Allen S. Maller

Why We Lost Jerusalem Again on Tisha b’Av

As Tisha b’Av approaches, those who love Israel should reflect about why Jerusalem and its Holy Temple were destroyed; not once, but twice.

Most non-Jews would say Jerusalem was lost twice because the Babylonians and Romans destroyed it. Both empires and their armies were very big and very strong. No one else could defeat them at that time. The big usually defeat the small; and Judah was a small state.

Usually, but not always. Between the two destructions of Jerusalem, the Maccabees had fought a two decade long war, and they had finally attained independence from the much bigger Syrian Empire.

True, but the Roman Empire was much more powerful than the Syrian Empire; that is why the Romans conquered the Syrian Empire. Why didn’t we learn from that lesson and avoid a repeat Tisha b’Av?

Even after the first Roman victory, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE, a second Jewish revolt against the Romans broke out two generations later.

The Bar Kochba revolt (132-135CE) was supported by Rabbi Akiba ben Yosef the convert, who thought Bar Kochba was the Messiah.

After 3 ½ years of fierce fighting, this revolt was also crushed; and any possibility of the Romans allowing the Jews to rebuild a Jewish Jerusalem vanished.

The city was rebuilt as a pagan city.

Amazingly, the Rabbis refused to blame the Roman Empire.

The Jewish belief that God guarantees the ultimate triumph of good over evil means that defeats could only be due to a temporary weakness in the forces of good. When the flaw is repaired (Teshuvah/Tikun) good will once again be able to overcome evil.

Thus, instead of blaming others, and ignoring our own responsibility for what happened, the Rabbis focused on the faults within the Jewish community.

They understood that the First Temple was destroyed on Tisha b’Av because of three evils: idolatry, licentiousness and bloodshed. “But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that during the time it stood people occupied themselves with Torah, Mitsvot and Tsadakah?

“Because during the time it stood, unrestrained hatred prevailed. This is to teach you that unfettered hatred is deemed as grave as all the three sins of idolatry, licentiousness and bloodshed, put together.” (Yoma 9b)

In the first few generations, when people still knew and understood the political situation that led up to the two disastrous revolts, many of the sages, especially Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, who lived in Jerusalem (and fled the city towards the end of the siege), referred more than once to the ridged, narrow minded, idealistic zealotry that prevailed in that generation.

For example, in the case of Bar Kamtza, the Rabbis were willing to appease a Roman governor by transgressing the Holy Temple’s ritual.

Then an uncompromising priest who was also a rabbi, objected to abandoning the Halakhah and Jewish ideals; and they gave in to him.

The Talmud (Gitten 56a) states: The Rabbis were inclined to offer it (on the Alter). Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos said to them, “People will say that (we approved) blemished animals to be offered on the alter.”

Then they proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so he could not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos said to them, “Is a person who makes a blemish on a consecrated animal put to death?”

“Rabbi Yohanan (ben Zakkai) thereupon remarked, “Through the ‘humility’ (narrow minded scrupulousness or unwillingness to bend or compromise when conditions demand it) of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos, our sanctuary was destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves were exiled from our land.”

In another place “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 stretch the limits of the law-Lifnim miShurat haDin. (Bava Mezia 30b).

Strict halakah and an uncompromising,narrow minded, idealism can easily lead to free floating anger and hate, which, unfettered and unrestrained, lead to disaster.

It is not surprising that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai openly blames the failure to judge people with understanding, flexibility and loving tolerance as the crucial sin that led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Individuals who do not examine their own faults will repeat them. Societies and nations that do not examine the faults of previous generations are condemned to repeat them. That is why Jerusalem and its Holy Temple were destroyed twice, and on the same day.

When we look at politics in Israel today, especially the politics of the religious leadership in Jerusalem, we see signs of unrestrained hatred prevailing without rebuke by Haredi leaders.

For example, the conversions to Judaism of two women were retroactively overturned by rabbinical courts in 2007 and 2008, 15 years after their conversions had been recognized by the state.

As a result, they and their children were retroactively declared non-Jewish. In both cases, the rabbinical courts annulled the conversions while discussing the women’s divorce proceedings, and their decisions were later upheld by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals.

But the rabbinic court of appeals did not just uphold the lower court verdicts. In its 2008 ruling on the first woman’s case, a panel headed by Rabbi Avraham Sherman said that thousands of other conversions authorized by a network of special conversion courts then headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman should also be overturned.

None of the dozens of Hassidic top leaders (the Ardmorim) said a word against this terrible decree. The overwhelming majority of Yeshivas leaders were also silent.

Thank God, the secular Israeli High Court of Justice in 2008 affirmed the validity of the thousands of conversions called into question by one narrow minded, uncompromising, Rabbinical Court of Appeals.

Some modern Jews seem to have learned the lesson of two Tisha b’Avs better than some UltraOrthodox Rabbis.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 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.