If there is any day which best reflects the division between what we in Israel call “The State of Tel Aviv” and the city of Jerusalem, it is certainly Tisha B’Av — the 9th of Av. And while this schism has most relevance here in Israel, I would argue that the lessons behind it are applicable to Jews all over the globe.
In Jerusalem, the Kotel is filled with tens of thousands of people who have come to pray, thirsty and tired from the fast, often at the end of long walks despite the absence of quality leather footwear. Yet just to the west, in Tel Aviv, it is almost business as usual with hundreds of cafes and restaurants open for business and the beaches filled to capacity with little sign of change in the daily routine.
The question therefore must be asked: Why is this day a cause for such differing perspectives, and what is the lesson that can be taken specifically from that fact?
For even those who don’t keep Shabbat have a definite appreciation for the day and certainly have a high degree of respect for others who do observe. Most Israelis celebrate Shabbat in some way, either by lighting candles, gathering with family for a meal or at least choosing not to work. Similarly, on Yom Kippur, even those who don’t fast or go to synagogue have a basic understanding for the sanctity of the day and act differently in some way. The same is true for the Pesach seder, where the participation among Israelis is extremely high, even though a high number of those participants would describe themselves as anything but observant.
But for Tisha B’Av there is little to no feeling of communal togetherness — and perhaps this should be the greatest cause of mourning that can inspire us.
It is of course widely accepted that the main reason for the nature of sadness on Tisha B’Av is the destruction of the Temple. And herein lies the reality that for many Jews today the absence of a Temple is not only not a source of mourning, it might even be a source for celebration. Arguing that the practices in the Temple are outdated and even primitive, with the same passion that many are mourning, other Jews are deeply thankful that we have not returned to a time where sacrificial slaughter is the norm.
If I imagine for a minute a situation where the Muslim world would come together and allow the Jews to build a Third Temple, I am forced to admit that such an announcement would cause anything but Jewish unity.
Regardless of the fact that such a development would be nothing short of preposterous in today’s political climate, I am sure that we would have one group of Jews readily preparing to resume the ancient rites performed in the Temple, while another would see that as a call to start packing their bags for immediate departure from Israel.
And herein lies the real tragedy that every Jew should be able to mourn on this day.
Because, we certainly don’t always need to agree on everything — nor will we. There will always be differing viewpoints and there will be a multitude of approaches of how to practice our religion.
But the problem becomes when we fail to appreciate that diversity and when we are unable to recognize that even when a Jew thinks or acts differently, this shouldn’t be a source of disunity. Rather we must realize that our unity is based upon our ability to respect the rights of others to be different. For absent of that recognition and the understanding that we need to be more closely united, we certainly all have what to mourn.