Many years ago, Judeans, as Jews were called in the past, realized that they should do all that is reasonable to assure that all fellow Judeans are familiar with the contents of the three parts of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible: the Five Books of Moses, the Books of the Prophets, and the Books called the Writings. To accomplish their goal, they divided the Five Books of Moses with a portion to be read weekly on the Shabbat and parts of the portion on Monday, Thursday mornings, and Saturday night. When the practice began, Jews in Israel read the entire Books of Moses in a three year cycle and the Jews outside Israel, especially in Babylon, in a one year cycle. After a while, all Jews accepted the Babylonian practice.
Then, apparently years later, they started the practice of reading some parts of the prophetical books after the reading of the portion from the Five Books of Moses. These are called haftarahs, meaning “conclusions.” It would have been great if they could divide the prophetical books as they did the Books of Moses and have Jews read all of them yearly or every three years, but they apparently felt this would overburden the congregation who spent most of their time in the synagogues saying prayers.
Then, not wanting Jews to forget the third part of the Tanakh, the Writings, and not wanting to overburden the congregations, they selected five of the books of the Writings and started the practice that one of the five selectees would be read during a holiday that had some connection, even not a very close connection, with the contents of the selected book of the Writing.
In summary, it is significant to realize that the practice to have these reading is to acquaint Jews with their content. An example is the reading of the five chapters of the book of Lamentations, called Eikha in Hebrew, a word meaning “how,” the opening word of the book and of chapters 2 and 4, a book that describes the bewilderment, shame, laments, and outrage of Judeans expressed in 586 BCE when the first temple built by King Solomon and Judea itself was destroyed. “How” could God allow this to happen? The book is also called Kinot, which parallels the English name Lamentations.
Once we understand this, we will understand how too many Jews have perverted the well-meaning rational intentions of Jewish ancestors. Most Jews who read the book do so like they daven (read) the prayers, in a rush, with no intent of trying to understand what they are reading. I once saw a bearded synagogue rabbi fire a very nice highly intelligent un-bearded man because he was not pious enough by the rabbi’s standard to read the book from the Writing to the congregation, and had a bearded man recite the book from the pulpit. While the un-bearded man read the book for the congregation at a fair pace, the bearded man rushed through it as he sped through his prayers. Both the reader and the rabbi failed to understand why Jews were advised by their ancestors to read the Tanakh, including the book of Lamentations.
Unfortunately, most synagogues follow the practice of the pious bearded rabbi, and this is tragic. I recommend that during the Fast of Tisha b’Av, that commemorates the destruction in 586 BCE as well as the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE, that Jews get a good commentary of “Lamentations” and read it as Jewish ancestors suggested. Dr. Yael Ziegler’s 540 page commentary on this biblical book is scholarly yet very readable and enlightening. She reveals the meanings of each of the five Eikha chapters and informs readers of the bitter heart rending emotions of the prophet Jeremiah who may have composed the epic as well as the feelings of his fellow Judeans, and the comfort, courage, and resilience of the early Judeans and those born after them. She also discusses the history of the time and what led up to the debacle, human suffering then and now, the apparent absence of God’s aid, and more.
These are ideas that are relevant today. What a shame it is to close our eyes and ears to these subjects, sit back passively and only daven Eikha without recognizing the elements that made Judaism strong, forgetting Judaism’s stress on education, and do so because of a misguided notion of piety.