Today is Asara Betevet, the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, when Jews
around the world fast to commemorate the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by
the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar more than 2,500 years ago.
blockade of the holy city triggered a catastrophic chain of calamities that
ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish
people from the Land of Israel.
Though many Jews are unfamiliar with it,
Asara Betevet was a decisive turning point in our history, one that set the
stage for considerable Jewish wandering and suffering down through the
Despite its relative obscurity, this sad day could not have come at
a more pertinent moment in our modern history, particularly in light of some of
the disgraceful events of the past few weeks in which Jews have hurled insults,
curses and even spittle at one another.
Indeed, the alarming fury that
has erupted, pitting Jew against Jew, has made headlines across the globe, as
Israel’s friends and foes struggle to understand why we seem to thrive on
tearing one another apart.
And yet, despite all the punditry and
commentary that has accompanied the mounting tensions, one of the key underlying
factors behind the recent upsurge in fraternal animosity has all but gone
Sure, there are plenty of religious, ideological and
socio-economic frictions at work. But putting that aside, the sad fact is that
we Israelis often treat each other in the most uncivil of manners – whether on
the roads, in line at the post office or in a host of other
OUR SOCIETY is pervaded by rudeness and discourtesy. If this
is the starting point for much of our daily lives, then is it really such a
surprise that more complex scenarios rapidly descend into spitting and
After all, if we are constantly being brusque and gruff with one
another, then that becomes the unfortunate cultural norm that permeates our
And don’t think for a moment that all this doesn’t matter, that
the daily indignities to which we are subjected simply melt away into the inner
recesses of our psyches.
A number of psychological studies have shown the
debilitating effects of exposure to rudeness.
Last August, for example,
researchers at Baylor University studied the effect that rudeness in the
workplace has on employees. According to a report in Science Daily
study found that “stress created by incivility can be so intense that, at the
end of the day, it is taken home by the worker and impacts the well-being of the
worker’s family and partner, who in turn takes the stress to his/her
In other words, it creates a cycle of insolence, one that
quickly spreads far beyond the confines of the office.
As the author of
the research, Meredith J. Ferguson, PhD, put it, this “underlines the importance
of stopping incivility before it starts so that the ripple effect does not
impact the employee’s family and potentially inflict further
Sadly, that incivility is all around us, from Knesset debates to
the pages of the daily newspapers to the chatter on the
airwaves. Affronts and slurs that would be considered out-of-bounds
anywhere else seem to be par for the course right here in our own back
Just look at what passes for acceptable “discourse” in this
Take Yossi Sarid’s comments in Ha’aretz
last week, in which the
former government minister lambasted the scandalous segregation of women on
buses by asserting that “the source of the pollution is in Halacha (Jewish law)
Or Ra’anan Shaked’s column on Ynetnews
entitled “Time for
Israeli civil war?” There, Shaked insists that “at this time nothing that is
less than rolling up one’s sleeves, hitting the streets and possibly a few
headbutts aimed at painful body organs will bring change.”
comedians Shai Goldstein and Dror Rafael decided to go one step further. They
rang in the new year of 2012 on their daily radio show by suggesting that
Hitler’s “Final Solution” be implemented against haredi Jews.
imagine such disgraceful language appearing in the major newspapers or on the
radio in any other Western country?
Tackling the frictions between secular and
religious in Israel is essential, but it can only go so far. In order to
really address the problem at its root, we need to take steps to create a
kinder, gentler society, one that is more courteous and respectful.
mark Asara Betevet, it is worth recalling the statement of the Talmud (Yoma 9b)
that “the first Temple was destroyed because of idolatry, sexual immorality and
murder... the second Temple was destroyed because of senseless
hatred.” Based on this, the Talmud then concludes that senseless hatred
is equal in severity to idolatry, sexual immorality and murder put
A good way to mitigate the loathing and boorishness that
characterize our society is to replace them with decency and civility – whether
in our schools, our workplace or in public life. We must tolerate nothing less,
because if our history teaches us anything, it is that the road to ruin is paved
with rudeness and hatred.
It is time to pave that road anew before it
leads us all down a very dangerous path.The writer is chairman of Shavei
Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities
to return to the Jewish people.
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