Monday, August 22, 2016

The 9th of Av: It's About the Temple!

It turns out that I am not the only one who disagrees with Rabbi Cardozo, who wrote an article on why he does not read the Book of Lamentations on the 9th of Av. British United Synagogue's rabbi in Israel, Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, also wrote a rebuttal to Rabbi Cardozo, making some of the same points that I made, but making others that go in a totally different (and IMHO incorrect) direction.

Maybe it is me, but I had the feeling after reading Rabbi Sylvester's article, that he was trying to market the 9th of Av more as a "Tikkun Olam" kind of thing and less as a day of mourning the loss of the Holy Temple. He writes:

This day prises open the heart of darkness forcing us to confront historical tragedies and current failings. Thankfully, our suffering does not compare with the horrors facing Jewry 2,000 years ago or even 100 years ago, but all is not perfect, and in reading the Book of Lamentations, we probe our situation asking Eicha? Why?

Why do some of our neighbors refuse to accept Israel’s existence and daily plot its destruction? Why must we live with the constant fear that they will develop nuclear capabilities and hold the world to ransom? Why are we forbidden from murmuring a short prayer on the Temple Mount — our holiest site? Why across Europe is terror and anti-Semitism on the rise forcing many Jews to leave their homes and abandon their countries?

Beyond the confines of our Jewish state and Diaspora communities, we live in the shadow of refugees, flood victims, child slaves and those surrounded by scarcity, war and disease.

I met some of them on my American Jewish World Service’s delegation to Ghana; wonderful people who live in abject poverty, with no toilets or running water and little access to medicine except for the local witch-doctor. It shocked me to the core; but these were not the most deprived. Every single day, approximately 20,000 people die for lack of food and medicine. It would not take much to stave off their hunger and save their lives.

In these circumstances, we have no right to complacency and no room to relinquish the biblical book reminding us that life has had and continues to have threads of tragedy.

Towards the end he adds:
In our generation, many people struggle to relate to the loss of the Temple and its service. But responsible rabbis should not call for us to forget our tragic history, and the ritual of one of our holiest days. If we want to understand Tisha B’Av, let us reflect on what a world of decency, justice and compassion would look like.
"In our generation, many people struggle to relate to the loss of the Temple and its service", the rabbi writes. I say, yes this is true, and it is the job of rabbis, educators and anybody who has the ability, to teach the Jewish People how to relate to the Temple and its service! Our enthusiasm for the Temple and the laws pertaining to it should not fall from our enthusiasm to other mitzvot! If we are of this state of mind, which is really what the Torah requires of us, mourning on the 9th of Av and reading The Book of Lamentations will be meaningful as our prophets and sages meant it to be.
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