On Tisha Be’av

This event has long been marked by Jews all over the world, who fast and sit on the floor while reading the Book of Lamentations and other poetry describing the profound loss Jews have felt throughout the centuries.

August 7, 2014 17:17

A painting by David Roberts, 1850, titled ‘The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, AD 70.’. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This past week, we marked the 1,944th anniversary of the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty. This event has long been marked by Jews all over the world, who fast and sit on the floor while reading the Book of Lamentations and other poetry describing the profound loss Jews have felt throughout the centuries.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept as we remembered Zion.” We also remember the other tragedies that have befallen our people during the long exile. Tisha Be’av is a day in which we have always taken stock of who we are and how much we have achieved, and concentrated on how much more we still have to accomplish.

The remarkable return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is one of the greatest miracles in human history. This past month has been a difficult one for the Jews in their land and perhaps, in some ways, even more difficult for the Jews of the Diaspora. Hatred for the Jew, which was hoped to be long-buried, rose up in capitals around the globe, where thinly disguised anti-Zionism showed itself to be age-old anti-Semitism just repackaged in a new bottle.

Why is the Jew so hated? We are blamed for being white by non-whites, and by whites for not being white enough. We are blamed for being clannish and only marrying our own, and for infecting another race when we marry out. We are blamed for being cheap, spendthrifts, capitalists, Communists, rich, poor, miserly, ostentatious, atheists and religious fanatics. We are the only group that is consistently attacked by both the extreme Right and Left.

The fact is that there is a lot of anti-Semitism where there are no Jews, and a lot of anti-Semitism where there are many Jews.

There is no real distinguishing look for the Jew either, which might have given someone some small reason to hate us. A white person can make an argument for hating someone who is black, because that person is obviously different.

We call this racism and it is reviled, but it is at least based on a difference in skin color. The Jew, on the other hand, is usually indistinguishable from his neighbor.

Indeed, Jews in China look Chinese, as Jews in India look Indian. There are black Jews and white Jews and even red Jews. We share no real race. There are countless stories during the Holocaust in which Jews passed themselves off as fine examples of Aryans, and were even used as models for how a proper Aryan should look.

So why, then, are we so hated? Christian anti-Semitism had its start with supersessionism, the theology adopted by the early church to explain away the biblical promises to the Jewish people. The Bible makes clear that God has made an everlasting covenant with Israel, and the church did not know what to do with that.

What they came up with was a theological doctrine which explained that while the promises God made to Israel are true and still in effect, with the rejection of Jesus, the promises now fall to the church – the new Israel – which has superseded the physical people of Israel, Israel of the flesh.

This also explains why the Jews were singled out and hated more than other groups. Because while the Muslims and Hindus also did not accept Jesus, he did not turn to them with his ministry. It was to the Jews that Jesus preached, and it was the Jews that actively rejected his message.

As the centuries went on, this was a fine explanation for anti-Semitism, except for one thing – it’s not true. It is not the reason for anti-Semitism. In the 19th century, when Europe turned secular and Jews left the ghettos, Jew hatred still persisted. It was no longer polite, though, to openly state that one disliked Jews. Instead, a new term was coined: anti-Semitism.

Auto-correct forces a hyphen between the words “anti” and “Semitism,” but the true way to spell it is without the hyphen. An anti-Semite is not against Semites. In fact, the biggest anti-Semites in the world today are the Arabs, who are actual Semites, unlike the Jews who are made up of all the world’s races.

In any case, the term allowed one to hide behind a fancy jargon, but it was the same hatred nonetheless. In a world in which neither the Jew nor the gentile was particularly religious, the Jew was still despised; it was a cultural anti-Semitism that soon morphed into a racial anti-Semitism. The effects of racial anti-Semitism were so disastrous that even Europe was embarrassed about how far their hatred went, and hid their anti-Semitism behind a new term: anti-Zionism.

The latest war in Gaza was a just war waged by Israel in order to protect Jews and our national home. It is clear that no matter where you stand politically, Israel had morality on its side. The Jewish state more than bent over backwards to ensure the safety of non-combatants, and went to extraordinary lengths to show the world how careful it is to warn residents that their homes/schools/mosques/hospitals are being used by terrorists to kill innocent Israelis. In fact, the only morally questionable thing Israel did in this war was endangering the lives of its own soldiers to minimize civilian casualties on the other side.

Still, all the tweets, Facebook posts and media interviews fall on deaf ears. The world refuses to see what should be as clear as day.

The reason people hate Jews is because they just do. It is in our DNA as human beings. The sages alluded to this when they stated: “Halacha: Eisav sonei et Ya’acov!” It is a rule: Esau hates Jacob.

The ability to observe Tish Be’av in a sovereign Jewish state proves that Jewish history is a series of battles that were lost, but a war that was won. The Great Revolt, Masada, the expulsions and the Warsaw Ghetto were all mourned for this week; the difference is that now, Jews have the greatest and most righteous army in the world to protect them.

The latest protests in the world against Jews only demonstrate how important it is that there is an Israel. Diaspora Jewry would do well to take this lesson to heart. 

The writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in many post-high school yeshivot and midrashot.

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