17 b’Tammuz and Why You Shouldn’t Only be Fasting: Protest Instead

Tomorrow starting at dawn, traditional Jews from around the world will commemorate the fast of 17 b’Tammuz, a day marked by the Jewish tradition primarily for the breaching of the Second Temple’s gates by Roman forces. 

The main justifications for this fast, from the Rabbinic perspective, have to do with its instrumental value: by remembering the process leading to the downfall of the Second Temple, we Jews will remember our responsibility for the destruction, owing to the ‘baseless hatred’ and internecine warfare that divided the Jews and enabled the Romans to destroy the second Israelite commonwealth. 

This dovetails with the ways Jews have traditionally understood the circumstances of the destruction of the Second Temple: it was destroyed for internal, rather than external reasons. As Dovid Gottleib notes in Cross-Currents, some of the greatest sages of our generations (from Rabbi Yochana to the Maharal) held that it was due to ‘baseless hatred’ that the Temple was destroyed, and, therefore, it is upon us to counter that hatred with understanding and solidarity (known as “Ahavat Hinam”).  

The fast, therefore, has been traditionally justified in the texts as a way for Jews to take personal responsibility for the destruction of the Temple, reminding themselves of the circumstances of the destruction, and purifying their hearts and souls so that we will not see another calamity of that nature visit us again. 

Thing is, in our time, the biggest source of ‘baseless hatred,’ of Sinat Hinam, is the Rabbanut.

The Israeli official Rabbanite divides the Jewish People like never before. Millions of Jews across the world are held in suspect by the Rabbanut, forced to undergo shameful treatment to prove their Jewishness. Thousands of leaders of our people — Rabbis — are not even considered Jewish, let alone Rabbis, by these ‘keepers of the faith.’ And millions of secular or liberal Israelis are driven to hate our tradition by the foul way in which the Rabbanut manhandles them as they go through marriage, divorce and burial issues by State fiat under the Rabbanut’s jurisdiction. 

The ironic thing is that the people who are keeping the Rabbanut in power, those who have a respect for tradition, are fasting tomorrow on 17 b’Tammuz so that they may remember the effect of baseless hatred back then, when they are doing little to nothing to end the baseless hatred today in their midst. The silence of the traditional, of those who understand that Judaism is much grander and broader than what the Rabbanut would have it, is what is keeping the Rabbanut in place. The traditional are worse than bystanders: they are accomplices in the destructive, hateful actions of the Rabbanut; in the repealing of conversions, in the refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of various paths to the Torah, in their harsh refusal to protect the Aguna and Almana, in their calls for alienating the stranger in our midst. 

Instead of only fasting, all who care about Judaism and the wisdom of our tradition should use the three weeks between the 17 b’Tammuz and Tisha b’Av as weeks of protest. Instead of solely denying ourselves food and drink for horrors past, we should work to actively deny our support from horrors present. 

Join me in this quest to spread Ahavat Hinam amongst the Jewish People. Fast half a day for the past, or even the full day, but more importantly spend half the day calling for the fast dispersal of the Rabbanut, and the speedy liberation of our tradition from their corrupt hands. 

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