This Sunday we will observe the fast of Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the lunar month of Av, on which we commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. I have no doubt, especially this year, that you will be inundated with various messages concerning this day, the tradition that “the Temple was destroyed because of Sin’at Chinam (gratuitous hatred among Jews),” and, with the Iran nuclear deal on the table, messages bemoaning the threat of destruction – once again – that our beloved Jewish State faces in these difficult times.
Allow me to take a slightly different approach.
An Orthodox friend of mine tells me that Tisha B’Av has become meaningless to him because crying for a destroyed Temple suggests that we are a powerless people when, in fact, it is the political choice of a powerful modern Jewish state not to rebuild the Temple. Many of us – me included – have no burning desire to restore the Temple or animal sacrifices, even as we say “Next year in Jerusalem” at our Passover Seders.
Tisha B’Av today has become but one more point of interpretive and ideological division amongst the Jewish people.
So rather than push upon you the tropes of Sin’at Chinam and an empowered Jewish commonwealth, let us seize this moment to confront the difficulty before us:
I find that legitimate divisions and debates over the Iran deal are too frequently being manipulated in a greater effort to advance agendas about who is, or is not, in our communal tent. Rather than assess a significant international agreement for what it is, for its potential success and for its flaws, too many people are looking at it as a Rorschach for whether you meet some pre-defined notion of what it means to be “pro-Israel.”
I find that for too many of us, we came to this discussion with predetermined political positions, without curiosity about why others aren’t where we are – pro or con – what their concerns are, and what makes them so certain of their positions.
Whatever the outcome of the debate is in the coming weeks, I fear that we’re doing lasting damage to our sense of being a Jewish community. We’re exacerbating the difficulties amongst ourselves, and come September 18th or thereabouts we’ll be left to pick up the pieces or – even worse – no longer even trying to do so.
I don’t seek to stifle this important debate. I too come to it with some ideas about where I and JCRC stand (and where we are not yet standing). But I want to challenge myself and all of us to come to this debate with some burning overarching principles:
- Can each of us, in every moment, practice an open-hearted curiosity toward each other; and seek to understand each others’ fears and hopes, our concerns and questions, resisting the impulse to persuade or convince but rather to just understand and perceive?
- Can each of us challenge ourselves to debate “for the sake of heaven” taking care not to create unbridgeable rifts? Can we say “how can I share my point of view with this person without judging them, without conveying that their perspective is an imperfect Zionism, a lesser form of loyalty to the Jewish people?
- As important as the outcome of this debate is, can we commit ourselves to be One People the day after it is concluded?
For me, the most inspiring vision of the Temple era comes from the Midrash, our own national “mythology.” It tells us that despite its physical limitations of space, the Temple Mount mystically expanded its space to accommodate all of the people of Israel who came from our disparate communities and tribes to celebrate the high festivals together.
If we can commit to these things together, if we can hold each other accountable to this intention, to truly engage this debate with open-hearted curiosity toward each other, then we can accomplish something together on this Tisha B’Av. We can yearn for and work to restore an idea of a Temple experience: To be an expansive people, creating space, wide open and welcoming for us all, wherever we are right now, in this moment, in this difficult time.
Our survival – as a people and as a nation– depends far more on how we treat each other than it does on any agreement, any deal, and the protection of any ally.