Reciting Nacheim on Tish’ah BeAv in 2014 by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


In the Shemonah Esrei on Tish’ah BeAv, we add a prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple which starts with the word “Nacheim.“ While Ashkenzic Jews recite this only at Minchah, Sephardic Jews recite this prayer during each of the Tefillot on Tish’ah BeAv. We describe Yerushalayim as, “the mournful, destroyed city, degraded, desolate without inhabitants.” After our recapture and reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the question arose whether the language of Nacheim needed to be adjusted for the new reality. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of Yerushalayim, we need to reexamine this issue based on the realities in Yerushalayim.

Rav Chaim David HaLeivi—Change the Text

Rav Chaim David HaLeivi, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Tel Aviv, felt that while it was too soon to change the prayer, it is dishonest to say in our Tefillot to Hashem that Jerusalem is in a state of destruction and denigration. The Gemara (Yoma 69b) teaches that we cannot be dishonest in our prayers to Hashem! Therefore, he advocated adding the word, “Shehaytah,” “that was,” before words of destruction, indicating that the city had been destroyed, but no longer is (Teshuvot Aseh Lecha Rav 1:14, 2:36-39, 7:35).

Indeed, the reality of Yerushalayim seems to accord with this approach. More than a half a million Jews reside in Yerushalayim, most of them observant and thousands of them devoted to full time Torah study. The Jewish Quarter of Yerushalayim is pulsating with Jewish life. The synagogues destroyed by Arabs during the years of Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967 have almost all been restored, with even more glory than before. The Kotel HaMa’aravi has more than ten million visitors per year. Even though fifty years have passed since the Kotel has been restored to Jewish control, the Jewish attachment to the Kotel grows in intensity as each year passes. Thus, Rav HaLeivi argues, how can we describe Yerushalayim as destroyed and desolate based on the prevalent conditions of 2014?

Rav Soloveitichik – Retain the Text, Change the Kavannah

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in Nefesh HaRav, p. 79) was opposed to any change in liturgy that was instituted by sages of the past. He noted the Gemara (Berachot 28b) which addresses how the Tana’im addressed the need to compose a nineteenth Berachah for the Amidah (Birkat HaMinim – to combat the early Christians). The Gemara records that Rabban Gamliel declared to the assembled Chachamim, “is there anyone amongst us who can compose this Tefillah?” One must ask—was Rabban Gamliel and the other great Tana’im assembled incapable of composing a brief Berachah? Why did Shmuel HaKatan emerge as the sole sage eligible to compose this Berachah? Rav Soloveitchik uses this to explain the awesome responsibility resting upon the shoulders of those who compose a Tefillah. Only one who has scaled and reached the ultimate heights of spirituality is qualified to write a Tefillah. Indeed, the Gemara (Megillah 17b) states that “120 elders (the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah), amongst them prophets,” composed the eighteen Berachot of the Amidah. Rav Soloveitchik noted the Gemara’s inclusion of the fact that some of the composers were prophets to show that people on or very near the level of prophets are needed to compose to Tefillot. Rav Soloveitchik questioned how we can possibly consider tampering with the Tefillot written by the great prophets and sages of the past.

Additionally, Rav Soloveitchik was of the view that, fundamentally, Jerusalem constitutes an extension of the Temple and, as long as the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed, the city is not considered to be rebuilt. Thus, according to Rav Soloveitchik, when reciting Nacheim in our times, we should bear in mind the Beit HaMikdash being in ruins and not Yerushalayim per se.[2] In other words, when we state Yerushalayim, we mean Yerushalayim as an extension of the Beit Hamikdash. Yoma 69b, in fact, presents a similar approach to adjusting our Kavanah, intentions, based on changing historical circumstances rather than amending the text.

Though he is the student par excellence of the Rav, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein parts company with his revered father-in-law on this issue. Rav Lichtenstein omits a number of the phrases at the beginning of the text of Nacheim such as, "HaShomeimah MiBli Banehah," “Desolate without its children,” which are not factually correct today and fall, in his opinion, in the category of speaking falsely to Hashem.

Rav Ovadia Yosef – Yerushalayim Remains Mostly in Ruins

Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Teshuvot Yechaveh Da’at 1:43) opposed any change in the text. He also states that since the text of the prayer was established by the men of the Great Assembly, we lack the mandate and authority to change it. Interestingly, he grapples with the question of how the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah, who lived at the beginning of the Second Temple, could have composed a Tefillah mourning the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash. He answers by marshaling sources that these prophets and sages knew that Bayit Sheini was destined to be destroyed and thus composed a Tefillah for that eventuality. We should note that the Malbim, in his introduction to Sefer Tehillim, suggests that David HaMelech also composed the Tehillim that mourn the Babylonian Exile and the subsequent Return to Zion (Tehillim 137 and 126), despite happening after David’s lifetime.

In addition, Rav Ovadia Yosef points out that despite the incredible positive aspects of Jewish Jerusalem, the Churban remains very prevalent and dominant there. The presence of a shrine of another faith on our most holy location remains a profound expression of the Destruction. My brother-in-law Rav Etan Tokayer made the following comparison– imagine a synagogue in your local area that was destroyed by anti-Semites, and, subsequently, a house of worship of another faith was built on the exact location of the Beit Kenesset. Moreover, as much as we correctly adore the Kotel, it remains a symbol of the Churban Beit HaMikdash. Refraining from adjusting the text of Nacheim serves to remind us of this sobering fact.

Rav Ovadia Yosef suggests further signs of Churban. He notes the presence of a cemetery of another faith that was built just to the east of Har HaBayit which was created to prevent the arrival of Mashiach who would be repelled by the Tumat Meit. Moreover, he states that part of the ritual of the other faith is to bring dignitaries to the Temple Mount prior to their burial, as part of their funeral procession, a profound deviation from the Tumat Meit that we make every effort to distance from the Makom HaMikdash.

Most of the Old City of Yerushalayim remains populated by Nochrim. Furthermore, Israeli governments have even been willing to relinquish sovereignty over the areas that are predominantly Arab (see Dennis Ross’ “The Missing Peace” for the maps which detail precisely the areas Israel was willing to forego). Moreover, almost all foreign governments (including that of the United States) do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Yerushalayim. For instance, American citizens born in Jerusalem are not listed on their American passports as having been born in Israel.

Rav Ovadia also notes the prevalence of Avodah Zarah in the Old City of Yerushalayim as evidenced by the sound of clinging bells that is heard if one visits the Kotel for Shacharit on a Sunday morning. These realities cannot be altered in current circumstances, underscoring the limitations on Israeli control over the area, despite having sovereignty. All of the aforementioned limitations remain a major expression of the prevailing Churban.

 Rav Ovadia also correctly notes that the primary area of Jewish residence during the Temple Era was to the South of Har HaBayit, which is called “Ir David.” He says that this area remains completely inhabited by Arabs. While much progress has been made to reestablish a Jewish presence in Ir David, the presence remains very limited in size and scope. Thus, the Yerushalayim referred to by Chazal in Nacheim remains, until this day, desolate and without Jewish inhabitants for the most part. According to this approach, one should think of Ir David and not sections of Yerushalayim such as Bakah or Givat Mordechai when reciting Nacheim on Tish’ah BeAv.

Finally, argues Rav Ovadia, not only is the political sovereignty over the city of limited scope, but the religious level of the Yerushalayim is severely lacking. He bemoans the lack of modesty, the prevalence of desecration of Shabbat and the vast amount non-kosher restaurants. However, we can very happily report that the situation has changed dramatically since Rav Yosef penned this responsum some forty years ago. While some Chillul Shabbat remains, it is clear that over the past few decades, the amount of people openly desecrating Shabbat has decreaed. Moreover, truly non-kosher restaurants (i.e. that serve non-kosher food; not that there is no formal rabbinic supervision) in Jewish sections of Jerusalem are in the vast minority.


Some Kehillot and individuals have adopted a modified version of Nacheim, but most retain the traditional text. We fervently pray that Hashem rectify the situation by completely rebuilding Yerushalayim, rendering this dispute as moot.

[1] Yud (10) + Kuf (100) + Bet (2)=112

[2] Rav Solovetichik similarly rules that the obligation to perform Keriyah upon seeing Yerushalayim remains in full force even in the post-1967 reality of Jerusalem. See Gray Matter 2: pp. 67-76 for a full discussion of this issue.

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