By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
A man once told me that he became a more observant Jew when he changed from being a person who remembers the Sabbath Day, according to the first set of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5), to a person who observes it, as per the second set (Deuteronomy 5:12).
Using the same distinction I confess that over the years, and especially since coming to live in Israel, I’ve moved from observing Tisha b’Av, the ninth day in the Hebrew month of Av – which is marked today, July 26, and which commemorates the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem – to just remembering the day.
Witnessing the miracle of the rebirth of Israel I find it difficult to mourn the destruction of the Second Temple some 2000 years ago and the destruction of the First 500 years earlier. Had I not been a liberal Jew and a Zionist I might have felt obligated to follow the rules of tradition, but wanting to celebrate Israel today I cannot muster much more enthusiasm than remembering the event of long ago but not mourning it.
Many who bewail the end of the Temple era say that they also hope that it’ll be restored. If they’re apolitical pious traditionalists who wait for the supernatural miracle of Messianic times that will bring back the ancient glory of Israel, I’ve no problem with them. I respect their piety even if I don’t share their hopes.
But the issue has also become a dangerous political hot potato in Israel. There’re some zealots here who aren’t just prepared to wait patiently for the Messiah to restore the ancient sanctuary; they want to rebuild it now by clearing the site. This would mean raising to the ground the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, two of Islam’s most holy sites.
There’re all kinds of weird groups in Jerusalem today who “prepare” for it. They constitute a national risk and are no doubt being watched in case they take the law into their own hands. Needless to say, should they – God beware – succeed even to the smallest degree, they’d endanger the future of Israel and set the Middle East aflame.
Incidentally, not all of them are Jews. Some Christian fanatics also harbour the sick and dangerous view that Redemption will only come about when the Temple is rebuilt. Of course, they see it in a Christological context.
Part of the process would include purifying the present site and that must be done by a complicated and bizarre ritual that involved red heifer, as described in Numbers 19. We read sometimes nowadays about Jewish farmers in Israel and devout Christians abroad claiming to breed specimens in preparation for the great day.
All this is enough for me remember but not observe the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. The ancient calamity, I argue, has been made good by the establishment of the State of Israel. To hope to restore the sanctuary may make observance of the day to be at best misguided and at worst extremely dangerous.
The Book of Lamentations, which is traditionally read on Tisha b’Av and much prophetic literature that it echoes also suggest that the calamity of destruction may have been caused by our own sins. The fantasy of restoring it now has the potential of a much greater sin and, therefore, as respectful as we may want to be of tradition, it behooves us to make sure that piety doesn’t become a cause for self-annihilation.
Jerusalem 26.7.15 (Tisha b’Av)