“For These Things I Weep”: Psychological Readings of Lamentations

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Marc Eichenbaum

The Biblical book of Lamentations, Megillat Eikha, is fraught with both theological and textual inconsistencies, making it a difficult text to comprehend. Examples are manifold: Was the destruction of the Temple a result of Israel’s sins in that generation—e.g., “woe to us, for we have sinned!” (5:16)—or was it their forefathers’ fault—“Our fathers sinned, and are no more, and we bear their iniquities” (2:20)? Is there room for hope—“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…” (3:21)—or, as many verses imply, is the future bleak—“And I said, My strength and my hope are perished from the Lord” (3:18)? Is God just in His ways—“The Lord is righteous,” (1:18)—or did He unleash his wrath on innocent victims—“Look Lord and see, to whom have You done this” (2:20)? Textually, its asymmetrical meter, abrupt shifts from first person to third person, and lack of a consistent narrative progression make it arduous to ascertain the speaker and goal of each verse.

While this text is traditionally read collectively on the fast of Tisha be-Av, its messages and purpose remain elusive. Certainly, if the sole purpose was to recall the historical event of the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, the text should include dates and the chronological sequence of events. Lamentations, however, lacks them both. In order to make sense of this enigmatic book, scholars have tried to decipher Lamentations through a variety of novel lenses.[1] Several relatively recent works have utilized psychological theories and research to guide their understanding of this text.[2] While diverse in content, each one offers a unique perspective on the Book of Lamentations and charts a path to understand many of its inconsistencies. By analyzing the fresh perspective and language that these psychological interpretations give us, we can gain a deeper appreciation of Lamentations and, in turn, transform our Tisha be-Av experience into a day of national healing.

Lamentations Through the Lens of Grief                                         

In 1993, Paul Joyce, of the University of Birmingham, published an interpretation of Lamentations in light of two psychological theories of grief described in two different books: Yorick Spiegel’s The Grief Process and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying.[3] These two psychologists argued that grief is processed in distinct stages, each one characterized by different emotions. Importantly, both Spiegel and Kübler-Ross acknowledged that these stages don’t always occur linearly, and that mourners spend varying amounts of time on each stage. Nevertheless, they claimed that the basic framework of these theories can be appreciated by most mourners. Joyce contended that each of the stages of grief described by these two psychological theorists are apparent in the text of Lamentations, albeit not in the order of which they were originally conceived.[4] Just as one proceeds through these stages after the loss of a loved one, the text of Lamentations can be read as a bereaved widow, Jerusalem, mourning the loss of her husband, God, through these stages.

Spiegel lays out four stages in what he calls “the grief process.” The first stage is shock, the immediate pain that follows shortly after the loss. According to Joyce, this stage is exemplified in the opening verse which expresses utter dismay at Jerusalem’s lowly situation: “How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” (1:1). The second stage, called the controlled stage, occurs when regression to an immature psychological phase is stalled by the funeral and other mourning rituals. This may be linked to verses that describe rituals of mourning such as, “The elders of the daughter of Żiyyon sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground” (2:10). Regression to infantile behavior, Spiegel’s third stage, is expressed in all of the verses that mention weeping. It is also apparent in verses in which Jerusalem recalls earlier times, such as in the verse, “Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old” (5:21). The last stage is adaptation, in which the bereaved assimilates and adjusts to the death, allowing them to continue living their life with a fresh perspective. This is exemplified in verses of consolation such as “but though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (3:32).

More famously, Kübler-Ross presented five distinct stages of mourning. The first is denial and isolation. Joyce writes that this stage is apparent in Lamentations if we read the verses expressing hope—such as the verse, “For the Lord will not cast off forever” (3:31)—as an ironic, passive-aggressive jibe. Themes of isolation are present throughout the book, including the first verse, “How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” (1:1). The second stage is anger, and that can be identified in Israel’s anger at God such as in the verse, “Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom Thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babes?” (2:20). Kübler-Ross’ third stage is bargaining, in which one pleads for relief from pain and the prospect of death. This theme can be seen in verses that are characterized by Jerusalem negotiating with God to ease her pain, such as in the verse, “Let us search and try our ways, and turn back to the Lord” (3:40). Depression, the fourth stage, is easily discernible throughout the book, but perhaps most plainly in the verse, “The joy of our hearts is ceased, our dancing has been turned into mourning” (5:15). Lastly, Kübler-Ross’ final stage, acceptance, where one resigns and “lets go” of the of the pain of the loss that is preventing them from living a healthy life, is expressed in verses such as, “Who is he that says, and it comes to pass, when the Lord commands it not?” (3:37).

Joyce uses this framework to explain some of the inconsistencies within Lamentations. “Such inconsistency of explanation, casting around for some meaning in the darkness” writes Joyce, “is a recurrent feature of both the grieving and the dying process, as presented by Spiegel and Kübler-Ross.”[5] In other words, the theological and textual inconsistencies that make up Lamentations are not quirks, they are distinctive and literary features. Lamentations lacks coherence, just as a mourner struggles to find coherence in his or her own life. The theological contradictions expressed in Lamentations, such as whether God is benevolent or punitive or whether tragedy is a result of our sins or not, reflect the contradictory thoughts that often are present within the mind of a mourner. Accordingly, Lamentations’ inconsistencies are no longer problematic. After all, Lamentations is not a book of theodicy, but one of raw humanity. It is a descriptive book depicting our reaction to tragedy, not a prescriptive book informing us what God thinks.

The exact science behind Spiegel’s and Kübler-Ross’ theories is hotly debated amongst researchers. Current research confirms what Spiegel and Kübler-Ross established: that the emotions associated with mourning don’t occur in distinct stages but rather oscillate back and forth between each other and often occur simultaneously. Grief is also a deeply personal emotion, and expressed differently among people. Nevertheless, most theories maintain that grieving is a period in which the bereaved struggles to both dwell on the enormity of the loss and restore themselves to a level of functioning. This process occurs over time, with setbacks and losses along the way. This struggle is clearly a theme of Lamentations, regardless of which theory of grieving one may subscribe to.

Lamentations Through the Lens of Trauma                                   

Another psychological trend has been to read Lamentations through the lens of trauma studies. “Unlike commonplace misfortunes,” trauma researcher Judith Herman writes, “traumatic events generally involve threats to life or bodily integrity, or a close personal encounter with violence and death.”[6] Traumatic events, whether experienced in real life, or sometimes even vicariously, alter the brain and body and cause a variety of symptoms, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder. Before analyzing how elements of trauma can be found in Lamentations, it is important to first clarify the difference between traumatic memories and normal memories.

The French psychologist Pierre Janet was one of the first to accurately explain the difference between regular memories and traumatic memories. Janet writes that regular memory, what he calls “narrative memory,” is adaptive and social. The memory is recalled to tell a story for a specific purpose and therefore can be modified and told differently to fit the circumstance. Traumatic memories, in contrast, are more akin to reenactments of the traumatic event. They are often not recalled intentionally, but triggered into memory by stimuli reminiscent of the traumatic event.[7] A classic example is a war veteran who suffers flashbacks upon hearing fireworks, unintentionally recalling the sounds of gunshots in battle. These flashbacks bring the trauma survivor, in a certain sense, back to the scene of the event, often with the overwhelming sensations that were present there as well. As a result, a traumatic memory is not socially adaptive and can’t be manipulated to fit the circumstance. It is frozen in time, and reluctantly re-lived.

Traumatic memories also tend to lack the structure of normal memories. One study showed that when people recall non-traumatic events such as weddings, births, and graduations, the events are recalled from the past with a clear narrative; there is a beginning, middle, and end to the story. Traumatic events, by contrast, are remembered in a disorganized manner, with the exact sequences of the events muddled and the insignificant details (such as the smell that accompanied the event) taking a more prominent role in the memory than seems warranted.[8] Traumatic memories are not cohesive, they are experienced as piecemeal snippets. Sadly, the highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner trauma victims express their story often results in others questioning whether the event actually happened.[9]

Smith-Christopher reads Lamentations in light of this understanding of traumatic memories.[10] The destruction of the Temple and the subsequent exile was a collective traumatic event that dramatically altered the Jewish peoples’ lives forever. The incoherence of the book can be explained in light of a trauma survivor suffering through intrusive memories of the past. The traumatic memories of cannibalism (2:20, 4:10), famine (2:12, 4:4-10), and bloodshed (1:1, 2:21) spontaneously interrupt Jerusalem’s thoughts and speech. Smith-Christopher also points out the verses of isolation and depression highlight the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

We can add more evidence to Smith-Christopher’s argument that Lamentations should be read in light of the psychological phenomenon of trauma. Firstly, Lamentations’ many sensory descriptions are akin to trauma survivor’s reliving of the sensory details associated with the traumatic event. Secondly, the theological contradictions as well, it can be argued, are representative of the whirling thoughts that often accompany survivors of trauma. With the world as they knew it destroyed, survivors often grapple with beliefs they once thought self-evident and clear. Their world as a safe place instantly transformed to one of horror, and they consequently question the presence of a just and benevolent God. Furthermore, Lamentations’ asymmetrical meter,[11] uncharacteristic of Biblical texts, may reflect the inability to feel grounded and in rhythm with one’s life, as so many trauma survivors report.

When trauma remains unresolved, it can take a terrible toll on our relationships and lives. “If your heart is still broken because you were assaulted by someone you loved, you are likely to be preoccupied with not getting hurt again and fear opening up to someone new,” writes Bessel van der Kolk, a pioneer in the study of trauma.[12] There have been many different techniques advanced to resolve trauma. Interestingly, one aspect that many trauma therapies have in common is the concept of a trauma narrative in which the survivor, guided by a trained clinician, tries to retell the story of the traumatic event. Scholars debate exactly how this is helpful. According to cognitive-behavioral therapy practitioners, the trauma narrative serves as a type of exposure therapy. Through systematically exposing the survivor to their traumatic memory, the survivor will become desensitized to the intensity of the memory and the trigger reminders associated with them.[13] Others believe that the main purpose of the trauma narrative is to practice being able to retell it to loved ones, with the hope that their empathic listening will be healing in itself.[14]

However, researchers are beginning to learn that the trauma narrative does something even deeper. As we’ve seen above, traumatic events are experienced as flashbacks frozen in time and qualitatively different from normal memories. According to Janet, these flashbacks are reflective of an “insurmountable obstacle” that prevents the survivor from integrating the traumatic experience and moving on with their lives. They are stuck in the past and therefore find it difficult to integrate new experiences well.[15] Research even shows that survivors often change their tone of voice and speaking style when recalling their traumatic event, perhaps indicating that part of their personality is split and held hostage to the past event.[16] Van der Kolk, therefore, explains that telling the trauma narrative heals because it helps in “integrating the cut-off elements of the trauma into the ongoing narrative of life, so that the brain can recognize that ‘that was then, and this is now.”[17] Essentially, by telling the story of the trauma, the survivor will eventually be able to merge the event with the rest of their life into a cohesive unit. The memory will no longer stand apart as a destructive elephant in the room, but rather tamed and put in its proper place.

In much the same way that a trauma narrative helps heal trauma survivors, Leslie Allen argued that Lamentations can be understood as “the script of a liturgy intended as a therapeutic ritual.”[18] According to this approach, Dr. Matthew A. LaPine argues that on Tisha be-Av Jews collectively read Lamentations as a way to construct their collective trauma so that they can retell their story.[19] We are essentially frozen in the past, and try, annually, to put together the broken pieces of our lives. “While trauma keeps us dumbfounded,” writes van der Kolk, “the path out of it is paved with words, carefully assembled, piece by piece, until the whole story can be revealed.”[20]

The idea of assembling the shattered pieces of our past trauma may be reflected in the poetic nature of Lamentations as well. Dobbs-Allsopp suggested that the poetry and acrostic structure[21] of Lamentations allows for “healing through language.”[22] By retelling our story we are trying to put order to the scattered pieces of our lives, from aleph to tav. We may add that, as so often is the case with trauma survivors, we may never truly heal from our trauma in a complete sense. The letters of ayin and peh are in reversed order in chapters two through four, perhaps indicating that we may never regain perfect harmony. We cannot undo the past, and its memory may still haunt us from time to time, albeit hopefully in a more integrative and less intrusive manner. At the end of Lamentations, we conclude with an open-ended question, “Unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (5:22), because sometimes we must accept that we will never fully have all the answers to our painful questions.

It is also notable that the custom is to recite Lamentations specifically in a congregation. Perhaps this reflects the importance of community and relationships in the recovery process. According to Herman, “in her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.”[23] Not only can Lamentations be read as a depiction of traumatic flashbacks, but, through its poetic nature and collective retelling, as a tool for recovery as well.

Lamentations as a Transformative Experience                           

These two psychological readings of Lamentations have ramifications for how we understand its role on Tisha be-Av. R. Maurice Lamm writes that mourning in Judaism is supposed to be a healing process:

The Jewish tradition has thus designed a gradual release from grief, and has instituted five successive periods of mourning, each with its own laws governing the expression of grief and the process of return to the normal affairs of society.[24]

The Jewish mourning stages of aninut, shiva, sheloshim, yud-bet hodesh (for the loss of a parent), and yahrzeit (anniversary of the day of death) are meant to be healing, allowing the mourner to return to their normal selves and into society. The progressively less restrictive nature of these five stages allows the mourner to achieve nehama, comfort, and move on with their life. Halakhic mourning is not only a time for allowed sadness, but a tool that both describes and prescribes mourning to be restorative.

It is then puzzling that the mourning restrictions that commence on the 17th of Tammuz and conclude three weeks later on Tisha be-Av become gradually more restrictive over time and are therefore inversive from normal halakhic mourning restrictions which become progressively less restrictive.[25] In explaining this difference, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik argued that this is due to the fact that the loss of a close relative is an aveilut hadashah, a new mourning, that is most painful immediately after the loss and gradually eases as time goes on. The mourning of the three weeks, in contrast, are considered aveilut yeshanah, an ancient mourning which requires gradual preparation in order to experience “remote events which seem to have forfeited their relevance long ago.”[26] If, as we’ve seen, the stages of Jewish mourning are ordered specifically to be healing, how then do we heal from the grief we experience on Tish be-Av if the order is inverted?

One answer to this question may be gleaned if we consider what psychologists call traumatic grief.[27] Some people experience uncomplicated bereavement and some develop post-traumatic stress disorder without any bereavement (in its usual sense). However, when trauma is embedded within the loss of a loved one, the psychological trajectory is qualitatively different. Whereas typical grief (what psychologists may refer to as uncomplicated bereavement), as painful as it may be, is relatively short-lived, traumatic grief can persist for years and even decades.[28] Research has also shown that those who suffer from traumatic grief have more severe intrusive symptoms and greater functional impairment in comparison to both those who suffered a non-traumatic loss and those who experienced a traumatic event.[29]

One method of healing traumatic grief is through narrative construction,[30] much the same way used for trauma survivors. Constructing a narrative is a gradual process that takes time to develop. Initially, one may only be able to verbalize ambiguous details of the traumatic loss before feeling too overwhelmed to continue. The role of the clinician is to systematically guide the client into being able, over time, to retell the complete story of the traumatic event in a way that puts meaning to their suffering and allows them to move on healthily with their life. The narrative, in these cases, is not only important for helping one cope with the traumatic memory, but with the loss associated with it as well. By being able to tell a cohesive story, the mourner can make some sense of their traumatic loss and heal from it.

The loss of the Temple was certainly an event worthy of traumatic grief. Not only was the Temple the center of Jewish life, it also represented our close relationship and access to God. Its destruction was earth shattering, and we have not yet been able to pick up all the scattered pieces and heal. On Tisha be-Av we are both mourning its loss, but also severely traumatized by it. We may not perceive the magnitude of this traumatic loss because it occurred thousands of years ago, but that does not mean its effects weren’t spiritually catastrophic. We should therefore view our reaction to the loss of Temple as traumatic grief, and read Lamentations through the lenses of both grief and trauma together.

In order to resolve this intergenerational traumatic loss, we need to go through the gradual process of constructing our collective traumatic grief narrative. Perhaps this is why, contrary to the mourning rituals for the loss of a relative, aveilut hadashah, the mourning rituals of the three weeks, aveilut yeshanah, become increasingly more intense over time. Just as trauma survivors gradually train themselves to be able to retell their full story, starting on the 17th of Tammuz we gradually train ourselves to be able to reopen the book of Lamentations on Tisha be-Av and recite our traumatic grief narrative. While at the start of these three weeks we may not be ready to fully confront the memories of our past, the progressively strict mourning rituals prepare us to finally engage with them on Tisha be-Av. In this light, Lamentations is not meant to be a mere recording of a historical event or even a mood-setter for the rest of Tisha be-Av. It is meant as the key to help resolve our traumatic grief.[31]

The Sages of the Talmud stated that, “All who mourn [the destruction of] Jerusalem merits to see it in its joy” (Ta’anit 30b). Instead of promising us that those who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit to see in its joy, as many erroneously translate this passage, the wording of the Sages is that the mourning causes us to see it in its joy now. Perhaps the sages were teaching us that if we read mourn through the lens of traumatic grief and use Lamentations as a narrative tool to resolve our ancient trauma, we can begin to put together the broken pieces of our lives, from aleph to tav, and become sufficiently healed enough to work through our transgenerational flaws and experience true joy. After thousands of years of traumatic grief, we acknowledge that we may never truly be whole. However, in telling our story as a community, year after year, we may heal.[32]

[1] See Heath A. Thomas, “A Survey of Research on Lamentations (2002–2012),” Currents in Biblical Research 12, no. 1 (2013): 8–38.

[2] In addition to the ones reviewed here, there have been several other psychological readings of Lamentations that will not be covered in this essay. For example, in Tiffany Houck-Loomis, “Good God?!? Lamentations as a Model for Mourning the Loss of the Good God,” Journal of Religion and Health 51, no. 3 (2012): 701–8, Houck-Loomis reads Lamentations as reflecting Melanie Klein’s Object Relations Theory. In Preston Evangelou, “How Might Lamentations Be Read in the Light of Applying Winnicott’s Notion of a ‘Holding Environment’ to Reconcile the Internal Conflict of the Absent Comforter?” Journal of Dialogue Studies 7 (2019): 261-275, Evangelou reads Lamentations as expressing Donald Winnicott’s notion of a holding environment to reconcile the internal conflict. An analysis of these interpretations is beyond the purview of this essay. Instead, we will focus on two compelling reads: one that reads Lamentations in light of the psychological study of grief and one in light of trauma therapy.

[3] Paul Joyce, “Lamentations and the grief process: a psychological reading,” Biblical Interpretation 1, no. 3 (1993): 304-320.

[4] David Reimer in David J. Reimer, “Good Grief? A Psychological Reading of Lamentations,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 114, no. 4 (2002): 542-559, also believed that Lamentations can be read in light of Kübler-Ross’ five-stage theory. However, whereas Joyce was of the opinion that there was no particular order to its five chapters and that its lack of order resembles the grieving lived experiences, Reimer believed that each of the five chapters of Lamentations correspond to Kübler-Ross’ five stages in sequential order. Heath A. Thomas summarizes Reimer’s reading:

“Lamentations 1 reflects the stage of denial and isolation. The dominant theme of ch. 2 is anger. God is angry, especially in Lam. 2.1-9, but this anger is tempered by the anger of Zion personified, who protests God’s actions (Lam. 2.20-22). Lamentations 3 effects ‘a transition from hopelessness to hope through a reflection on the character of God. While hope remains uncertain, there is no better option’ (Reimer 2002: 551). This is the bargaining stage. It demonstrates the proper way forward: ‘good behaviour’ will hopefully lead to God’s deliverance, although this deliverance remains uncertain for ‘God is no automaton’ (p. 552). Lamentations 4 reveals depression through the dominant theme of reversal. The former glory of Jerusalem, when contrasted against the present destruction of the people and city, reveals the great reversal God’s people have experienced and the deep sadness that this brings: ‘what was once precious, good, and vital has become worthless, spoiled, and lifeless’ (p. 552). Especially in Lam. 4.1-20, the poetry mourns the loss and depicts a persistent negativity over the desolation of Jerusalem (p. 552). Lamentations 5 is ‘the most distinctive section of the book’ because prayer frames both this poem and the book as a whole. This poem cries out for future life, refusing to let God see the sufferers perish (p. 555), but it contrasts with Kübler-Ross’s stage of acceptance.”

See Thomas, “A Survey of Research on Lamentations.”

[5] A similar argument is made by Dr. Yael Ziegler where she explains the inconsistencies in light of the amorphous nature of human emotions. She writes, “Eikha’s seemingly inconsistent and rapidly changing attitudes toward God may be explained by the fact that emotions lie at its core. Is God just or not? An intellectual consideration of the matter approaches the question systemically, offering coherent, logical arguments. However, when humans address the same events through an emotional lens, contradictions abound. God is both just and unjust. Humans are simultaneously baffled, abashed, angered, and comforted by God. The ebb and flow of human emotions and the way they shift and converge, collide and contradict, can account for the rapid swing between different perspectives in Eikha. This represents the emotional condition of humans, offering a realistic and multifaceted portrait of how humans cope with God’s role in their tragedy.” See Dr. Yael Ziegler, Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World (Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2021), 35-36.

[6] Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 33.

[7] Pierre Janet, Psychological Healing: A Historical and Clinical Study, Volume One (New York: Macmillan, 1925; reprint CT: Martino Fine Books, 2019), 660.

[8] B.A. van der Kolk and R. Fisler, “Dissociation and the Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memories: Overview and Exploratory Study,” Journal of Traumatic Stress 8, no. 4 (1995): 505-25.

[9] Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 1.

[10] Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (OBT; Minneapolis: Fortress): 75-104.

[11] K. Budde, “Das hebräisches Klagelied,” ZAW 2 (1882), 1-52. See also Dr. Yael Ziegler, Lamentations, 49-52.

[12] Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2015), 213.

[13] Esther Deblinger, Anthony P. Mannarino, Judith A. Cohen, Melissa K. Runyon, and Robert A. Steer, “Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Children: Impact of the Trauma Narrative and Treatment Length,” Depression and Anxiety 28, no. 1 (2010): 67–75.

[14] Mariagrazia Di Giuseppe, Tracy A. Prout, Timothy Rice, and Leon Hoffman, “Regulation-Focused Psychotherapy for Children (RFP-C): Advances in the Treatment of ADHD and ODD in Childhood and Adolescence,” Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020).

[15] Janet, Psychological Healing, 660.

[16] James W. Pennebaker, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (New York: Guilford Press, 2012), 50.

[17] van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score, 183.

[18] Cited in Matthew A. LaPine, “The Therapeutic Use of Lamentations after Collective Trauma,” The Center for Hebraic Thought, May 25, 2022.

[19] Ibid.

[20] van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score, 234.

[21] Chapter 5 lacks an acrostic structure but is still twenty-two verses corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

[22] F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2012).

[23] Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 133.

[24] Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning (Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David, 2000), 75.

[25] This question assumes, as R. Soloveitchik does below, that the mourning that takes place during the three weeks should be modeled after the mourning rituals that take place after the loss of a relative. One could argue that although they are both mourning rituals, there isn’t a compelling reason that they need to follow the same course.

[26] Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Out of the Whirlwind: Essays on Mourning, Suffering and the Human Condition (ed. David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler; Jersey City, NJ: KTAV, 2003), 19.

[27]Holly G. Prigerson and Selby C. Jacobs, “Traumatic Grief as a Distinct Disorder: A Rationale, Consensus Criteria, and a Preliminary Empirical Test” in Handbook of Bereavement Research: Consequences, Coping, and Care (ed. Wolfgang Stroebe, Margaret S. Stroebe, Robert O. Hansson, Henk Schut, H. O. Prigerson, and S.C. Jacobs; Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2001), 613–45. Although there exists no traumatic grief diagnosis in the DSM-5 as it is typically seen as too similar to a regular post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, the difference between traumatic grief and post-traumatic stress disorder unrelated to a loss has been studied for the last two decades and is likely to exist as its own diagnosis in the next edition of the DSM. It should also be noted that traumatic grief is sometimes referred to by other names.

[28] Yuval Neria, and Brett T. Litz. “Bereavement by Traumatic Means: The Complex Synergy of Trauma and Grief,” Journal of Loss and Trauma 9, no. 1 (2004): 73–87.

[29] Bonnie L. Green, Janice L. Krupnick, Patricia Stockton, Lisa Goodman, Carole Corcoran, and Rachel Petty. “Psychological Outcomes Associated with Traumatic Loss in a Sample of Young Women,” American Behavioral Scientist 44, no. 5 (2001): 817–37.

[30] Tuvia Peri, Ilanit Hasson-Ohayon, Sharon Garber, Rivka Tuval-Mashiach, and Paul A. Boelen, “Narrative Reconstruction Therapy for Prolonged Grief Disorder—Rationale and Case Study,” European Journal of Psychotraumatology 7, no. 1 (2016): 30687.

[31] Even without the notion of a narrative, reading Lamentations may be healing in another fashion: Whereas traditional post-Freudian clinical analysis implied that grief involves the process of detachment and separation from the loss, more recent research points to the fact that grief actually functions to maintain psychological ties to the deceased. See CM Parkes, “The first year of bereavement: a longitudinal study of the reaction of London widows to the death of their husbands,” Psychiatry 33 (1970): 444–46; and John Bowlby, Loss: Sadness and Depression, Volume 3 (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1980). Understood in this light, perhaps another function of the mourning commencing on the 17th of Tammuz and the reading Lamentations on Tisha be-Av is to rekindle our psychological connection to the Temple and its destruction. By grieving, in a manner that is progressively more intense, we obtain a deeper connection to the loss and strengthen our ties to it.

[32] I would like to thank my wife Sonny, my friends Yehuda Fogel and ET Lustiger, my mentor and colleague Dr. Erica Brown, and the Lehrhaus team for their insightful editorial feedback. I would also like to thank my friend Rabbi Elly Deutsch for sharing with me his deep knowledge of grief in both Jewish and psychological literature.

Marc Eichenbaum received his semicha from RIETS and is the Rabbinic Researcher for Yeshiva University’s Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership. He is also a doctoral student in Ferkauf’s School-Clinical Psy.D. program. Previously, he worked for Yeshiva University’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, and as the Rabbinic intern in the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst.