In My Own Write: Foodless in Zion

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 come.

Tisha Beav 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tisha Beav 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 deprivation is.
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 fill the 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 pleasure food and drink are, and how blithely most of us take their provision for granted.
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 cow (were one available) if vegetables and milk products suddenly vanished from our supermarkets? Food for thought, certainly. And for gratitude that we are able to 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 what the opinion columns had to offer on the subject – and found that rabbi and author Emanuel Feldman, whose thoughtful comments I have always appreciated, had written a July 19 Jerusalem Post column entitled “Why I like Tisha Be’Av.”
“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 about ourselves,” such as the spiritual centrality to Judaism of the Land of Israel; the impenetrability of the “rock” of Zion in the face of its enemies’ attempts to destroy it; and the ability of the Jews, uniquely among the many over the 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 proud part of the indestructible signpost and rock that is called Zion.”
Well, I thought, if a foodless day can help instill that kind of Zionist pride at a time when many Jews worldwide would shudder at the mere thought of being labeled 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 lost any 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 to return to Zion” (albeit, in the Iranian case, at a price). Why mourn an exile 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.”
Turning to the issue of the destroyed Temples – “the other reason for the day of lamentations” – this, wrote Pfeffer, “was canceled 43 years ago [following the Six Day War], when then defense minister Moshe Dayan, “far from securing the entrances to the Temple Mount for the sappers who would arrive shortly to blow up the mosques, making way for the Third Temple... ordered the Israeli flag removed from the mount and assured the astounded Muslim Wakf officials they 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 Israelis simply are not interested. Secular Jews have no affinity to a priestly caste sacrificing heifers and goats, while the great majority of religious Jews are 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 does not seem worth it.
That is our democratic decision, not a matter for the Messiah.
“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 Haaretz columnist, great stretches of the democratic, liberal Western world – including, sadly, many Jews – are currently united in ongoing, active hostility against Israel.
The question of whether our state has a right to exist is being seriously debated on university campuses, and there is a madman in Teheran uninterested in any debate at all.
At home – more seriously, many hold – the fabric of Israeli society is showing rents and divisions that threaten to defy repair.
Can Pfeffer really so readily take for granted the continuance of the Jewish nation in its ancient homeland? Is he sure that the exile he confines to the pages of history has not merely been interrupted? The 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.
As the Post reported on July 20, documentary filmmaker Yaron Kaftori’s new movie 2048, 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 reaction from the left wing and the right wing, the religious and non-religious, Kaftori said.
“Everyone could identify with one part of it.”
THE effort of mourning our lost Temples and even our tragedies can be strained.
As Pfeffer notes, “the concept of the temple is too distant.” And the Holocaust, the overwhelming Jewish tragedy of our time that some say should be included in the lamenting on Tisha Be’av, has its own memorial day – lengthy and agonizing enough. Outside that, it’s hard to summon up the emotional energy.
But if there was one present and compelling reason to go without the comfort of food and drink during a 24-hour-plus fast amid the scorching heat of summer, it was the classic explanation our sages give for why the Second Temple, in particular, was destroyed and our people driven out of Zion: sinat hinam.
Generally translated as “baseless (or gratuitous) hatred,” it means one person loathing another for no reason other than because he has a different ethnicity (for example, Ashkenazi or Sephardi); follows a different religious practice (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform); or adheres to a different political agenda (left-wing or right). Or maybe simply because he inspires jealousy on account of some attribute or possession.
I remember a pompous and self-satisfied Jewish student from my university days sneering at Jews of a denomination he despised as being “worth less than stones.”
That’s sinat hinam.
AS LONG as there is brutish, baseless hatred in our society, you could say that we are still in exile – from our true selves, from the acceptance that the “other” deserves, from our potential as human beings.
“Moderation, nuance, restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country’s political landscape,” wrote David Weinberg in an August 2, 1998 Post op-ed. “The prevailing culture is kassah – unbridled, untamed confrontation.”
And, one might add, no little amount of sinat hinam.
“Tisha Be’av was never supposed to be an eternal day of mourning,” Pfeffer noted, citing the Jewish belief “that one day, exile would end...” and a fast day no longer be needed.
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 come.