Rabbi's Message - July 13, 2021
Tisha B’Av is, and always has been, about loss and hope. It is a day on which multiple Jewish calamities are attributed. However, our sages don’t teach that it is an unlucky day for Jews – rather, that it is because of sinat chinam - baseless hatred - that the destructions of the Temple and more occurred. What do we, as Reform Jews, make of this day? Do we mourn a Temple that we don’t strictly wish to be rebuilt? What about the loss of animal sacrifice associated with the Temple, when the service of our heart (prayer) is our main connection to God?
First, a little look into the Jewish people during the Second Temple period. At this time, the four main sects of Jews were: (1) the Pharisees (essentially pre-Rabbis, who followed the Written and Oral Torahs), (2) Sadducees, (put a lot of emphasis on the Torah Temple cult, to the exclusion of the authority of the Pharisees, (3) Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls group), and (4) Zealots (religious fanatics). It’s far more nuanced than that, but each group has semi-clashing beliefs about some of the core elements of Jewish belief and practice. The Zealots absolutely opposed any King but God. As a result, they were the primary leaders of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire that led to the eventual siege on Jerusalem by Rome. The in-fighting between these groups certainly did no favors in preventing the siege or defending the Jewish community. In fact, the disputes between these four groups could be seen as being as destructive to the community as the actions of Rome.
An old joke goes that most Jewish holidays have a simple explanation: They tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat! Tisha B’Av has the first: they tried to kill us. However, the shorthanded explanation starts to break down right there. They didn’t kill us, because when I look around, I see Jews, and not the Roman Empire. With that said, we understand the day as a day we where we lost, badly; and we don’t eat. In fact, this is day where we fast. We can bemoan the destruction of outside powers upon us, but we can also reflect on our internal dynamics as a Jewish people. Would the events of 70 C.E. have looked different or been remembered differently, if there was a greater sense of being in the fight together? Had we been united in our battle, would the loss have been felt less?
As Tisha B’Av approaches this week on July 17, may it be a time of reflection on how to hold the grief of past loss and trauma – our own and our community’s – as well as a time to consider our role within the greater communities we live in. In what ways can we unite together as one people?