Perhaps one of the best religious traditions I have adopted for myself as an adult is hearing the Book of Lamentations read at Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side, on the Eve of Tisha B’Av each year. It is a beautiful, eerie service held in the dark, followed by a lecture relating to the Jewish observance of the saddest day in the Hebrew year.
In his lecture this past summer, Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik brought up a custom of the Jews of Rome connecting Tisha B’Av to Hanukkah, which is nearly upon us now: members of this community read the Book of Lamentations by candlelight and preserve what remains of each taper, keeping the candle in their homes to use as the shamash on the first night of Hanukkah several months later. This practice is rife with symbolism, related to imagery and significance of the Arch of Titus — I wish I could go into more detail, but that would be plagiarism.
Instead, I am happy to direct readers to a short essay on the Yeshiva University blog, written by Dr. Steven Fine, the author of our Book Cover of the Week!
The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel focuses particularly on the Arch of Titus and Fine’s discovery of the original yellow ochre paint for the menorah in its relief, depicting Titus’s triumphal return from Jerusalem with the treasures of the Temple he destroyed at the end of a bicentennial of Jewish uprising against pagan enemies and oppressors that began with the Maccabees. So yes, I do understand the difference between a menorah and a chanukkiah, but this book still makes for a great Hanukkah read!
Nat Bernstein is the former Manager of Digital Content & Media, JBC Network Coordinator, and Contributing Editor at the Jewish Book Council and a graduate of Hampshire College.