Thoughts on Tisha b’Av 5780
Today is a significant date on the Jewish calendar. The ninth of the month of Av (in Hebrew Tisha b’Av) is a day on which we remember calamities in our history and in world history.- Destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem – 586 BCE- Destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans – 70 CE-Expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290- Last day on which a Jew could be in Spain in 1492 (and not coincidentally in my opinion) the day that Columbus embarked on his first voyage.`- The start of WWI (The dates on the Gregorian calendar we use are different, of course – the Jewish calendar is primarily lunar with a cycle to correct for the seasons and the solar year)
Traditional Jews observe this as a sunset to sunset fast (I stopped that some time ago). It is a day to remember the dark side of our history. Now my tendency is to agree with Jewish historian Salo Baron whose approach was to avoid what he called a lachrymose vision of our history.
Our tradition says that the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem was punishment for sins. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed because society had become corrupted by the sins of bloodshed, sexual immorality, and idolatry. Jewish law says one should die rather than commit these sins. That gives us the origin of the idea of martyrdom starting during the Hasmonean Revolt (remembered on Hanukkah).
The Second Temple was destroyed because society had become corrupted by baseless hatred. Bigotry is one form of baseless hatred, but there are others. Hatred based on politics and on religion are also included. Personal animus is also included. Here is a story illustrating that.
In those days in Jerusalem there was a wealthy man who had a friend by the name of Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza (son of Kamtza). One day the rich man decided to hold a banquet for himself and his friends. He sent a servant with a list of invited guests telling him to go to each of their homes to extend the invitation for that evening. The servant mistakenly went to the house of Bar Kamtza to extend that invitation and Bar Kamtza, thinking the rich man sought reconciliation, went to the rich man’s house at the appointed hour. Immediately the host demanded this unwanted guest should leave. Bar Kamtza did not want to be embarrassed by being sent away. He offered to pay for his dinner and even offered to pay for the entire banquet. He was sent away. Bar Kamtza was now angry at being shamed so he planned his revenge based on the rich man’s close association with the Roman occupiers. He stole into the place in the Temple where the sheep to be sacrificed were kept. He found the sheep that was to be dedicated to the Emperor that day (this was done every day during the Roman occupation). He clipped off part of that5 sheep’s ear making him invalid for sacrifice. When there was no offering on behalf of the emperor that day it was considered by the Romans an act of rebellion. That is how the revolt of 66-70 started with the resulting destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This calamity occurred first because of the baseless hatred of that rich man and because the priests insisted on following the rules rather than bending them so that the offering for the Emperor could take place.
(I should mention that my masters thesis was a study of the rabbinic literature about the destruction of the Temple, but this is a well-known story)
Today I read Walter Williams’ column in T-N. It was his usual argument about racism not being the source of problems with police with his usual questionable use of statistics. At the end of the essay he wrote, “Destruction of symbols of American history might help relieve the frustrations of all those white college students and their professors frustrated by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Problems that black people face give white leftists cover for their anti-American agenda.”
Here he reveals nothing but hatred for those opposed to Trump and to his views. This is, in my view, an example of baseless hatred. To specify “white students” is a racist statement. There are obvkiously many Black Americans involved. To call protesters anti-American is plainly an expression of hatred and, I will say, not at all deserved.
Last night (last night Tisha b’Av had begun) I watched an episode of HBO’s dramatization of a Philip Roth book “The Plot Against America.” In that alternate history Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 election and makes Hitler an ally of this country. (Lindbergh’s party was called “America First”) One of the main characters in the story is Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf. The rabbi believes Jews need to assimilate in order to be accepted by Amercans and thus end anti-Semitism. Lindbergh uses him to “resettle” Jews in small isolated towns. I think he was partly based on Rabbi Elmer Berger founder of an anti-Zionist organization which also called for assimilationism. It is in that spirit that I think I understand Black thinkers like Williams.. They believe the solution to their troubles is in denial of Black identity and assimilation. I get that. The history of my people tells me that will not end racism. It certsainly has not ended anti-Semitism even though most of us in this country are white.
Also today I watched John Lewis’ funeral. I was most movede by the eulogy delivered by James Lawson, a man I knew as national chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (a multi-faith peace and rights organization I have belonged to since 1967). In twenty minutes he spoke of the positive strength o0f nonviolent direct action. Much of what he said is in accord with my thinking and beliefs. Political parties and ideologies are irrelevant under that mind-set. Here is a link if you will invest 20 minutes to hear him.
“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
It was a beautiful ceremony for Rep. John Lewis today. And from your blog post a most appropriate day on which to hear it. What struck me the most was the forward thinking resolve, that we are very much still in progress making, ensuring, restoring and/or expanding the freedoms and rights he fought for.