Western Wall Kotel

Four Reasons Why Tisha B’Av Is Relevant Today

Temple Burning Tisha B’av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is a fast day commemorating  the destruction of both the First and Second Temples located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of Jews from their country. This year it begins at sundown July 31 and ends at nightfall on August 1st. 

A number of other calamities also befell the Jewish people on that day including: the crushing of Bar Kochba’s revolt against Roman rule and the death of 580,00 Jews in Israel as a result of it; the official start of the First Crusade which killed 10,000 Jews in France and Germany during the first month alone; the expulsion of the Jews from England, France and Spain; the beginning of the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto; and Himmler’s receipt of approval from the Nazi party for the “Final Solution,” which resulted in the death of six million Jews.

While  these seasons are more than sufficient to warrant a day of fasting, many Jews  wonder if the fast is still relevant today since the main reasons for the fast – the destruction of the two Temples and the city of Jerusalem and the expulsion of its citizens- is not as relevant today.  Jerusalem has been rebuilt and united and Jews have returned to Jerusalem and to Israel. However, as we will see, Tisha B’Av is extremely relevant to us today.

  1. The Temple- Although the Temple has not been rebuilt, Israel is in possession of the site on which the first two Temples were erected- the Temple Mount. However, as evidenced by recent events, the Temple Mount is far from being”in our hands.” The unfortunate decision to leave the Waqf, an Islamic trust controlled by Jordan, in administrative charge of the Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, has resulted in the belief by Palestinians and most other Muslims that the Temple Mount belongs to them. Furthermore, despite historical and archeological evidence to the contrary, Muslims have proclaimed that Jews have no connection to the site and to East Jerusalem. This July, the World Heritage committee of UNESCO passed a resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty of the Old City Of Jerusalem, which includes the Western wall and the Temple Mount. How Christian countries which believe in the Bible and New Testament can agree to such nullification of their own history is beyond belief. The decision by Israel to remove all security devices from the gates leading to the Mount has reinforced the Arab belief in their sovereignty over the site. Clearly, the Temple Mount is not “in our hands.”
  2. Anti Semitism- Anti Zionism is the new Anti Semitism. Anti Semitism is alive and well and is ever increasing its hold on the populations of the world. In Arab countries, it’s in their mother milk. Although some Arab leaders may secretly want to cooperate with Israel, the incitement and hatred promulgated through the years has created an Arab population whose pores ooze anti semitism. The European populace, bolstered by the large influx of muslim refugees, is not Jew friendly. America is seeing a rise in anti semitism that is likely to continue.
  3. The Diaspora- Only half the World’s Jews live in Israel. That means that the other half live in the Diaspora. While life in the Diaspora can be good, Israel is intended to be the homeland of the Jews. For two thousand years Jews prayed for their return to Jerusalem. Now that this is possible, Jews should put their money where their mouth is and come to live in Israel.
  4. Lack of Respect- The Rabbis say that one of the main reasons the second Temple was destroyed was because of the lack of respect Jews paid to each other. Today, this lack of respect has become endemic. Different Jewish sectors totally disparage each other- religious and secular, Haredim and other Jews, Orthodox and Conservative and Reform, and factions within these groups. If we don’t respect each other, how can we expect others to respect us? Only when there is a national crisis, do most groups pull together and briefly behave as one people.

So what can we do to try to better the situation and turn Tisha B’Av from a day of fasting into a day of rejoicing? To begin with, we need to vociferously denounce all attempts at denying the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and Jerusalem. We must make it clear to everyone that Israel is the Jewish state both historically and legally and all attempts to deny this are false. In addition, Jews must visit Jerusalem and the Western Wall in large numbers to make it clear to all that Jerusalem and Israel belongs to the Jews.

The solution to Diaspora Jewry is clear. They should come to Israel now, of their own volition, before they are forced to leave. Those who are afraid of religious coercion need not worry. Israel is a democracy and all forms of Jewish worship are welcome. There is an egalitarian section of the Wall and it will be expanded and made even more aesthetically pleasing. Those looking to find meaning in their lives can reconnect with Judaism in a Jewish country in which one need not strive to hide one’s Jewishness to be accepted. Institutions of Jewish learning abound and are very welcoming.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for anti semitism. It will continue to gain new adherents. As the world becomes an ever more dangerous place, the Jews as scapegoat, aka Israel, will continue to grow in popularity, as expressions of sympathy with Israel will be forbidden. The recent lesbian marches are prime examples. However, all efforts should be made to counter this anti semitism in every way possible.

Finally, Jews need to begin treating each other with greater respect. There is no reason for name calling, or shaming Jews with whom one disagrees. One need not agree with a fellow Jew, but should not make the disagreement a basis for the denigration of the other. Multiple viewpoints can and should exist and the merits of each debated respectfully. We must remember that all Jews are family and we must try to act accordingly.

May everyone’s fast be easy and meaningful. May our next Tisha B’Av will be one of rejoicing, not mourning.

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Categories: Anti Semitism, Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish, Jewish Blog, Politics, Temple Mount, Tisha B"av, UNESCO, Western Wall Kotel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kotel and Conversion Controversy- A Tempest In A Teapot?

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As I sat in my living room yesterday on an overcast fast day marking the beginning of the three week mourning period for the two destroyed Temples in Jerusalem, I could not help but reflect on the current Kotel and Conversion controversy which threatens to weaken the ties between Israel and its brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. One of the main reasons the Rabbis give for the destruction of the Second Temple, is Sinas Chinom, the baseless hatred of one Jew to another. This, I fear, is what this controversy may lead to.

Does Israel really not care for Diaspora Jews and is it indifferent to their feelings and religious beliefs? Is Israel a country a country controlled by the Haredim, or (Ultra Orthodox), whose every whim is honored? Do secular, Reform and Conservative Jews really not have a place where they can pray as they wish in the Kotel complex?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel values and appreciates Diaspora Jews of all types. The country is not controlled by Haredim. In fact, 44% of Israeli Jews self identify as secular, while only 9% identify as Haredim. There is a pretty area near the Kotel set up for egalitarian prayer. Unlike the separate areas for men and women at the Kotel, which are often crowded and under the direct sun, the egalitarian area is shaded and often empty.

So why the uproar? It’s mainly about the Compromise bill on the Kotel, the Western Wall, which was approved by Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Haredi ministers, but frozen at the last minute at the behest of the Haredi party in the government. Yes, since the Haredim initially approved the compromise, they should have gone along with it. if the compromise was not acceptable to them, they should never have approved it. If later they were not happy with it, they should have discussed their objections with the other parties to the compromise. The freezing of the compromise bill and the lack of notice and consultation with parties to the agreement, greatly angered those affected, especially, the Reform and Conservative movements. The bill would have given the power to oversee the egalitarian space to a committee that would have included representatives of Conservative and Reform Judaism. The freezing of the bill means that the egalitarian area will continue to be overseen only by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. This loss of power over a segment of Judaism’s holiest site was a big blow to the non Orthodox movements and they reacted accordingly.

However, their reactions made it seem as if the Israel government had denied the right of non Orthodox people to pray in an egalitarian area at the Wall. That’s fake news. The egalitarian area is alive and well and this bill does not change that. In fact, the government said that the area will be enlarged and made even more  aesthetically pleasing. However, through this bill, Conservative and Reform Judaism hoped to gain official recognition as alternate forms of Judaism in Israel. Both the Reform and Conservative movements are very weak in Israel, as Israelis who are religious are generally traditional, Orthodox or Haredi, and those who are secular usually do not belong to any movement. So this was the opportunity the  two movements were waiting for to become official alternate forms of Judaism, and it failed.

While their disappointment and anger is justified, making it seem that the Israeli government is ignoring the needs of Diaspora Jews is just not true. There is an egalitarian area for prayer and no one is taking that away. The potential loss of power of the Conservative and Reform movements of the egalitarian prayer space is inconsequential to all but the movements’ leaders. Members of these movements will not be affected in any way by the freezing of the Compromise bill.

The Conversion bill which would have given sole authority for conversions in Israel to the Chief Rabbinate also would not change the status of Reform and Conservative Jews. All conversions in Israel are currently done under Orthodox auspices. The bill would only have prevented private Orthodox courts, a desirable alternative for many, from granting conversions in Israel. The conversion bill would not have changed anything under the Law of Return.

The Kotel is a religious area. Religious Jews have been praying there and preserving its holiness for millennia. They pray daily for the restoration of the Temple and fast a few times a year to commemorate events which negatively affected the Temples’ existence. The Kotel is open to all, as is the egalitarian area. The failure of the Compromise bill to pass has not affected the rights of secular Jews to pray there in any way. All Jews, no matter how they were converted in the Diaspora, are still Israeli citizens under the Law of Return.

So let’s put this incident in perspective. Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movement suffered a loss of power, but their members were not negatively affected in any way. So let’s stop insinuating that the Israeli government took away the rights of secular Jews to pray, or failed to appreciate their invaluable contributions to Israel.

In these trying times, when anti semitism is rebounding, let’s remember that we are all Jews, regardless of our way of showing it. Let’s unite behind Israel, which is the only Jewish state in the world and the only country which can guarantee that Jews will not be discriminated against because they are Jewish. Israel needs the Diaspora Jews and the Diaspora Jews need Israel.

Show your support by coming to Israel and praying at the Kotel or its egalitarian area. You’ll be glad you did.

Categories: Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish, Jewish Blog, Judaism, religion, religious freedom, Western Wall Kotel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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