For these I cry: My eyes drip water, because there is nobody nearby to comfort me, to restore my soul to me, my children are lost and abandoned, because the enemy has become strong and brave.” — Lamentations, 1:16.
On Friday, blood was shed on the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism. This blood came during the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, first, by the Babylonians, and then, by the Romans.
The three weeks culminate on the 9th of Av, when Jews around the world gather to read Jeremiah’s cry to God:
God: Look and see who you have abused in this way — if women shall eat their fruit, those they pampered, if, in the Temple of God, a priest and a prophet shall be killed.” — Lamentations 2:20
This year, bloodshed on the Temple Mount, which we mourn on the 9th of Av, has indeed come to pass, during the time period we associate with actions leading up to the Temple’s destruction.
How is there a single religious soul in Israel who is not trembling?
The plain meaning of the text is very clear: the Babylonian’s cruelty knew no bounds. They would violate even the sacred spaces of the enemy in their murderous rampage. This ran contrary to ancient near eastern custom, where the taboo against killing in holy spaces was so strong that criminals would run to the altar to avoid execution, since, once they touched the altar, nobody could touch them. The tradition of not killing people in places of worship has remained a convention of war throughout millennia.
The plain meaning of Friday’s attack is also clear. The terrorists knew no bounds in their zeal to murder Jews, violating their own holy space with blood in order to do so. Of course, they wound up killing Druze, who gave their lives to protect the Jewish state, an act for which every Jewish citizen must be profoundly grateful.
But Rashi connects the story of a prophet and priest being killed with the story of Jewish authorities choosing to murder the prophet Zachariah because of his criticism of Jewish society. In Rashi’s version of events, although the Jewish people did not directly cause the Babylonian cruelty — indeed, only the Babylonians, as human beings with freedom of choice, can take full responsibility for that — the sin of the Babylonians against the Jewish people is connected, in a cosmic way, to the sins of the Jewish people, in a way that is very much “measure for measure”.
So when we look at yesterday’s events, we must ask ourselves, what is the deeper level of the “text”? What is the “Rashi”?
As a left-wing Jew, my instinct is to jump to theories of power imbalances and crime and poverty in Umm-el-Fahm, or to muse about ways that Israel, although not the primary aggressor, could take actions to try to alleviate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I could draw a parallel between killing an ancient prophet for his social criticism, and between hateful language towards the left-wing today because of their criticism of the occupation.
But that’s not what this is about. I want to raise this question for everyone, and I think we should challenge ourselves to listen, and not just to jump to the most obvious answers.
In rabbinic lore, the First Temple was destroyed due to idol worship, which in turn was a conduit for sexual immorality and violence. The Second Temple was destroyed due to lack of respect in Jewish society — “sinat chinam,” which literally translates as “free (i.e., baseless) hatred.”
If idol worship is about substituting an I-Thou relationship between the human and the Divine, with an I-It relationship, in which the idol is a mere object meant to serve human needs, something similar can be said of sexual immorality and violence, which treat human beings –created in the image of God — as “It”s instead of “Thou”s. This substitution, of an It for a Thou, can be seen as the root of baseless hatred as well.
To me, it seems very clear that, today, Israeli society is rife with “I-It” relationships, both within Israeli society and, I believe, towards Palestinian society as well. But until we are able to have an I-Thou relationship among ourselves, we will not be able to have an I-Thou relationship with the Other side.
Of course, this means actually listening — especially to those we disagree with, and being open-minded enough to challenge our own orthodoxies. And, it means, in the tradition of a “fast of words” that many people undertake on the 9th of Av, knowing when to stay silent to make room for the Other.
This is a challenging task, but if we have reclaimed swamps and revived the Hebrew language, surely we can succeed at learning how to respect each other?
Return to us God, and we will return to You: Renew our days as of old.” — Lamentations 5:21