I was once asked by a student what is it that unites all Jews. I could not respond that it was our Torah or our religion because, sadly, they do not unite all Jews. In fact, they are neither studied nor practiced by millions of non-observing Jews. Jews have always been divided in their religious affiliations from earliest times…. Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots in Temple times; Hasidim and Mitnagdim in medieval times, and Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanist, Modern Orthodox, and haredi Orthodox in our present time.
No. It is not the Jewish religion that unites the Jewish people. Rather, it is Jewish history which is the common denominator among every Jew in the world. We all have the same holidays, observed or not observed. We all recall the Antiochus of Chanukah and the Haman of Purim. We all recall the slavery of the Israelites in Pharaohonic Egypt and their freedom from bondage led by Moses in approximately the year 1290 BCE.
We recall the Inquisition in Spain with its tortures and forced conversions led by Tomas Cardinal Torquemada which led to the mass exodus of Jews from Spain in 1492.
We remember the bloody pogrom of Bogdan Chmielnicki and his Cossacks in 1632. And we are bound in sacred memory to the victims of the Shoah, the Holocaust which took place in Christian Europe in our lifetime.
We are united by a common historical bond whether we practice Ashkenazic or Sephardic rituals Our history, more than our religious practices, have preserved us as a people for three thousand years.
This week, the calendar reminds us of Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, when either by coincidence or purpose our two holy temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and our peopled scattered across the globe.
Sennacherib of Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BCE and ended the existence of ten of our tribes. They were marched off to Assyria, never to be seen or heard from again.
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered the southern kingdom of Judah in 576 BCE, ransacked the Holy Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem on the ninth day of Av and took most of our people into a captivity that lasted for fifty years.
We were united by a common hope: “If I forget thee, o Jerusalem, may I forget my right hand; may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember Jerusalem; if I do not elevate Jerusalem up above all my joys”. It was the dream and hope of returning to our ancient land of Israel and to rebuild it.
And under the guidance of the prophets of exile, Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jewish religion was born. The synagogue was created to take the place of the Holy Temple. Prayers were introduced to replace sacrifices and burnt offerings. And Rabbis now took the place of the former Temple priests.
A religion was born out of exile which has united our people wherever they may be for thousands of years. A new temple was built by King Herod, not as glorious as the Solomonic Temple, but a home to the service of the One God
Many years later, on the same ninth day of Av,in the year 76CE the temple was looted, destroyed and burnt by the soldiers of the Roman Legion. Once again, our people were dispersed across the Roman empire and the countries of the Levant. But never did they forget the destruction of their holy temples and on the ninth of Av observant Jews mourn for the lost temples. They fast and they read from the book of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. They sit on the ground or on low benches, remove their shoes, and weep while remembering the glories of Jerusalem.
All of that is a past history which unites us as a people. And today, once again, we are threatened with destruction in Jerusalem and are denied the right to offer our prayers to God on His Holy Mount.. Har HaBayit… the mount where Abraham attempted to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice and the very spot where our Holy Temples once stood.
We are no longer confronted with Assyrians, Babylonians or Romans. We are now at war with the Muslim world whose golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque occupy the Haram-al-Sharif.
For Jews, the Temple Mount is the holiest place on earth. For Muslims, it is the third holiest place after Mecca and Medina.
Following the end of our victorious 1967 war, Moshe Dayan placed the Temple Mount in the hands of the elders of the Muslim Waqf. Guardianship was given to the royal Hashemite family of Jordan. They are responsible for the maintenance of the holy mosques. Israel has sovereignty to maintain peace and security on the mount where Jews are arrested if they attempt to bow, move their lips or show any signs of praying.
The last two weeks have been ones of crises. Protests by the tens of thousands of Jerusalem Muslims, rioting, shootings, stabbings and the murder of two Israeli policemen. When Israel erected metal detectors at the gates leading to the Mount in order to prevent anyone from smuggling weapons to be hidden in the mosques and used to murder Jews, Muslim worshippers en masse refused to walk through the detectors and instead they prayed on the streets of Jerusalem.
Ignoring the fact that all pilgrims to Mecca must walk through metal detectors, our Muslims refused to follow Israeli security measures. Under an agreement reached between Israel and the King of Jordan, Israel regrettably surrendered and showed its weakness by removing the metal detectors. Muslims can now freely walk up to the mount for their prayers. And weapons can be hid in the mosques to murder Jews.
It is a victory for the Arabs and a disgrace to Israeli authorities. Having surrendered to the Muslims because of a world-wide outcry, what will we surrender to them next?
Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of Av, is a time for every Jew, religious or non-religious, to remember the tragedies of the past centuries. Israelis must protest loudly and in great numbers to display their anger at our weak government. If we do not defend mother Jerusalem now, when? V’im lo achshav, aimatai?
Jerusalem must always remain only in the hands of the Jewish State of Israel. There can never be a compromise on our capital city. One day, let us wish that, the ninth of Av may become a day of hope and the fulfillment of the Zionist dream.
Im eshkachaich Yerushalayim….. if I forget thee, o Jerusalem…. God help us! Bibi and friends will not.