Missing the point of Tisha B’Av

Over Shabbat, I came across two very distressing sets of comments.

The first was published in Haaretz’s Opinion & Comment section (B4, July 27, 2012). In the piece, titled “Tishah B’Av as the Jewish Nakba,” Steven Klein equated the millennia-old Jewish day of mourning to the fledgling idea of a Palestinian day of mourning over the creation of the Jewish State of Israel. He concludes seemingly logically that today, one must, in the name of consistency, “welcome Nakba Day without fear by engaging Palestinians in dialogue about memory, destruction, and repentance.”

The second set of comments was made by a friend of mine. She remarked that Tishah B’Av has only marginal meaning in this day and age wherein we have a state and wherein (she claimed) we no longer aspire to a Jewish Temple on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Both Klein and my friend entirely miss the point of this important day in the Jewish calendar.

If Klein believes that the existence of any coincidental similarities in the narratives of the Jews and the Palestinians are grounds for drawing the conclusion that Tisha B’Av and Nakba day are similar he should, before he declares them morally equal, revisit the goals and meanings of both and should explore the ways in which their respective peoples commemorate these fateful days.

My friend points to the State of Israel as justification for the lack of need for a day of mourning. However, Tisha B’Av is not solely about wailing, “Woe unto us, we had two temples and now we have none.” The existence of our state for the Jews burdens us with enormous responsibility as a nation vis-à-vis those in our country, vis-à-vis  those peoples who live around us and vis-à-vis other nations around the world.

The purpose of Tisha B’Av is not to make things better externally; it is a time for introspection. Tisha B’Av  is an opportunity to take stock of internal divisions (think: baseless hatred, social injustice and the like). With Israel still threatened by external enemies, it is high time that we found ourselves awaking to the threats we face from within, as enormous elements in our society fail to shoulder the burden of making Israel a more perfect nation. For that introspection on a national level, Tisha B’Av is essential.

Klein highlights seemingly common ground by focusing on injustice that both peoples have suffered. Yet the expression of the Palestinian people’s grief is neither an annual, national self-reflection nor the establishment of an annual ceremony of mourning (let alone a state); it is violent protest and rioting. Moreover, even if the Palestinians re-defined completely their commemoration of Nakba Day, the day on which we re-established our homeland, the State of Israel, in the Land of Israel, will for us always be an epic day of momentous jubilee. Our recognition of their grief, even if it is completely legitimate, cannot negate that.

Ironically, both Klein and my friend have advanced degrees from Israeli institutions in conflict resolution. Seeking to resolve conflict is good. Doing so without fully taking stock of what is going on within our society is however at best futile, at worst harmful and misleading. The narratives of Tisha B’Av and Nakba Day are fundamentally dissimilar and incompatible and the former is essential to the maintenance of the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

About the Author
The author is a co-founder of Cantor-Fogel, a Jerusalem based, strategic policy planning and government relations firm. He has dual US-Israeli citizenship, served with distinction in the IDF and after graduation from the University of Maryland, College Park, he earned a MA in Public Policy and Administration, with honors, at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya. He can be reached at Daniel@Cantor-Fogel.com. The views expressed herein are his alone.