Q. Isn’t the Nachem prayer on Tishah B’Av afternoon out of date?
A. According to the Shulchan Aruch, Nachem should be said during all services on Tishah B’Av, but the Ashkenazi custom is to limit it to Minchah because the afternoon was the time when the Temple was set on fire.
Now that Jerusalem is our thriving, revived, united capital, some say that we should no longer say a prayer that refers to the city being in a state of ruin. The “No” argument is that the full restoration of Jerusalem has not been achieved, especially since the Temple has not been rebuilt.
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (Responsa Yechavveh Da’at, vol, 1, no. 43) gives three reasons for retaining the prayer:
1. The prayer book was put together by great pietists whose words we must maintain.
2. Without a Temple, and with Muslim objections to Jewish access to the site of the Sanctuary, the city is still to be deemed to be “laid waste”.
3. In the light of the remaining spiritual deficiencies of Jerusalem, whilst acknowledging all that has been achieved, the restoration is incomplete.
Rabbi Chayyim David Halevy (Responsa Aseh L’cha Rav, vol. 1, no. 14; vol. 2, nos. 36-39) has suggested a compromise, turning most of the verbs into the past tense – “the city that was (not ‘is’) despised and desolate”.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren revived an approach found in the Jerusalem Talmud and his wording was adopted in many modern orthodox circles and included in the Israel Defence Forces prayer book.
An alternative would be to retain the traditional wording but to add a note explaining the situation or to specify that the text as formulated by the sages had in mind the smallish area of the Temple Mount.