Next week, we will observe one of the saddest days in our calendar: Tisha B'av (the 9th of the month of Av). This day commemorates the destruction of the first and second holy Temples in Jerusalem and led to the beginning of the exile of the Jews from Eretz Israel (the land of Israel). The Rabbis asked a question that many of us would have asked: Why did this happen to us? There are various answers given in different places in the Talmud. One of the most well known answers is that this tragedy befell us because of sinat chinam, causeless hatred, within the Jewish people. But in another place in the Talmud, Masechet Shabbat 119b, even more reasons are given.
Abaye said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they [its inhabitants] desecrated the Sabbath there
R. Abbahu said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they stopped the reading of the shema morning and evening
R. Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they neglected [the education of] school children; ' Ulla said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they had no shame (of sin) one before the other
R. Isaac said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal R. Amram son of R. Simeon b. Abba said in R. Simeon b. Abba's name in R. Hanina's name: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they did not rebuke each other
Rab Judah said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they held scholars in contempt there Raba said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people of integrity there ceased.
If we look at the reasons, we can see that they are quite diverse, and they are given by Rabbis that span several generations in both Israel and Babylonia. It seems like each Rabbi in each generation had their own crisis within the Jewish people that they were themselves dealing with. Even though the destruction of the Temple seemed to have been brought by external powers (the powerful Roman military) our Rabbis felt that we could have influenced our own people in a better way.
As Jews living in the modern world, we are more similar to our ancestors than we may think. We too have our own crisis within the Jewish world that we are dealing with, and the question is, how will we deal with it? One of our internal issues that we deal with is the question of who is a Jew. This issue plays out most powerfully in Israel in the right of return for those who converted outside of Israel with Conservative, Reform, and in some cases, Orthodox Rabbis, and rights of progressive Jews in Israel. A couple of months ago, I asked you to write to our leaders in Israel about a bill called the Rotem bill which would threaten religious pluralism in Israel. Your action worked and the bill was defeated, but the Rotem bill, slightly changed, is back and being brought forward to the Knesset.
Natan Sharansky said, “We cannot divide the Jewish people with legislation which many in the Jewish world view as defining them as second-class Jews,” he said. “Jews abroad are the most loyal supporters of Israel, and stand at the forefront of the fight for Israel’s image around the world.”
I urge you all to take action again to make sure that we do not repeat mistakes of the past. We are one people, and on the eve of this very sad holiday, let us affirm our unity as a people.
Ahm Israel Chai – the Nation of Israel lives!
Rabbi David Baum