Tisha B’Av is looming

July 14, 2010

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It is perhaps ironic to consider that as we approach Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning the destruction of the Temple, we find ourselves imbroiled in two deeply contentious issues for the Jewish People, and for Jerusalem. The Sages tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed due to ‘senseless hatred’ – spiteful disagreements and disunity among the Jews – yet this week saw two events that might easily fit into the same category.

A woman was arrested at the Western Wall for holding a Torah Scroll, and a bill was presented to the Knesset that threatens to deal a further blow to non-orthodox Jews’ discrimination over conversion in Israel. In both cases, it would seem that senseless hatred, together with disdain and misuse of power, has damaged the unity of the Jewish People. The arrest of Anat Hoffman serves to confirm Reform Jews’ most painful realisation: That they are more free to practice their religion abroad than in Jerusalem, of all places. That this event came in the same week as MK Rotem curtailed negotiations with the Diaspora and pushed for a situation that will make non-orthodox converts ‘second-class Jews’, seemed to provide more evidence of a senseless hatred that threatens to divide the Jewish People.

Of course the same argument can play in the other direction. For Jews (and there are many of them) who do not see pluralism as a sacred commandment, the introduction of a woman holding a Torah Scroll into the holiest place of the Jewish world was a spiteful provocation. Similarly, without going into the intricacies of the Conversion Bill, the Yisrael Beitenu member of Knesset clearly sees himself as someone who is rushing to alleviate the suffering of thousands who are trapped in a frozen bureaucratic nightmare. Why, he may say, should these people suffer for years while we consult the Diaspora for years over religious esoterica? Why should these non-tax-paying non-voting people condemn Israelis to Rabbinic purgatory?

As we approach Tisha B’Av with head bowed, we ask whether we should view these events as examples of Temple-destroying ‘senseless hatred’, or instead as arguments for the sake of heaven? Not examples of good versus evil, but of sacred healthy and necessary disagreement for the good of the Jewish People?

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