Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tisha B'Av Thoughts

Last night Eicha and Kinot marked the high point of a three week mourning period from the time the walls of Yerushalayim were breached  on Tammuz 17 to the destruction of the Temple on Av 9.  A theology of just deserts permeates Tanach, one that most contemporary rabbinical thought has rejected.  Contrary to the bombastic pastors of TV ministries, the jets did not take down the World Trade Center because we integrated American schools, allowed female sufferage or repealed prohibition.

Both Temples fell victim to outside armies for identifiable internal cause.  Tzuris to the inhabitants finds its justification in Avodah Zarah (worship of idols) in 586 BCE and Sinat Chinam (baseless animosity) in 70 CE.  Avodah Zarah and Sinat Chinam both remain highly prevalent within the Jewish community.

Depending on how you define Avodah Zarah, it is fairly easy to see why people have not abandoned it.  There has always been something alluring about defying some of the ascetism that rabbis of yore advocated.  Hellenism brought beauty and creative thought to the Jewish world.  Today, the relentless quest for money over piety gets a mixed message.  From the pulpit it is one of save some time for coming to shul.  From the synagogue presidents it is can we have some of that money.  From Reb Tevye comes the recognition that "If you're rich they think you really know."  There has always been a tension between how values are presented conceptually and how they are presented in reality.

Sinat Chinam may be more difficult to tease out, since the benefits to individuals and community are more subtle while the risks seem obvious.  Would the world really be better if Sinat Chinam disappeared?  As I ponder this question each year around this time, since it was proposed by a very fine Conservative Rabbi in his Tisha B'Av remarks, I remain convinced that a certain amount of Sinat Chinam has its place.  The original Talmud story involves reprisal by a man who was snubbed for a party invitation, which most of us would regard as trivial, but left him with anger and very limited recourse other than to let the Roman authorities take reprisal when he personally could not.  In the ensuing two thousand years we continue to have injustices inflicted upon us, usually by those in authority, for which we have limited ability for reversal.  There are the proverbial Macher Swoops of synagogues and Federations where the organizational policy is made in the back seat of a Mercedes-Benz while the Rabbi drives.  I've seen people in my synagogue blackballed from aliyot for beliefs that conflict with those of the gabbai who hands out the aliyot, while the rabbi acquiesces to the gabbai's positional authority to do this.  I've seen people with obvious neurologic disorders undermedicated with psychotropics prevented at Board meetings from expressing what they think.  On a more historical level, we have widespread departures from our communities, via immigration to America where men tossed their tfillin overboard on sighting the Statue of Liberty, to Jews responding to their mistreatment by embracing the Bolsheviks or the Hasidim.  If the greatest sage of his generation, Elijah the Gaon of Vilna, could really have his way, there would be no Hasidism which has enriched Judaism to our time.

In many ways, Sinat Chinam remains our Trump Card that we depend on as our recourse to amend mistreatment.  It is really part of Tikkun Olam, even its consequence is the absence of a Beit HaMikdash.

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