Tisha B’av, which fell this week, is the darkest day on the Jewish calendar.
Not only does it commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples, it has become emblematic of all the tragedies that have befallen our people since then. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Pograms, and, of course, the Holocaust, top that list.
Tisha B’av is a time of remembrance, but it also can be an opportunity for renewal.
With that in mind, Tisha B’av couldn’t have come at a more opportune time this year — not because Jews are once again under assault, but because Jews are assaulting one another:
• In Israel, Jews are feuding at the Western Wall as Women of the Wall try to bring egalitarian worship to Judaism’s holiest site, while haredi Jews, interpreting this development as an attack on their faith, have responded loudly, and sometimes violently, by packing the Kotel plaza with their followers whenever WOW members appear for their services.
• The Israeli Cabinet’s approval July 7 of a draft to abolish exemptions to military service threatens an unprecedented showdown between religious and secular communities in the Jewish state. Ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivot, religious women and Arab citizens of Israel have been exempted since Israeli independence in 1948. Two days after the draft’s approval, dozens of haredi men assaulted a haredi soldier in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim neighborhood. Two police officers called to the scene were also attacked. Some 30,000 haredi Jews protested the end of the exemptions outside a military recruitment center earlier this year.
• In this country, Orthodox and more progressive Jews have become increasingly polarized, unable (or unwilling) to talk to one another. They find it difficult, if not impossible, to cooperate and are frequently belligerent to the other side.
• Along those same lines, American Jews are finding it increasingly difficult to discuss one issue that should unite us all at some level: Israel. Even here, our political fault lines are spreading, making dialogue and debate all the more problematic.
As Rodney King once said, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Tisha B’av tests our capacity to do just that.
More than once, Jews have been accused of being, not one people — as we prefer to see ourselves — but several. If that’s true, then our future is bleak.
It was true when the Second Temple fell. We were a nation of Sadducees, Pharisees Zealots and Essenes. We couldn’t see eye to eye on anything. We split, and we were defeated.
Two thousand years later, could we be facing a similar fate, temple or no temple?
Tisha B’av shouldn’t be just a time to fast and to grieve; it should be a time to learn — from our mistakes.
Let’s be real. We Jews will never be of one mind about anything. We are religious and secular; conservative and liberal, hawkish and dovish. This will never change.
What can change — what must change — is our acceptance of one another, despite our differences.
Tisha B’av should be less about fasting and more about fence mending. Let it be a time for Jews of all varieties to come together. For the sake of our faith, for the sake of our common heritage and for the sake of our future, we should do no less.