Ignorance, Diversity and the Message of Tisha B’Av

On the eve of what is arguably the saddest day of the year, there are no shortage of suggestions being hurled about as to what one should think about to make the sombreness of the day more palpable. For me the answer is clear — the intellectual tragedy of my generation which is the modern-day embodiment of the very same mindset which led to the Temple’s destruction nearly 2,000 years ago. It’s the mindset which blocks out dissenting voices and shuts down debate because it cannot tolerate the possibility of looking at a particular issue in a new way. I was always taught however, that the Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. What could possibly be the connection between the anti-intellectualism of today’s millennials and the grave sin of hating without cause?

Today I lost a friend. It wasn’t the first time either, and I doubt it will be the last. No, not a real friend, and no, not ‘lost’ in the dying sense. A Facebook friend posted something which I found ideologically disturbing — the post suggested that words can be as violent as actions, thus insinuating that hurtful words should be met with physical violence. Amongst the confirmation bias being handed out like candy by her other like-minded millennial Facebook friends, I decided to throw in my two cents, acting as a source of balance in what I felt was a one-sided post. Before I knew it, my posts were removed and I was deleted as a friend. Now I won’t be weeping over this loss of a virtual friend (though admittedly she was a frequent acquaintance from overseas who I always had very pleasant interactions with, and it’s kind of upsetting that future interactions may be soured because of this). What I will be weeping over however, is the fact that she, and so many others, cannot learn to love/like/get along with people with whom they disagree.

In the last century, society has made tremendous strides in its acceptance of diverse groups of people, and most liberals would pride themselves over said acceptance. This extends to diversity of race, religion, socio-economic background and other in-vogue categories. The one diversity though which people, left and right, seem unable to embrace, is intellectual diversity. What should be the foundation and paragon of all diversity is squandered and silenced by a radical generation incapable of hearing differing perspectives.

And what of our holy Temple? How does this intolerance have anything to do with the baseless hatred over which we are told the Temple was destroyed? I want to suggest a bit of a novel reading, albeit far from radical, of the tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, the story used by the Talmud to epitomise the sin of Sinat Chinam. Cliff’s Notes summary for those who aren’t familiar with the story: a man throws a party, intends to invite his friend Kamtza, but his enemy Bar Kamtza is invited instead. Unable to tolerate his presence at the party, the host orders Bar Kamtza thrown out. After failed negotiations to avoid embarrassment, Bar Kamtza is thrown out without any protest from the Rabbis who were present. As an act of revenge, he convinces Caesar that the Jews have rebelled and Jerusalem is destroyed. The initial act of baseless hatred in this story is the host’s hatred for his enemy, Bar Kamtza. What’s often ignored however, is all the speculation that one could have regarding the origin of the rivalry. Maybe Bar Kamtza cheated the host in business. Perhaps they had an argument. Or maybe it was the host who had started it by hurling an insult at Bar Kamtza. Whatever the case, the Talmud seems wholly uninterested in the backstory, not because baseless hatred requires there to be no back story, but precisely because baseless hatred could have said to be extant even if there is a backstory. Essentially, the host (and perhaps Bar Kamtza as well) was unable to love/like/get along with someone with whom he deeply disagreed. He could not learn to hold on to the disagreement whilst still maintaining a functioning relationship with the other party.

This is precisely the problem that underscored my loss of a friend today, and it is a phenomenon that is all too common amongst my peers. The rebuilding of the temple will only come through baseless love, but maybe that doesn’t mean the fake and forced, politically correct, everyone agrees and loves each other ideology that some would have us embrace. Maybe baseless love means just that — I have no basis to love you, I find your ideas repulsive and your language hurtful, but hey, you’re a human being, and so long as you are not attempting to physically harm me, and so long as you are fighting for opinions that you think are genuinely for the betterment of the world, I can love and respect you. The only way we get to throw out our Kinot (lamenting prayers) books this year is if we learn to get along — not just even, but especially with those with whom we disagree.

About the Author
David is originally from Sydney, Australia and moved to Israel eight years ago. He completed the Hesder program at Yeshivat Sha'alvim and served as a commander in the IDF's education corps, teaching in the framework of the 'Nativ' program for soldiers in the process of conversion to Judaism. He currently resides in Yerushalayim and is in his final year of a BA in History whilst simultaneously undertaking rabbinic studies.
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