Torah Thursday: Tisha B’av. Fighting against bloodshed and hatred.

This past week, Jews all over the world commemorated the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day which marks the destruction of Temple of Solomon in 586 BCE, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and a host of other tragedies that the Jewish people have experienced.

In the Babylonian Talmud (the Oral Torah), Tractate Yoma 9b, the Rabbis tried to make sense of the destruction of the Holy Temples. They start with the first one:

Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed.

The explanation for the destruction of the Second Temple is probably the most well-known part of this passage, but I want to start by focusing in on the third of these cardinal sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple, bloodshed. The Rabbis explain:

Bloodshed [prevailed] as it is written: Moreover Manaseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another. They were wicked, but they placed their trust in the Holy One, blessed be He.

When the Rabbis wish to explain how bloodshed led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, they specify that the bloodshed in question was done by those who had faith in God.

Here, we see a theme that is all too familiar amongst modern-day supporters of the State of Israel: defenders often conflate the religious connection of the Jews to the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) with the modern State of Israel in order to justify their violent acts. Yet here in the Oral Torah we see that this sort of thinking is precisely what led to the destruction of the First Temple.

Their explanation for the destruction of the Second Temple is much better known:

But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.

Traditionally, this passage has been taken as a reference to the intense rivalry between the various Jewish sects that existed at the time of the Second Temple. And most of the commentary I saw this year seemed to follow this line of thinking, whether it be in the tensions over the Women of the Wall or over the campaigns for Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Notably absent from these op-eds is the intense hatred that anti-Zionist Jews experience from our fellow co-religionists on a regular basis. Personally, I have never experienced more anti-semitism than this past year, when I have been living under Israeli sovereignty. Whether being spit on for acknowledging the Nakba, being called a bigot for advocating for equal rights for Palestinians, or being called a “kike” for saying that African refugees ought not to be beaten up by a racist mob, there seems to be a special hatred reserved in the hearts of many Zionists for Jews willing to stand up against their racism.

This zealous Zionist-nationalism that predominates the mainstream Jewish community creates exactly the sorts of divisions that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. Rather than allow for a politically diverse religious communities, our synagogues and major NGOs seemingly prefer to rally around one specific political agenda. (A move that is disturbingly similar to the logic of the Jewish Question).

Reading this passage, however, there is no indication that “hatred without cause” is limited to hatred within the Jewish community. And, of course, what is racism if not baseless hatred?

This year, thinking about Tisha B’av, I am reminded of just how much hatred without cause is perpetrated by members and so-called leaders of our community. I am reminded of the physical attacks and government repression against African refugees, the most vulnerable members of society. I am reminded of a depressingly long and consistent pattern of violence by settler-colonists in the West Bank against their neighbors, and of the Israeli military authorities that do nothing to prevent such violence. I am reminded of Israel’s plans to continue the ethnic cleansing that it began in the Nakba in 1948, with the Prawer Plan, which will forcibly displace some 70,000 Bedouin citizens. And, of course, I am reminded of the constant stories of racism that mark both the Israeli state policy and the actions of too many of its citizens.

I am reminded of all of this and more and it is difficult not to feel that we are further than ever from healing the pains of Tisha B’av.

Thankfully, the struggle goes on. Ilana Prusher at Haaretz covers some of the efforts within Israel to mark Tisha Ba’av by highlighting and fighting the racism and apartheid perpetrated by the state. And Jews in the United States are organizing to renew our religious institutions, purging them of their corrupt politics, and fighting – in the name of our Judaism – against the bloodshed and hatred that mark the State of Israel.

God willing, next year these efforts will work their way into the mainstream and we can provoke the sorts of difficult conversations that need to happen within our community.


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