ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION

In all probability, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews will be fasting this Sunday, as yet another Tisha B’Av is commemorated. It may very well be that the rabbinic sages who experienced and survived the horrors of the Temple in flames, would find it extremely hard to believe that the mourning over a destroyed Temple continues and perhaps in some cases has even intensified in some respects two thousand years after the calamity.

If the message of Tisha B’Av is to be truly understood and appreciated, it would seem to me that our focus as Jews not be in any way limited to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are other destructions that are not only worthy of notice, but actually cry out for our attention. Hopefully we will shed a tear for them as well.

The destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem was a two-time event. The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians occurred in the year 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the second Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 C.E. Since then, the Babylonians have not destroyed any Temples; since then, the Romans have not destroyed any Temples. Neither has any other nation, for that matter.

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and unfortunately, in some cases gone so far as to participate in, other destructions, however. Long before the destruction of the two Temples, and ever since the destruction of the two Temples, we have destroyed relationships. Intentionally or not, we have turned the priceless loyalty of friends into a worthless heap of ashes. Placing personal agenda over devotion, elevating ego over esteem, we have destroyed cherished friendships, close friendships. Our siddurim or prayer books don’t seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to the reconstructing Jerusalem and rebuilding the holy Temple. Yet, when it comes to reconstructing a relationship or rebuilding a friendship, those very same siddurim are ominously silent. How very sad!

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and, in some cases, gone so far as to participate in, the destruction of careers. One thing humans are quite adept at is character assassination. Sixty plus years ago, a lackluster senator from Wisconsin, aided and abetted by the press, as well as other media outlets, was catapulted to national fame as he fanned the flames of fear of the American people. A nation of “Chicken Littles” were caught up in a frenzy of this country being infiltrated by Communists. “We have to do something,” clucked the frightened fowl. And so, they put a kibosh on careers and ruined reputations. And yes, some whose lives were left in tatters even ended up committing suicide. Yet, lest one think that “Chicken Littles” have flown the coop, one would do well to consider the spate of sexual harassment charges that have been recently hurled. Who would ever have believed that there are secretaries who consensually misbehaved with their superiors, only to suddenly decide to take the moral high road after having been spurned and cast aside by those very same superiors as the appetites of those superiors are whetted by other women?

Speaking of suicides, did you know that suicide is the second ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age? Thanks to “cyber-bullying” otherwise known as using the internet to spread malicious gossip to ruin someone’s reputation, more and more of our youth are taking their own lives. Yet, parents from all social and economic strata refuse to even consider the possibility that their child is either in harms way as a potential victim, or is heaven forbid one of the perpetrators of such reprehensible behavior. Instead, time and energy are expended for the physical safety of the student, while the spiritual safety of that same student goes unnoticed.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem this Sunday, we would well to also mourn relationships and friendships we’ve destroyed, careers we’ve shattered and teenage suicides to which we sit by idly and do nothing.

IRRESPONSIBLE RESPONSES

The same Talmud that tells us that it was baseless hatred among Jews that brought ruin to the second Beit HaMikdash or second Temple in Jerusalem, also provides over a dozen other reasons that contributed toward the destruction that ultimately led to 2000 years of homelessness of our people. Despite remarkable and praiseworthy prescriptions and soundbites on the part of individual rabbis (HaRav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, was known to have said: If baseless hatred brought about destruction, then baseless love will bring about construction), it’s most unfortunate that the Talmud never addressed the topic of bringing an end to this two-thousand-year-old national wound that refuses to heal. However pompous and self-aggrandizing this may appear to be, I should like to do just that. Unless we as Jews are prepared to rectify the following conditions, the advent of Moshiach will remain as elusive as ever.

The other week at Se’udat Shlisheet, the third meal of the Shabbat, we took a look at five calamities that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz, a date seminal to the Tisha B’Av destruction. Among those catastrophes was that Apostomus burned a Torah scroll, and that an idol was placed in the Temple. I maintained that it was highly doubtful that this was the first time in our history, and neither was it the last time in our history, for such reprehensible acts to have occurred. What brought these calamities to the fore, I believe, was our response to these calamities – no one gave a damn. Not one of the five calamities seemed to faze us. That was the true calamity that led up to the destruction of the Temple. When Jews are blasé about events that ought to be of major concern, destructive forces that will quite likely decimate cannot be far behind. As of late, we have spent a great amount of time and a great amount of energy on Pew reports and other studies that raised red flags about our future as American Jews, only to wave those flags aside, lest they get in the way of our daily doings.

Earlier this month, a most controversial rabbinic figure met a most unusual death, as he immersed himself in a lake in Mexico in preparation for Shabbat. This controversial yet charismatic figure spent time in jail for kidnapping (he spirited a pre-Bar Mitzvah age child away from his insufficiently observant parents and brought him to Israel where he would be raised in a proper atmosphere under the tutelage of a G-d fearing family). He was a cult figure, where his followers living in a commune of sorts were following his dictates that governed dress code (facial features aside, the women could be easily mistaken for Muslims), behavior and lifestyle. His followers were being regularly visited and cited by Child Protective Services and he was in arrears of tax payments and other monetary obligations. Yet not only did the article reporting his death omit all these ugly details, it concluded with three Hebrew words: Yehi zichro baruch, May his memory be a blessing! When Jews choose to compartmentalize, where they focus solely on the ritual but overlook obligations toward civil law as is unfortunately the case in all too many cases, then the lessons of Tisha B’Av become misunderstood and totally irrelevant. To paraphrase the essayist and philosopher George Santyana: Those who fail to understand Tisha B’Av are condemned to repeat it.

In his book “Changing the Immutable,” Professor Marc B. Shapiro points out that there are Orthodox communities for whom history must be altered for it to be palatable. Put differently, they (certain Orthodox) can’t handle historical truth. That’s why there are coloring books for children that depict our forefather Abraham as though he belongs on the Lower East Side of New York in the 1940s. G-d forbid Abraham should be seen as a four thousand year old Iraqi! Perish the thought that we should realize that when Tisha B’Av did occur, there is a great likelihood that our ancestors physically resembled modern day Palestinians.

History happens. So too do events. At times, those events are a great source of shame. When we as a people react nonchalantly or gloss over them and pretend they didn’t happen, or rewrite history because we can’t deal with reality, we only serve to inhibit the advent of Moshiach, who will once and for all put Tisha B’Av behind us.

BLACKLISTING AND WHITEWASHING

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy, infamously known for exposing Communists – either real or perceived – who had infiltrated the Federal government, especially the State Department, would have been proud. He could now justify that he wasn’t the only one who blacklisted individuals by compiling lists. Based on an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News earlier this week, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has recently compiled a list of overseas (American) rabbis, whose authority they refuse to recognize when it comes to certifying the Jewishness of someone who wants to get married in Israel. Thanks to the efforts of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, another blacklist has been born.

Don’t get me wrong! Every rabbi has the right to accept or reject the authority of any other rabbi (hopefully for bona fide reasons). To create a list which effectively publicly besmirches a rabbi’s reputation however, is unacceptable. Had the blacklist been comprised of names of any and all Conservative and Reform Rabbis, the vast majority of American Jews would have dismissed the list as being par for the course, considering who is behind it, and would have relegated it to a matter of “boys will be boys.” But this list includes a number of Orthodox Rabbis as well, particularly those who espouse “a more open and inclusive Orthodoxy.”

I’m sure many will think that I’m overacting when I point out that the list reared its ugly head suspiciously close to the backlash of the brouhaha; created when Prime Minister Netanyahu had to cave into the pressures and demands of his Orthodox coalition and renege on an agreement that would have afforded a “mechitza-free” davening area at the Kotel or Western Wall in Jerusalem. Meetings between American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials were suddenly canceled, as American Jews reacted angrily to the chicanery and began to rethink how their donations to Federation and other Jewish umbrella organizations ought to be earmarked.

Timing is everything. One would do well to speculate whether in their haste, those responsible for publishing names failed to realize that the list would surface painfully close to the beginning of the three-week period preceding the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – a destruction that came about because of gratuitous acrimony among Jews. On the other hand, others might argue that those responsible for the surfacing of the blacklist knew exactly what they were doing! Either way, sinat chinam – baseless hatred – reduced the Temple to a pile of rubble, ultimately resulting in two thousand years of homelessness for our people.  And this becomes more real and poignant because of the blacklist surfacing when it does.

Personally, I have no idea whether are not I am also on the blacklist. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. I am much too concerned about a different list. It’s a list (not for publication purposes) that is compiled by HaShem. In a little over two months, HaShem will be scrutinizing that list. I’m not worried that I am blacklisted; I am concerned – it is my hope and prayer that I, along with my reputation, will be whitewashed. When it comes to lists, the heavenly list is the only one that ultimately counts. It would greatly benefit others to realize this as well.