David Newman 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tens of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv and other cities on Saturday evening to
protest social and economic conditions in the country, demanding change in the
social welfare system.
Tens of thousands gathered Monday night at the
Western Wall and at synagogues to mourn the destruction of the Temple and
commemorate the many tragedies that have visited the Jewish people on this date
There was some overlap, but it was minimal. The
appearance of Rabbi Benny Lau at the Tel Aviv demonstration became the focus for
much of the media precisely because it was the exception rather than the
The fact that the demonstrations took place almost immediately
following Shabbat was an obvious factor, but social welfare has not been a major
concern within religious circles. No major pressure was exerted on the
organizers to move the demonstration to a later time, although given the late
termination of the Shabat at this time of year it would have been difficult to
do so anyway.
Much has been made of the Kabbalat Shabbat services held at
the tent camps, and the attempt to portray the growing social discontent as
reaching across society, to include Right and Left, religious and secular, and
moving beyond the image of the protest as a middle-class protest action to
include the impoverished sectors of society along with the middle class. The
organizers are trying to portray the demonstrations as all-encompassing; above
and beyond all the classical political and cultural divisions.
BE’AV is very much about social justice. But in our mourning and recitation of
kinnot, we tend to focus on the result rather than the cause. We describe, in
horrific detail, the tragedies that have visited the Jewish people, from the
destruction of the Temples to the Crusades and the Holocaust, but spend much
less time delving into the causes.
Yes, we glibly talk about the abstract
notion of baseless hatred that was rampant at the time, at the warnings sent
through the prophet Jeremiah, but the balance between the two has become heavily
weighted in favor of the outcome rather than the cause.
religious idea behind Tisha Be’Av is that the Temples were destroyed and other
tragedies were visited upon the Jewish people as divine retribution for our
inability to behave justly toward each other. Concepts of social justice are an
integral part of Jewish religious behavior, but are often pushed aside as
religion has become a sort of highway code, the minutiae of ritual and practice
having overtaken the basic spiritual quest for bettering oneself and one’s
Within religious circles, too much of the discussion leading
into Tisha Be’Av is about the practicalities of mourning – the clothes to be
worn, the specific prayers to be said, the time to finish eating, the work that
can or cannot be done – rather than introspection concerning relations and
behavior, in a society that is highly sectoral and in which we spend a great
deal of time delegitimizing each other and not caring sufficiently for the needs
of those who do not belong to ‘our’ group or circle.
Religion is too much
about tikkun drachim (patching the highway), and not enough about tikkun olam
(repairing the world).
THE JEWISH people is good at giving charity – few
peoples in the world devote so much of their private resources to philanthropy,
both within the community and beyond. But the past decade has seen an
exponential growth of charity organizations as governments have moved ahead with
privatization and the dismantlement of protections afforded by the state.
Private charities and philanthropic organizations have had to fill the gap,
despite the world recession and the impact of the Madoff scandal, which makes it
even more difficult to help those in need. An Israeli government that takes
pride in defining itself as representative of a Jewish state with Jewish values
cannot divest itself of the responsibility of caring for the needy, be they poor
The fact that we mourn on Tisha Be’Av in the same way
that we have for 2,000 years, regardless of our immense achievements in the past
half-century – sovereignty, independence, a relatively high standard of living,
and the physical reconstructionof Jerusalem – so that it is no longer a city of
ruins and desolation, would suggest that we have not succeeded in imbuing this
day with contemporary meaning. Secular Israel almost entirely ignores Tisha
Be’Av; it has little or no meaning for them at all. It doesn’t touch their lives
as they go about their regular work or even arrange private parties as the
restaurants and places of entertainment are all closed and they seek
Few of them would make any link between the tent camps of
Rothschild Boulevard and the historical events that took place in Jerusalem. It
is our collective failure as a society that we have been unable to inject
meaning into this and other days of national significance.
between the national and the social, the spiritual and the secular, could not be
clearer than in the closing words of the prophet Isaiah, read in all synagogues
this past weekend. Zion will be redeemed through justice and those who return
through righteousness (tzedaka).
Our government should be listening to
the voices bridging the cultural divide between Rothschild Boulevard and the
Western Wall. Without social welfare, without mutual responsibility and care,
the third commonwealth (however it is defined) will not arise.The writer
is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University. The views
expressed are his alone.