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Tisha B'Av: Full circle
By DANIEL FINE
08/04/2014
We will one day get our voices heard. We must just clear our own throats from our own hindrances first.
 
I was just sitting down to write this piece  when I had to temporarily postpone my plan, as a rocket siren wailed overhead. Kids awoken, navigating the stairs, and a few friendly chats with neighbors later it was all-clear to resume. Much like my evening (and much like a microcosm of Jewish history in general), this piece might seem a bit disjointed at the outset - we shall tie the strands together at the end.

My child excels in negotiating for extra time in the morning lest he turn up early (or even on time) to school, Heaven forbid! Whether it's a few more minutes to eat breakfast, another toilet stop, an offer to revise some work,  or a 'sincere' offer to help tidy before he goes so the place looks neat, we know that the bottom line is that he does not want to leave for school just yet - any offer is just a cover-up: internal contradictions are easy to spot when it comes to kids: their emotion far outweighs their intellect.

Somewhat on the theme of deep notions or compulsions, it is during this time of the year that two questions tend to arise. The climax of the three weeks and the revisiting of the various Jewish tragedies therein seems to bring out certain theological sentiments or 'ponderings', two principal ones being: how can I connect/relate to the destruction of the Temple in the 21st century? And how can I be expected to believe in G-d faithfully: there are so many intelligent people, academics, who deny any existence of the supernatural or Divine? (Not that every academic is so inclined. I saw a recent survey that cited that 50% of professor-level scientists in America believe in God, whilst 70% of theology professors do not. Asked why they did not believe in God, most theology professors responded 'because science has proved the nonexistence of the Divine'.)

Let us foray into a small facet of current events in order to ponder this adequately. The evolution of war is at the forefront of the technological revolution. Indeed, many new inventions were so created for the purpose of war. From marching towards each other on opposite ends of fields with flag-bearers and drums to bayonets, cannons, machine guns, bombers and guided missiles, war has come a long way. In the media generation, part of war is the image in the media - something that Israel suffers from regularly.

Indeed, perusing through several news sites and articles (the BBC being the most guilty, with several other British articles closely following), the image being portrayed of Israel is often negative and imbalanced to the extreme. The word 'aggression' is commonly used to refer to the Israeli army's missions, the word 'terrorists' is often surrounded by inverted commas (implying that only according to the Israelis are Hamas to be considered 'terrorists') and whilst Gazan facts are presented as fact (quoting 'officials' or 'the Health Ministry'), Israel's reports are often devalued by adding the suffix 'according to the Israelis' or the like. Less subtle, there is next to no coverage on Hamas's use of civilians as human shields - blaming all civilian deaths on IDF 'atrocities' - and no mention of the fact that when Israel handed over the Gaza strip areas it did so along with hundreds of greenhouses and a real opportunity for Palestinians to create a booming and somewhat self-sufficient economy. Instead, Hamas were selected and funds embezzled to 'invest' in tunnels and rockets. Yet the media do not portray this side of the story. The European media (who traditionally staunchly favor the underdog) instead feed the reader with images of a war-hungry Israeli populace and victimized Palestinian civilians: even the warning leaflets dropped to minimize civilian casualties are portrayed as acts of cruelty. With such an overbearing media portrayal, objectivity is muffled and stifled. People seem to portray what they want to portray, with truth and accuracy sacrificed. Thus, instead of the daily Syrian massacres grabbing the headlines, it is any given Israeli military incursion into Gaza. We cry, deplore, lament and detest these double standards of the media, and feel somewhat helpless in reversing the situation (complaints can only go so far - others' underlying notions can rarely be changed). Human nature warms to consistency and truth, and is repulsed by self-contradictory behavior and deceit. 

Yet unfortunately we too can exert double-standards in areas of our lives. We too often buy into unfair stereotypes regarding other cultures or ethnic groups. We value benevolence and charity, but are often far too critical and selective of the recipients of our benevolence. Further, we give charity to assist a person's life, but we do so in a cold manner and hurt their feelings. We can reject notions of blind faith, but we can happily accept views of academics or professors without questioning.

People who are morally assertive, critical thinkers and are increasingly refining and redefining their clear thought-out values tend to phase out any internal contradictions in their actions. Indeed, on some refined level being riled about media bias and ignoring one's own biased undercurrents also has a certain element of double-standard.

Nevertheless, those who see the media bias and feel like a solitary voice of truth among the cacophonous deluge of lies, will no longer find themselves having to resort to siding with 'many academics' in examining their own beliefs in the Divine. Just as one can differ from and argue against the prevalent academic anti-Israel feeling, so too can one differ from the theological position of those 'many' academics. Conformity does not need to absolve one of the obligation to think, and 'deference' is no excuse for outsourcing your value system: especially when we are more than happy to stand up to other academics in other areas of life. Indeed, examine the various instances of people being spared from rocket-carnage and misfired Gazan arms and you will see a supernatural element.

The Beis Hamikdash was a place of no inner contradictions. There was a simple message of faith and connection to the Divine in a profound, meaningful way. It was an ingrained faith that served to dispel the notion of a fractured world of disparate parts and contradictions to instead form a unified world emanating from and pointing to One Source. If we cannot mourn the destruction of the Temple this year, we can be sure that the after-effects of the destruction are keenly felt in our daily lives.  

For on Tisha B'Av for a day we live in a disjointed and disrupted world. We neither enjoy the physical world (we do not eat, wash, for half the day we do not sit on normal chairs, etc.) and neither do we enjoy the delights of the spiritual world (no Torah study). Our day is 'inverted' - tefillin are donned in the afternoon - and we are isolated: we do not greet our friends. We mourn but there is no tachanun. Tisha B'Av is called a 'mo'ed' (festival) - the traditional explanation is because Hashem tells us that 'I am with you in times of trouble.' But perhaps according to the theme we have developed, perhaps the mo'ed title can be explained as follows: on Tisha B'Av we live in the awkwardness of a disjointed, murky and dis-functional world in order to set our perspectives right to yearn for a world which is united, ordered, and clear.

Depth of thought and historical context will tell us that the Jewish People have bequeathed the notions of monotheism, democracy, widespread and indiscriminate education, and various life-saving inventions. Yet for what price? For a tumultuous history that has seen us bounce between different countries and run from 'safe-haven' to 'safe-haven'. Indeed if any nation has had the right to give up and collapse on themselves it is the Jews: left and betrayed by the world during the Holocaust, instead of preaching hate and revenge (as certain nations tend do) and casting ourselves as the perennial victim, we built our own state and rose to prominence in America and elsewhere. The real internal contradiction in the media lambasting Israel's every move is in failing to recognize that most of their own values of free speech and education for the masses came from this small nation called the Jewish People.

We will one day get our voices heard. We must just clear our own throats from our own hindrances first.

The author is an English oleh who lives and teaches in Jerusalem, having authored two books and run various educational programs.
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