Tisha B’Av is arguably the greatest calamity which ever befell the Jewish people. In my opinion, it is a greater calamity even than the Shoah. On Yom Hashoah, the nation mourns the six million murdered by the Nazis in one of the darkest periods of our — and humanity’s — history. But the Holocaust would not have happened if we had not been sent into Exile by the Romans, following the destruction of the Second Temple.
On Tisha B’Av, we lost not only the cornerstone of our religious grounding, the epicenter of our religion, but the heart of our existence as a people, a nation. We were exiled, forced to wander for over 2,000 years, as a homeless, defenseless people, living by the grace of our grudging and reluctant hosts, or dying when there was none. Yet, I will not fast on Tisha B’Av.
Some history: In 66 CE, the theft of vast quantities of silver from the Temple by Florus, the last Roman procurator, precipitated riots in Jerusalem, which was the opening salvo of the Great Jewish Revolt. This also led to the greatest catastrophe in Jewish life. It was the Zealots, anti-Roman rebels, who were active for more than six decades, who instigated the riots and led Great Revolt.
I don’t think you can say it all started when Caligula declared himself a deity, ordering that his statue be erected in every temple in the empire, which the Jews refused to obey — causing him to impose ever increasing oppressive measures on them, even threatening to destroy the Temple — because tensions had been building for a while, as a result of increasing confiscatory taxes imposed by the Romans.
We can say that anti-Roman feelings among the Jews were seriously exacerbated as a result of Caligula’s actions, and as they found themselves suffering increasing indignities, even the moderate Jews became more radicalized and willing to accept the Zealot leadership of the Revolt. During these spontaneous riots, which enjoyed the rare support of rivaling Jewish factions, the Jews wiped out the small Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem.
When the Romans sent more troops into Judea from neighboring Syria, they were met by Zealot insurgents in the Galilee, and they too were routed. This heartening victory that had a terrible consequence: Many Jews suddenly became convinced that they could defeat Rome, and the Zealots’ ranks grew geometrically. Never again, however, did the Jews achieve so decisive a victory.
The Romans sent in 60,000 elite troops, who crushed the Zealot revolt killing or enslaving 100,000 Jews. The Zealot rebels, who succeeded in escaping the Galilean massacres fled to the last major Jewish stronghold — Jerusalem. There, they killed anyone in the Jewish leadership who was not as radical as they. Thus, all the more moderate Jewish leaders who headed the Jewish government at the revolt’s beginning in 66 were dead by 68 — and not one died at the hands of a Roman. All were killed by fellow Jews.
While the Romans were amassing troops to impose a siege of Jerusalem, within the city, the Jews were engaged in a suicidal civil war. The Zealot leaders ordered the execution of anyone advocating surrender to Rome, causing further bloodshed of Jews against Jews. Although it was probably a foregone conclusion that the Romans would have crushed the rebellion in the end, the Jewish civil war both hastened their victory and immensely increased the casualties.
The culmination of this madness was when one of the warring Zealot factions burned the entire supply of dried food, which had been stockpiled in anticipation of a siege and which could have fed the inhabitants of Jerusalem for years. Apparently, they believed that by destroying this “security blanket” they would compel everyone to participate in the revolt. The starvation resulting from this mad act caused suffering as great as any the Romans inflicted. And the rest, they say, is our painful history.
For 2,000 years we have fasted on Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Second Temple, decrying the baseless hatred, the sin’at hinam, which caused our ancestors’ demise.
Therefore, there is a tragic irony in the fact that the Six Day War and the conquest of the West Bank, which cemented Israel’s existence, and ensured its survival, was also the seminal event which created a fertile soil bed for modern day zealotry and the resurgence of irreconcilable ideological divisions among us.
There is a foreboding sense of deja vu in the fanaticism of the ultra-religious nationalists, who have become today’s Zealots, and, it characterizes large sections of the Settler community. And, the fanaticism on the other side, which rejects the legitimacy of the Settler movement categorically, without being prepared to listen, is no less destructive.
But, with regard to the religious Zionist fanatics, like the Zealots of old, once again they force us into a situation of “if you are not with us, you are against us.” And if you are against us, you are a traitor to Zionism and the country, to the point of being accused of being self-hating Jews, moles and objects of derision and illegitimacy. In extreme cases, even deserving of death (din moser).
I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that these are the seeds of an impending civil war, the consequences of which will be no less destructive than what transpired 2,000 years ago. Sin’at hinam is once again rife in our society.
There is also an outrageous irony, that those among us who “religiously” observe the fast, mourning sin’at hinam, are the very people who today embrace sin’at hinam as part of their intolerant, ideological fervor, determined to impose their vision of a greater Israel, a yearning to reconstitute a lost glory, on us all.
Here is one example: I distinctly remember Tisha B’Av of 2015. Immediately following the Fast, Benzy Gopstein was interviewed on television by the Temple Mount. This is what he said: “The Temple will be rebuilt, but first we have to deal with the Leftists and the Arabs.”
In that order.
Let that sink in.
The man had just finished a 24 hour fast, decrying meaningless, and senseless hate, and immediately at the end of the fast, he reverts back to the very same hate. With gusto. And he is not alone, there are many like him.
It makes the fast meaningless, because for as much as we mourn the destruction of the Temple and our dispersion on Tisha B’Av, we should be mourning how we as a people self-destructed, allowing for this calamity to occur. And that is precisely what has been forgotten; fasting on Tisha B’Av has become a blind adherence to ritualism, and there is nothing more dangerous than that. Not to mention the insincerity, the hypocrisy, the lip-service.
This is why I will not fast on Tisha B’Av. We need to find something more meaningful and relevant to commemorate Tisha B’Av. Something which addresses the sin’at hinam of today. I believe that Tisha B’Av should be a dedication to national reconciliation, with workshops throughout the country for people from opposing political and religious sides to LISTEN to the other side, without judgment, and to try to understand those whose beliefs are different to our own. To renounce fanaticism. To build bridges, where ideological disagreement should not necessarily make us enemies. We should not wish the other side ill, or seek to de-legitimize them, incite against them and discount them. We should be looking for unity through diversity, not demanding capitulation in the name of a false facade of unity.
For those who fast, may it be meaningful, and may it be the beginning of learning from this calamity to bring us together. Because as a people, we have forgotten the lesson of Tisha B’Av.