Tisha B’av: Is it time to celebrate?
Now that we have regained sovereignty should we mourn our past powerlessness or celebrate that we Jews are finally coming to terms with power?
Listen to the madlik podcast:
The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.
The Tisha B’Av Syndrome[i] – Podcast notes
- Humor“the Frenchman, the German and the Jew who are walking in the desert. They trudge in the heat for days, gasping for a drink. The Frenchman says: “I am hot, I am tired, and I am thirsty. I must have some French wine.” The German pipes up: “I am hot, I am tired, and I am thirsty. I must have some German beer.” The Jew says: “Oy! Am I tired! Am I thirsty! I must have diabetes.”
Howard Jacobson’s Booker-prize winning novel, The Finkler Question
- Josephus[ii]Why the Almighty Caused Jerusalem and His Temple to be Destroyed –
The burning of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE/AD created a profound dilemma for faithful Jews of the time. Hadn’t religious observance throughout the land reached new heights in the years preceding the war? Wasn’t the revolt against Rome directly the result of zealous people vowing to have “no master except the Lord?” (Ant. 18.1.6 23). Then why did the Lord allow the Romans to crush the revolt and destroy his Temple?
Josephus offered a variety of solutions to this problem. His overall goal was to defend the Jews against the accusation that their Lord had deserted them. A further goal, which he only hinted at, was to pave the way for approval by the Roman authorities, at some future time, for the rebuilding of the Temple.
- “I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city began with the assassination of Ananus [the High Priest by the Zealots]”
- “I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire”
- “Certain of these robbers went up to the city, as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under their garments; and, by thus mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew Jonathan [the high priest]; and as this murder was never avenged, ….. And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred to these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the Temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery – as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities.
- The Slaughter of the Guards – by Zealots
- Oh most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy internal pollutions! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou longer survive, after thou hadst been a tomb for the bodies of thine own people, and hast made the Holy House itself a burying-place in this civil war of thine. Yet mayst thou again grow better, if perchance thou wilt hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of thy destruction.
- Jesus in 63CE cursed the Temple and foretold its destruction. (War 6.5.3 288-309)
- Ruth Wisse“Is it not curious that the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth came to be known from the perspective of a Jew determined to vindicate its destroyer? Josephus became an esteemed emissary to the Gentiles, the interpreter of the Jews to others as well as to themselves. Jews not only lost the war against Rome, but they supplied the historian who held them responsible for their downfall. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Josephus had been translated into every major western European language. Gentiles and Christians among whom the Jews resided learned from him that the Jews had deserved their ruin.”
Ruth R. Wisse. Jews and Power Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
- Israel Jacob Yuval“Jesus already prophesied the Destruction of Jerusalem: “For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44). The Destruction is described as the vengeance of; God: “For these are days of vengeance, to fulﬁll all that is written” (Luke 21:22). From the fourth century on and throughout the Middle Ages, these verses were included in the pericope (the weekly reading from the Gospel) read at Mass on the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, that is, during the week, of Tisha b’Av, thereby clearly paralleling the Jewish day of mourning for the Destruction of their Temple.”
Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Israel Jacob Yuval, p.39
- Anti-Zionists – exile as release
- “Herman Cohen, the main spokesman for liberal Judaism in Germany in the early years of the twentieth century, held that Jews had been able to develop a universal ideal of messianic redemption because they had been freed of the burdens of a state. In his view, Jewish religion alone was the driving force of modern Jewish life, having become more ethically advanced because it was freed of nationalism and a state apparatus.”[iii]
- Similarly, Franz Rosenzweig writes that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should eschew. In his pre-Holocaust book ‘The Star of Redemption he expressed his belief that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should shun. He viewed Judaism as a “supra-historical entity” whose importance lies in the fact that it is not political but presents a “spiritual ideal” only. He saw the creation of a nation-state as a blow to the Jewish ideal of an apolitical spiritual life…
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither;
let my tongue stick to my palate
if I cease to think of you,
if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory
even at my happiest hour.
“Yet for all its rhetorical severity, Psalm 137 does not exhort Jews to take up arms on their own behalf. Assuming full moral responsibility for the violence that war requires, it calls on the Lord to avenge the Jews’ defeat and on other nations to repay Babylon “in kind.” This reflects the historical record: It was the Persians, not the Jews, who defeated the Babylonians, and King Cyrus who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their Temple, thereby inspiring Isaiah’s reference to him as “the Lord’s anointed,” the messenger of God’s will. God’s hand, not the soldiering of Israel, is credited with the Jews’ political recovery, for had the Persians not prevailed and acted magnanimously, who knows how much longer it would have taken the Jews to return to their home?” (Ruth Wisse)
R. Yossi ben R. Chanina: What are these Three Oaths?
One, that Israel should not storm the wall [Rashi interprets: forcefully].
Two, the Holy One adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world.
Three, the Holy One adjured the nations that they would not oppress Israel too much.
Babylonian Talmud, Ketuobot 111a[iv]
- Yitz Greenberg – The Third Era of Judaism“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but absolute powerlessness corrupts the most.”[v]
The destruction of the Second Temple and the extended exile caused an even greater crisis of faith. Some Jews despaired and gave up, some Jews (such as Christian Jews) concluded the covenant was finished, and left. The fundamental answer of the Jewish people was the rabbinic one. God had self-limited in order to call humanity to greater responsibility in the covenant. For the first time, in rabbinic literature, we get the term “partnership” between God and man. ….[vi]
In our lifetime, we are living through another major transformation of the covenant. The crisis of the greatest destruction of all time — the Holocaust– raises the question of the credibility of the covenant altogether, and whether God exists or cares…. In effect, the Jewish people has concluded that God has even further self-limited in order to call the human being – in this case, the Jews – to greater responsibility…
From the beginning~ of Jewish history the conflict of power and its limits, particularly the covenant, was a source of difficulty…. The Rabbis came to leadership in the second era of Jewish history. In that era, exile and dispersion left the Jews relatively powerless in a world which was hostile. The rabbinic tradition proceeded to develop a sort of ‘ethic of powerlessness’. This ranged from the assurance that God is with the people in exile and there is no need to revolt, to the conscious suppression of hostility. In later centuries, the concept of the Jewish people doing its work through a sort of cosmic mysticism developed. Meticulous observance and the expanded list of observances would eventually evoke the messianic redeemer to come and restore life and faith to its wholeness. …
The ethic of powerlessness is relatively pure ethically, because it is unchecked by the needs of power politics or daily political reality. That, too, became part of the Jeish ethic, side by side with a focus on passivity. This period came to its tragic reduction ad absurdum in the catastrophic Jewish powerlessness of the Holocaust. …
The primary challenge of this era is the acquisition and exercise of power. Costs of acquiring that power have been enormous, — thousands of Israeli lives, tens of thousands of wounded, months of reserve duty and personal…. A moral army causes as few innocent casualties as possible, but it is impossible that it never cause innocent suffering….
8. Rav Kook
“All who mourn [the destruction of] Jerusalem will merit to see it in its joy.” (Ta’anit 30b)
“There are some Jews for whom international recognition of the Jewish people’s right to its land fails to inspire joy. This is because the primary focus of their mourning is the spiritual destruction of Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. The bitter humiliation of the Land of Israel being subjected to foreign rule does not trouble them.
But for those who always felt a deep sorrow, not only for the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of the Land, but for the absence of Jewish sovereignty in our land… the international declaration that the Land of Israel must return to the people of Israel is a source of joy. These individuals merit ‘to see Jerusalem in its joy.
The nation’s jubilation over sparks of redemption will rebuild that which baseless crying destroyed.”
“Baseless crying” — bechiyah shel chinam — refers to the spies sent by Moses who spoke against the Land of Israel, causing the people to despair and weep in vain. What is the tikun for this sin? How do we correct their cries of despair?
We repair the sin of the spies, Rav Kook explained, with teshuvat ha-mishkal, with a good that counterbalances the evil. We must show excitement and joy as the Land of Israel is rebuilt, stone by stone.[vii]
In messianic time Tisha B’av (and all other fast days related to the loss of Jewish sovereignty will become holidays.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Seventeenth of Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth (9th of Av), and the fast of the seventh Fast of Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth (10th of Tevet), shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace. Zechariah 8:19
We know from Berl Katznelson. Leader of the Social Zionists until his death in 1944 who came in 1909 from Russia, that his party’s youth movement held celebratory campfires on Tisha B’Av. [viii]
- May 2018 – Gaza – The parallel Universe of Israeli Liberals and non-Israeli Liberals
Facebook Post – Sarah Silverman May 17, 2018
Is there anyone on the political left who sees — and has the courage to say — that Israel is truly defending ourselves right now? Hating Israel is super cool, I know. Can I have someone, anyone on the left, speak out about Israel not killing for fun on the Gaza border right now? Or are the consequences too great for your lefty credentials? Dear Lord. This is a modern day blood libel. PS Stick to my particular question.
Susan Silverman is a Reform Rabbi living in Israel. She has been a vocal supporter of the African asylum seekers, Founding Director of Second Nurture which advocates adoption of children in need of a home, she is a supporter of Women of the Wall and an egalitarian prayer space… she also has a son in the IDF. Listen to the Promised Podcast discuss this post here: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/patreon-posts/YI459NgAAByjq5VEIpDQbdr2oEKIk1VfMGy2Prd8lXr35Zq__Kxe2ELvaaIvvkXs.mp3 here is a link to her FB post and comments: https://www.facebook.com/susan.silverman.927/posts/10214732140511432
10 Josephus redux
Last reason given by Josephus: It was ordained: “Now, although any one would lament the destruction of such a work as this was, since it was the most admirable of all the works that we have seen or heard of, both for its curious structure and its magnitude, and also for the glorious reputation it had for its holiness; yet might such a one comfort himself with this thought, that it was fate that decreed it so to be, which is inevitable, both as to living creatures and as to works and places also.
However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were not observed, as I said before, wherein the Holy House was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.
[i] The term “Tisha B’Av Syndrome“ was coined by Isaac Herzog (leader of the Opposition and grandson of the 2nd Chief Rabbi of Israel) in 2015 when he accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of leading with a politics of fear and despair see: https://www.timesofisrael.com/herzog-netanyahu-suffering-from-tisha-bav-syndrome/
[iii] Wisse, Ruth R.. Jews and Power (Jewish Encounters Series) (Kindle Locations 138-143). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Israel Jacob Yuval understands this “partnership” as a nefarious linkage between the suffering and martyrdom of the Jews forcing the hand of God to bring the redemption and associated retribution. Cf. the last stanza of Maoz Tzur: Bare Your holy arm and hasten the final salvation, Avenge the vegenance of Your servants’ blood from the wicked nation… see Two Nations p106-7