Staying out of the summer heat on Tuesday, trying to forget the fact that I was
neither eating nor drinking, I was reminded again of how disagreeable food
Rather than inducing a deeper spirituality, fasting just
tends to make me mournful – which, I suppose, is the objective on the ninth of
the Hebrew month of Av, marking as it does a slew of Jewish tragedies over the
ages, chief among them the destruction of both Jewish Temples, in 586 BCE and 70
C.E., and the exile of the Jews from Zion.
Fasting does, however,
indubitably prompt a measure of reflection, seeping in, as it were, to
space generally occupied by physical gratification.
And one of the things
I reflected on during Tisha Be’av was how crucial to our lives and
and drink are, and how blithely most of us take their provision for
How many of us, I wondered while shutting a mental door on the
image of a tall glass of iced tea, could easily grow a cucumber or milk a
(were one available) if vegetables and milk products suddenly vanished
supermarkets? Food for thought, certainly. And for gratitude that we are
buy our fill of milk and cucumbers.
BUT in the knowledge that fast days
were instituted to go beyond this type of speculation, I turned to see
opinion columns had to offer on the subject – and found that rabbi and
Emanuel Feldman, whose thoughtful comments I have always appreciated,
written a July 19 Jerusalem Post
column entitled “Why I like Tisha
“That’s going a bit too far,” I thought, while allowing for his
view that without this day, we Jews might forget some “essential things
ourselves,” such as the spiritual centrality to Judaism of the Land of
the impenetrability of the “rock” of Zion in the face of its enemies’
to destroy it; and the ability of the Jews, uniquely among the many over
ages who have held this land, to make it flourish.
“Beneath the mourning
and the fasting,” concluded Feldman, “there dwells a deep solace: I am a
part of the indestructible signpost and rock that is called Zion.”
I thought, if a foodless day can help instill that kind of Zionist pride
time when many Jews worldwide would shudder at the mere thought of being
Zionists, I’ll go hungry any time.
Provocative headline No. 2 presented
itself over Anshel Pfeffer’s July 16 column in Haaretz
, proclaiming: “Exile is
over. Celebrate the Ninth of Av” – “a date,” Pfeffer said, “that has
relevance beyond the historical.”
“For a decade now,” he went on, “there
has not been one Jew around the world,” even in Iran, “who was not free
return to Zion” (albeit, in the Iranian case, at a price). Why mourn an
that no longer exists? Moreover, Pfeffer pointed out, “for the first
time in the
history of the Jews, a majority of them are choosing not to live in an
independent Jewish state in Zion – of their own free will.”
the issue of the destroyed Temples – “the other reason for the day of
lamentations” – this, wrote Pfeffer, “was canceled 43 years ago
Six Day War], when then defense minister Moshe Dayan, “far from securing
entrances to the Temple Mount for the sappers who would arrive shortly
up the mosques, making way for the Third Temple... ordered the Israeli
removed from the mount and assured the astounded Muslim Wakf officials
would have full control of the area...
“The only reason that the third
temple has not been built,” stated Pfeffer, “is that a majority of
simply are not interested. Secular Jews have no affinity to a priestly
sacrificing heifers and goats, while the great majority of religious
not very eager themselves.
“The concept of the temple is too distant, and
the heavy price Israel would pay for any attempt to remove the mosques
seem worth it.
That is our democratic decision, not a matter for the
“The exile is over,” Pfeffer declared, “and the temple has not
been rebuilt because we don’t want to do it.”
WITH all due respect to the
columnist, great stretches of the democratic, liberal
Western world –
including, sadly, many Jews – are currently united in ongoing, active
The question of whether our state has a right to exist is
being seriously debated on university campuses, and there is a madman in
uninterested in any debate at all.
At home – more seriously, many hold –
the fabric of Israeli society is showing rents and divisions that
Can Pfeffer really so readily take for granted the
continuance of the Jewish nation in its ancient homeland? Is he sure
exile he confines to the pages of history has not merely been
Jews have been driven out of this land twice.
Unthinkable as it may be to
those of us who have tied our fortunes to it, we could lose it again.
reported on July 20,
documentary filmmaker Yaron Kaftori’s new movie
, which portrays a future
without a Jewish state, was set to be screened –
on Tisha Be’av – at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. At the film’s premiere in
Jerusalem, it won a “shockingly” warm reception. “I got the same
the left wing and the right wing, the religious and non-religious,
“Everyone could identify with one part of it.”
THE effort of
mourning our lost Temples and even our tragedies can be strained.
Pfeffer notes, “the concept of the temple is too distant.” And the
the overwhelming Jewish tragedy of our time that some say should be
the lamenting on Tisha Be’av, has its own memorial day – lengthy and
enough. Outside that, it’s hard to summon up the emotional energy.
there was one present and compelling reason to go without the comfort of
and drink during a 24-hour-plus fast amid the scorching heat of summer,
the classic explanation our sages give for why the Second Temple, in
was destroyed and our people driven out of Zion: sinat hinam
translated as “baseless (or gratuitous) hatred,” it means one person
another for no reason other than because he has a different ethnicity
example, Ashkenazi or Sephardi); follows a different religious practice
(Orthodox, Conservative or Reform); or adheres to a different political
(left-wing or right). Or maybe simply because he inspires jealousy on
some attribute or possession.
I remember a pompous and self-satisfied
Jewish student from my university days sneering at Jews of a
despised as being “worth less than stones.”
That’s sinat hinam
LONG as there is brutish, baseless hatred in our society, you could say
are still in exile – from our true selves, from the acceptance that the
deserves, from our potential as human beings.
restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this
political landscape,” wrote David Weinberg in an August 2, 1998 Post
prevailing culture is kassah
unbridled, untamed confrontation.”
one might add, no little amount of sinat
“Tisha Be’av was never
supposed to be an eternal day of mourning,” Pfeffer noted, citing the
belief “that one day, exile would end...” and a fast day no longer be
But if mutual tolerance is a prerequisite for the ending of
exile, I think I’ll be going foodless for many more Tisha Be’avs to