Just under two thousand years ago, the Jewish people found themselves amidst a civil war. For the better part of the 1st century, the Land of Israel saw previously inconceivable upheaval: a Roman invasion and occupation, a split between Jews who would collaborate with the Romans against those who insisted on violent resistance, a campaign of assassinations, rebellions, and guerrilla warfare, a charismatic religious movement that looked for many messiahs (and found a few), and in the end, the complete and total destruction of Jewish life in the land which it had flourished for a thousand years prior.
When the dust settled, most Jews were either killed (by the Romans and by each other) or exiled. A small group remained, dedicated to rebuilding the religion which had been the source of so much strife. Central to the mythology of that new religious community, what we call Rabbinic Judaism, was the catastrophic origin of their approach to Torah. For them, it was the social and political catastrophe of the 1st century which led to expulsion, destruction, and dispersion.
The day the Temple was finally destroyed was the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av), a day which we commemorate every year with sadness and reflection. Yet the rabbis who inaugurated the religion we practice would want us to do more than navel-gaze. They insisted (Talmud, Yoma 9b) that the Temple was destroyed because of civil strife and baseless hatred– because the Jewish community of the time turned on itself, allowing religious extremism and political expediency to take precedence over truth and goodness.
Strangely, all these years later, their original intention for our day of commemoration could not be more
relevant. Today’s Jewish state, like that of two millennia ago, faces many internal battles. Some of those are productive, none of them are new. What is
new is that many of the internal debates of our community have begun to lead to violence and hatred. Last week, a group of Haredi Jews– defined by their self-constructed vision of piety– burned a siddur at the Kotel
because a woman had the gall to try and pray.
These increased tensions within the Jewish state, between secular and religious, Orthodox and Masorti, Jewish and Arab– should indeed cause us concern. Yet, rather than engender further disengagement on our part, these crises of our own time should prod us to action. There is a war on for the future of the Jewish state and for the vision of Judaism which it represents. Too often we allow ourselves to resign from the conflict– rather we must renew our commitment to promoting the Judaism which is animated by values, by truth and goodness, and by senseless love for one another rather than senseless hatred.
This year, as every year, we will be commemorating Tisha b’Av– remembering the self-wrought destruction that cast a two thousand year shadow upon us. Let our reflection not remain simply historical– let us be motivated to work harder than ever to make sure we never again find ourselves allowing hatred and violence to define what it means to be a Jew.
Join us across the Masorti community for a commemoration of Tisha b’Av:
Saturday 21 July
10.30pm – Ma’ariv at Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue
Sunday 22 July
9.00am – Shacharit at Edgware Masorti Synagogue
8.15pm – Minchah at SAMS – (Please remember to bring your tallitot and tefillin if you have)
9.00pm – Learning with Rabbi Adam at SAMS
9.45pm – Ma’ariv, followed by delicious desserts to break the fast