Tisha B’Av — a holiday for victims, not for modern Jews
By Gary Rotto
SAN DIEGO — In years past, I’ve rejected the commemoration of Tisha B’av. Over time, the legend of what an awful day this is for the Jewish people has growth. It’s become the Friday the 13th of Friday the 13ths – except for the fact that I don’t believe in Friday the 13th either.
So the 9th of Av has become associated with …
- The destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple built by King Solomon and the beginning of the Babylonian exile.
- The destruction by the Romans of The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah
- The panic of the Jewish people upon hearing the negative report from 10 of the 12 spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan
- The crushing of Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the Romans
- The plowing of the site of the Temple and the surrounding area by Turnus Rufus following the Roman siege of Jerusalem
- The beginning of the First Crusade as declared by Pope Urban II
- The expulsion from England
- The expulsion from Spain
- Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.
- The destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto
It’s enough to make the Jewish community hide under the covers and not venture out on this day.
I just don’t buy it that every tragedy known to our people happened on this day. To me, it is not only farfetched but also a way of continuing the mindset of a victim. It took 40 years for the Israelites to overcome the slave mentality and become worthy of being an independent people in a new land. It is long past time for us to overcome our victim mentality and realize that we have entered a new land – whether that be physically in Israel or sociologically and philosophically in the modern world.
Rabbi Yael Ridberg of Congregation Dor Hadash recent spoke of how we then to treat our victimization as a personal pet. “Oh, here is little Victimization, my pet. It’s mine and I live with it. Would you like to pet victimization?” Her point is that we can become too proud of being victims and hold this concept as too dear.
We are a resilient, modern people, who fought for and have seen the restoration of our own country in the ancient land of our fathers and mothers. It’s time to stop thinking as slaves to our tragedies and rather live as strong people.
Arguably, the Temple fell because of two trends: the corruption of the Temple priests and the emerging divisions within our people as an outgrowth of this rampant corruption. Since our tradition says that I’m a Cohen, a descendent of this priestly clan, I am ashamed of this corruption and its results. But with the destruction of the Temple, we had to think about how to maintain our peoplehood and the core values for which we stood. Out of this tragedy came the opportunity to reject the cult of animal sacrifice and allowed our people to move into a more modern form of understanding our relationship with the divine and an become more responsible and responsive in our actions. If not for the destruction of the Temple, we would not have Rabbinic Judaism.
One of Rabbi Ridberg’s former congregants at the West End Synagogue in New York penned a brilliant poem about this day. The work by Bill Mehlman reads in part:
In Babylon began a remarkable creative process
that strengthened Judaism
its religion and culture
and had a lasting effect
Upon the lives of the Jewish people;
A transition to the form and content
a pattern for Jewish life.
Because of the destruction
Of both Temples
Judaism has not only survived,
It has grown in strength
In cultural affairs.
I am not torn apart or fearful of this day. I am reminded that Judaism become more relevant in a modern world, more approachable to the common Jew in that anyone could study and become so learned as to become a Rabbi .
So I would assert that we should use this day to commemorate the modern beginnings of our religion and the achievement of our people to allow our value system to survive into modern times.
Rotto is a freelance writer based in San Diego. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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