This is more than just a post Tisha B’av musing. It goes to the heart of the problem Jews have always faced both from without and within.

       And so I ask: What does the Lebanese Olympic Judo team have in common with the Siyum Hashas scheduled for Wednesday evening this week? Not much, at least on the surface. However, scratch that surface ever so lightly and the same old pattern of baseless hatred emerges.  Last Friday at the ExCel Olympic Center in London the coach of the Lebanese Judo team insisted that he would not allow his Judo Olympians to practice in the same site as the Israeli Judo Olympic team, especially within sight of one another. The British hosts succumbed to this baseless folly and erected a makeshift barrier, a mechitza to keep the two teams apart. Lebanon is by default controlled by Hezbollah loosely translated as The Party of god. No surprise that they take a ridiculously rigid position vis a vis Israel. And so the baseless hatred from these Olympians who are supposed to be above politics reverts to the political position of hatred meant to endear them to their fanatic religious handlers at home.

          Every seven and a half years those Talmudic stalwarts who learn a daf a day or one full page of the Talmud and complete a cycle of all the Tractates observe a siyum hashas or a celebration of completion of the six orders of the Talmud. In the United States this year the event is being held at the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, a venue with close to 90,000 seats. Seven and a half years ago the siyum was held at Madison Square Garden with only about 15,000 seats. It was considered perhaps the greatest show of Torah dedication of its time and was a true Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of G-d’s name. This year every one of those 65,000 seats at Metlife Stadium has been sold and this event promises to be an even greater sanctification of the name. But, then there were the others. According to a report in The Yeshiva World News the Vishnitzer Rov of Monsey has pulled out from the event because he refuses to be on the same Dias as “Zionist Rabbis.” I was taught that the Torah is and should be above politics. For Olympian sports participants perhaps the ethics of gamesmanship and camaraderie may not apply however, they must apply to those who follow the ethics and morals of the Torah, shouldn’t they? Apparently they do not apply for this particular religious Torah event.

            As I read the Kinos, Lamentations, this morning I could not help but wonder why this is happening.  We are taught from a young age that there are 70 ways to approach and acquire the Torah. The story of the Destruction of the Temple occurred according to the Rabbis because of stories of baseless hatred as is evident in the primary one the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza saga. I can understand the anger and hatred that Hezbollah has for Jews and Israelis from a religio-political perspective. Their national and religious tale requires the vilification of the Zionists. How can the same be said of a beloved Rabbi of a large Hassidic sect?

           Some will attempt to explain the issue of the Vishnitzer withdrawing from the siyum hashas as both a political one and a religious one as well. For some chareidim if the government of the State of Israel is not as stridently observant as they see themselves to be they will not accept the position of the government. For these chareidim Zionism is a movement that they see as negating their interpretation of the religion.  I reject that argument in this case as the “Zionist” rabbis invited to the dais at the siyum are well known, religiously observant, learned individuals who are both accepted and revered as leaders.  

       There may be a social-psychological approach to assist with understanding the disdain that could explain both the Lebanese teams’ negativity and the withdrawal of the Vishnitzer Rov from the siyum hashas. There is a process that is used by both individuals and groups against other individuals and groups to project or displace feelings of animosity and frustration to direct blame at the other. This process – scapegoating – is often used to characterize an entire group based on the behaviors of a few individuals said to represent the group.  Jews have always been scapegoated and I expect this form of behavior from certain classically anti-Semitic parties. Groups within have also done their best to scapegoat other groups. While it is not in my power to change the world I would just like to point out the message that Tisha B’av should hold – that baseless hatred, scapegoating destroyed us more than once it is time that it stop.

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