On Tisha B’Av: Everything old is new again
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Especially since 1967, the observance of Tisha B’Av has raised numerous religious, theological, and political questions in the Diaspora and especially in Israel. The rituals for mourning the destruction of the Temples may still be relevant, but how should we observe the day now that there is a Jewish state in the Holy Land and Jerusalem is under Jewish sovereignty?
Tisha B’Av has become a day for remembering, by extension, all the persecution and suffering inflicted on the Jews over the centuries. But does the full liturgy of mourning still apply, given the remarkable place at which Jews have arrived today?
Admittedly, the entire world still does not recognize the Jewish state — and especially not Jewish control of Jerusalem. Some also suggest that until the Messiah arrives, Jewish sovereignty will remain tenuous (even among some Jews).
Given the contemporary reality, it is especially hard for some Israelis to engage in serious mourning on this day. It might make some sense, therefore, to consider on Tisha B’Av not only the events of Jewish history, but some of the issues that threaten Jews around the world and which ought to be of concern to Jews, both external and internal.
The horrible tragedy in Norway, allegedly perpetrated by a psychotic fueled by anti-immigrant rage, exposed once again a scary side of the anti-Semitic world in which European Jews live. Svein Sevje, Norway’s ambassador to Israel, chose the moment to explain to Israel that “sick,” dangerous people can opt to express anti-Muslim feeling because of their frustration with Israeli settlements and the occupation of Palestine (as if a resolution to the conflict would alleviate all the problems being expressed by, and toward, Muslims in Europe). Norway, which was once characterized by Alan Dershowitz as the most anti-Semitic, anti-Israel country in Europe, did not retract his comments.
It also was learned that the Labor Party youth camp at Utoy where the approximately 70 young people were gunned down was a left-wing summer camp for the children of Norwegian elites. One of their recent activities reported to have taken place was a replication of the Gaza flotilla. A mock “Break the Blockade” flotilla was launched to “evade” Israelis and “enter” Gaza. (Glenn Beck only inflamed the issue further by comparing the camp to Hitler Youth.)
In Hungary, there have been reports of increasingly authoritarian and fascistic tendencies, with the government imposing especially severe restrictions on free speech and free press. More alarming than the general decline in democracy is the return of specifically hostile expressions and restrictions toward Jews. At the same time that general speech is being curtailed, the media policing agency, the Media Council, is tolerating a dramatic increase of anti-Semitism in the press.
On the more positive side, the Community Security Trust, the leading Jewish defense organization in Great Britain, has just released its annual survey of anti-Semitic incidents for the first half of 2011. The data showed a 13 percent decline in the number of incidents. This can be attributed, in part, to a heightened presence and awareness by the Jewish community and vigilance by the CST, which has also motivated an increase in police sensitivity. Unfortunately, now that data collection has improved in northern Britain, the study found a marked increase in serious anti-Semitic undercurrents and activities in the greater Manchester area.
Finally, and by no means least, Tisha B’Av is a time to consider the nature of hostility persisting among Jews themselves. According to the Talmud, the Second Temple was destroyed because of hatred of Jews toward each other. Secular Jews in Israel feel themselves being disrespected by the fervently Orthodox community, and resent the fact that the haredim receive government benefits and/or exemptions — largely as a result of political horse-trading — without sharing fairly in the financial and security needs of the country. There is a looming polarization within various sectors of the Sephardi community as well, which will undoubtedly spill over into a major issue in the next Knesset elections.
Ongoing battles continue between various denominational and ethnic religious groups over matters related to conversion. While the fights appear to be most visible in Israel, they are not without dramatic repercussions in the United States. On another front, the Knesset has voted down efforts to institute the right for Israelis to obtain civil marriages, a proposal that had even won support from some within religious Zionist circles.
All of which gives one much to consider — at least on Tisha B’Av — as one contemplates the ancient losses and the more contemporary issues which continue to threaten Jews throughout the world.