
They bend their tongues like bows;
They are valorous in the land / For treachery,
not for honesty;
They advance from evil to evil. …
Each one cheats the other,
They will not speak truth;
They have trained their tongues to speak falsely;
They wear themselves out refusing repentance.
Treachery amidst treachery,
Deceit amidst deceit,
They refuse to heed Me
—Declares the Eternal (Jer. 9:2, 4-5).
Lies are the fuel to the fire of sinat chinam. That’s why it’s called baseless hatred – because its foundation is vaporous: empty deception designed to humiliate and defame. Jeremiah begs us as he implored his contemporaries not to tolerate falsehood in our midst. In the words of Zechariah:
דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ
וּשְׁבֻעַת שֶׁקֶר אַל תֶּאֱהָבוּ
Speak truth to one another
And do not show favor to sworn lies (Zech. 8:16-17).
These words—spoken to the survivors of Exile returning to rebuild a ruined Jerusalem—are foundational instructions for restoring and preserving a society founded on righteousness and honor.
On Tisha B’Av, we testify to the destructive power of falsehood, bearing witness to the collapse of civilization that results from contempt of civility.
Jeremiah asks in tomorrow’s haftarah portion, עַל-מָה אֲנַחְנוּ יֹשְׁבִים, “Why are we sitting around?” (Jer. 8:14). I believe that we sit today so that tomorrow we can rise. Our remembrance has meaning when it helps us chart a course out of the depths.
When the shadows of slander and deceit threaten to rule the day, it is our responsibility to be a light unto the nations. Our observance of Tisha B’Av urges us to meet lies with truth, shame with dignity, and slander with integrity.
In our personal lives, let us strive to guard against the urge to embarrass and accuse others. In our national lives, let us speak out against libels and lies, especially those that incite others to hatred. And in our Jewish lives, let us settle into our hearts the disconsolate mourning of this solemn day, which serves as a foundation upon which we can build honest and sincere repentance for the new year ahead.
As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook taught nearly 100 years ago: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to sinat chinam—baseless hatred—then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with ahavat chinam—with baseless love” (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324).
Kein y’hi ratzon, may it be God’s will.
 BT Shabbat 119b.
 Ibid. Rava refers to Jeremiah 5:1 in which עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט is parallel to מְבַקֵּשׁ אֱמוּנָה.
 BT Yoma 9b.
 BT Gittin 55b.
 בא וראה כמה גדולה כחה של בושה, שהרי סייע הקב"ה את בר קמצא, והחריב את ביתו ושרף את היכלו (BT Gittin 57a).
 “They wear themselves out refusing repentance. / Treachery amidst treachery, / Deceit amidst deceit” following the reading—based on the Septuagint—proposed by Michael Fishbane (The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot, Jewish Publication Society 2002, p. 455).
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