[Original–and slightly longer–version of my article published by Israel Insider]
If there was to be one day in the year the secular Jewish world should set aside and remember, it should be the ninth day of the month of Av. As increasing amounts of secular Jews search their roots for significance while hoping to find elements of tradition that will sync with their non-traditional lifestyle, Tisha B’Av should stand out for its contemporary, even new-agey message: we, as human beings, are responsible for one another, to keep peace within our own communities, and that our own internal divisions and hatreds endanger our very existence.
Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, is a day with almost no religious significance. It is a day removed from miracles. From the religious perspective, Tisha b’Av was the day that the world, the Universe, and God, if you will, was so fed up with the hatred between the Jewish people that he gave them up to the hands of the Romans. In a secular light, Tisha b’Av is the day that the internal divisions within the Jewish community of Jerusalem became so extreme that Jew turned against Jew, and the city fell from within, destroying a Jewish state which would not be reborn for nearly two millennia.
The fall of Jerusalem and the Temple nearly two thousand years ago has repercussions till this day. After the fall of Jerusalem, Jewish sovereignty was officially crushed. Those who did not die from the sword or did not starve to death within the walled city were dragged off by the Romans to be sold as slaves. The surviving men, women and children were dragged by their ankles and wrists and dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, providing the foundation for a history of anti-Semitism and oppression that follows us till this day.
The land itself was renamed Palestine in what as an ancient world version of a sick joke, metaphysically and linguistically divorcing the land from its indigenous Hebrew tribes, creating a myth that also remains a thorn in our side till this day.
It is from that day forth that the Jewish people entered nearly two thousand years of exile, containing countless pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, Islamic Jizyah—or non-believer—taxes and the Holocaust. It was the absence of the Jewish State that allowed Jews to be treated thusly throughout the world.
And tradition tells that this calamity, this era of Shoa, happened not because the Jews forgot to follow the law of the Torah, or because everyone hates the Jews for their chosen-ness. Exactly the opposite is true. The Sages say that the law was followed down to the last letter—it was the spirit that was forgotten. The legend also tells that Jerusalem could have held out against the Roman siege thanks to the philanthropy of a select number of Jewish patrons within the walled city, but that extremist Jews named the Biryonim forced a confrontation by burning the city’s stocks.
The blame sits squarely on the shoulders of the Jews themselves, specifically for their indiscriminant hatred of each other, and their lack of sensitivity to the honor of their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, we seem not to have learned our lesson. Today, while still at the dawn of what could potentially be a new age of Jewish existence in a State of its own, the hatred is on the rise again. The secular hate the religious; the religious hate the secular; Ashkenazi hate the Sephardim; the Moroccans hate the Russians; the Russians hate the Ethiopians; everyone hates everyone again.
And once again we are at that threshold when we can quite easily loose our State once more. The destruction in the days of yore did not come from within—the Romans were the chosen players of the Universe to bring down the Israeli kingdom of hatred. Will the Arabs play the part this time? The Americans?
But it is not too late. It is said that when the Temple was destroyed the destruction began with the wise men and the elders because they did nothing to stop the wrong-doing. We must recognize the importance of Tisha b’Av in that it provides for us a living, breathing memorial of the beginning of all violence, and a point in which all that violence could have been stopped before it started.
Speaking for myself, I fast on Tisha b’Av because it reminds me a fraction of the pain the Jews felt throughout the ages, and because, looking around and seeing the hatred saturating our community, I realize I too am responsible for the self-inflicted suffering.
Fasting is just the vehicle to drive the point home. By denying oneself that basic element, one is constantly reminded that this day is unlike all other days, a day for deep meditation, a day where one remembers that it is the hatred in his or her heart that can make or break our peoples’ existence. No matter who started it, the hatred has to stop somewhere, and where better than in one’s own heart. I urge you to take the first step in healing the Jewish people, and taking responsibility for our collective future.