Pre 9 Av political advice from our sages

During the three weeks between the Fast of Tamuz and Tisha B’Av, the topic of the unrestrained hatred of other Jews (sinat khinam) should be carefully studied and talked about especially in Israel; for our sages say that both Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed because of Jewish sectarian extremist hatred (sinat khinam); like that which in our days killed Yitzchak Rabin.

Unpacking the deep meaning of the Jewish collective cardinal sin of sinat khinam should become pre-Tisha B’Av’s central theme because when one attaches to “hatred” the growing instances of racism, intolerance and ultra-nationalism in Israeli society today the danger of history repeating itself is growing.

People are often surprised to discover that among the many things the rabbis decided must not be done on Tisha B’Av is learning Torah because that is a very joyous activity. The day, is observed not just by fasting and abstention from other pleasures from showering to sex, but is so sad that people are advised to deny themselves the joy of learning scripture.

In the generation after the massive failure of the Bar Kokhvah rebellion against the Roman Empire, the sages of Israel carried out a sustained campaign against Hanukah with the intent of demilitarizing and emasculating Hanukkah and turning it from a celebration of military victories and political successes; into a spiritual tribute to the ability of faith and trust in God to deliver Israel from danger.

The sages eliminated the feast of Nikanor´s Day, which for several centuries celebrated Judah Maccabee´s killing of a Syrian Greek general named Nikanor, in direct hand to hand combat (j. Ta’anit 2:12; b. Ta’anit 18b): because the Rabbis decided that the Fast of Queen Esther mentioned in book of Esther took place on the same day as Judah Maccabbee’s victory; and since it is impossible to observe a feast and a fast on the same day Queen Esther´s piety squelched Judah Maccabees´s military prowess.

This was an example of the rabbinic attempt to demilitarize the extremists within the People of Israel.

The Talmud (Shabbat 119b) relates that Rabbi Hanina said, “Jerusalem was destroyed only because its inhabitants did not reprove one another. Israel in that generation kept their faces looking down to the ground and did not reprove one another.” Rabbi Hanina doesn’t mention any one specific action that was so reprehensible that it doomed the city.

Perhaps it was something like the decision of some ultra-Orthodox Rabbis to declare null and void the conversions of thousands of Jews, by proclaiming the radical innovation of ‘retroactive annulment’ of thousand of orthodox conversions that took place in Israel in previous years.

The sad fact is that most other Rabbis in Israel kept their faces looking down to the ground and did not reprove publicly these Machmir zealots who were violating the Torah’s commandments to both love converts and not in any way oppress them.

We need to vaccinate all religious Jews against the terrible sin of “unrestrained hatred, a sin as powerful an evil as idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed combined!” which doomed the Second Temple although “at that time people were involved in study, mitzvot, and deeds of kindness” (Eikhah Rabbah 1:33).

So our sages decreed that a special blessing be said whenever we see a large population of Jews, who because of their great numbers must include more sects of Jews than we ourselves would normally associate with: “Blessed is the Sage of Esoterica, for the opinion of each (Jew) is different from the other, just as the face of each (Jew) is different from the other.” (Berakhot 58a)

The problem was not that Jews differed with each other. The problem was that some of them hated each other with a hatred that was unrestrained by their teachers; and unfettered by the leaders who were close to them. Although it was to late to save Jerusalem and its Holy Temple, our sages learned a very important lesson from that bitter experience.

This lesson needs to be relearned by all Jewish political and religious leaders today, so that Jerusalem will not again be destroyed.

As “Rabbi Yohanan said: ‘Jerusalem was only destroyed, because they judged by Din Torah (rigorous/strict Law). Should they have judged by the brutal (Roman) laws?–(no,) but they judged by strict law, and did not go Lifnim miShurat haDin (beyond the line/letter of the law). (Bava Mezia 30b).

Strict halakah and narrow minded zeal easily lead to anger and hate, which unfettered and unrestrained lead to disaster. It is not surprising that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai openly criticizes the failure to judge people with understanding, flexibility and loving tolerance. He was the only Rabbi in the Talmud to openly declare a Torah commandment (sotah), suspended due to changed circumstances.

Can today’s religious Jews avoid the ‘unrestrained hatred’ resulting from the strict, uncompromising, overly self-righteous, intolerance of many of the parties that doomed Jerusalem because we say a special blessing when we see a very large population of Jews, who because of their great numbers must include more sects of Jews than we ourselves usually associate with: “Blessed is the Sage of Esoterica, for the opinion of each (Jew) is different from the other, just as the face of each (Jew) is different from the other.”? (Berakhot 58a)

If so, then we may also see someday: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-5)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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