By David Waksberg, CEO Jewish LearningWorks
For years we did not fast on Tisha b'Av. The 9th of Av, a Jewish day of mourning, commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temple, along with other calamities through history.
We didn't fast because, well, it's complicated. In my youth, I'd learned that we fast on Tisha b'Av to mourn the destruction of the Temple. In the long run, I didn't think the destruction of the Temple was such a bad thing - Judaism adapted and evolved. We were again, as Hatikvah notes, a free people in our land. I'd moved on and I was not interested in a third Temple.
But my purpose is not to explain why I stopped fasting; rather, about why I started again. This year.
The rabbis attributed the destruction of the Temples to sinat chinam (causeless hatred). That phrase - causeless hatred - always struck me. Is there such a thing as causeful hatred? I get it, causeless hatred referred to hatred without reason (among ourselves). But when is there a good reason to hate?
But again, I digress. I came to realize that my Jewish education failed me. Because the thing to mourn on Tisha b'Av is not the Temple, but the sinat chinam - the hatred that caused its destruction. The hatred among Jews. The hatred of the Babylonians toward the Jews. The hatred of the Romans. The hatred of England toward its Jews, who were expelled on the 9th of Av, 1290. The hatred of the Spanish Inquisition that led to, on the 9th of Av in 1492, the expulsion of every Jew after centuries of life in Spain. The hatred of the Nazis, who began to deport the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps on the 9th of Av, 1942.
My Jewish education failed me because what I learned about Tisha b'Av was the most basic and least interesting aspects. I felt scant connection to the Temple and its rituals. But hatred, pettiness and dehumanization - these were and are all around me.
When has "causeless hatred" been more alive than today? It was among those Palestinians who kidnapped and murdered Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yiftach, and Gilad Shaar. Among those Jews who abducted and burned alive Mohammed Khdeir. It is alive in Nigeria, where school girls "disappear" and Boko Haram has killed more than 3,000 people this year. And it is thriving in Syria - where the death toll is nearing 200,000 (most of them non-combatants) and in Iraq, where Sunni ISIS fighters are targeting Shia, Christians and other non-Sunni groups - the death toll there is nearing 10,000 civilians during the last 12 months and Christians are being singled out for forced conversion, expulsion, or death.
Will my fasting today end hatred tomorrow? Not likely. But why do we fast in the first place? To focus our attention and look inward. So I'm starting with myself - reflecting on the dark corners of my own heart. I'll see where that takes me.
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