Sunday, July 18, 2010

Off Our Rockers

It's the 8th of Av. That means the Jewish people only have 24 hours to finish going completely off our rockers.

Is it just me, or does it seem to you guys as well that Tisha B'Av brings out the serious crazy in Am Yisrael?

All this discussion about Jewish sovereignty and Jerusalem brings out the pro-Israeli-settler nutbars. The highlight for me came two Shabbatot ago, when my shul's young associate rabbi gave a drash (homiletic speech) on the chapter on Zachariah about Jewish fasts. Zachariah, the rabbis of the Talmud, and the major medieval commentaries, discuss the circumstances under which fasting on Tisha B'Av would be nullified. The sources are not exactly clear, but our living in a time of "peace" is a precondition, though not the only one, and not everyone agrees on what "peace" means. He innocently asked the congregation whether Jews currently live in a time of persecution, a time of peace, or a neutral time. Imagine in his surprise when a few people independently piped up that we currently live in a time of persecution. The rabbi pointed out that even the Rishonim (medieval commentators such as Rashi and Maimonides), who lived at a time when they were officially second-class citizens, when Jews were physically attacked by Christians with impunity, when Jews were forced to listen to sermons in their shuls by Christians who wanted to convert them, thought that they lived in a neutral time. The rabbi realized his mistake when someone said, "But if I can't build a house wherever I want in Yerushalayim, how can you say that's not persecution?" The rabbi quickly said, "No politics," and continued to something else. Our rabbis do not talk about politics from the bima (pulpit), since a modern Orthodox shul in Manhattan will have a range of political opinions, and what is the point of stirring the pot? We'd all kill each other. So, since the rabbi can't answer, allow me to:

Persecution is when non-Jews try to kill you, convert you, tell you what clothes you can wear and by what religious laws you have to live. Not being able to build a house anywhere you want in Jerusalem in 2010 is the democratically-elected government of a sovereign Jewish state in the Land of Israel denying you a building permit. SEE HOW THEY'RE DIFFERENT?

Another difference is the one between what you CAN do and what you SHOULD do. Your better-raised 9-year-olds know this. Do you think maybe they can tell the settlers? (I am not saying that Jerusalem is a settlement. The Jerusalem stuff is merely a symptom of the larger alternate universe in which the settlers are living. You know, the "What do you mean there's a demographic problem?" universe. I'm saying that throwing Palestinians out of their homes in full few of the international media is a stupid idea, and, of course, and immoral one, though if the "immoral" doesn't convince you, just try to focus on the "stupid").

Also, talking about the Messiah ("Moshiach") makes people crazy, too. How could it not? We have no idea what will happen, there are many conflicting sources, almost all of them written during a time in which monarchy was considered the best form of government, bar none, and women were, shall we say, not yet liberated. DovBear has done a better job than I, of course, in talking about some of the problems that come with traditional Jewish ideas about the Messiah, so I will direct you to his post.

It's not always easy for the modern Jew to relate to Tisha B'Av, as the Orthoprax rabbi points out. For me, the exile of the Shekhinah (the Presence of God) from Jerusalem and, therefore, from the midst of the Jewish people, at the destruction of the First Temple, is plenty to mourn. I will leave building permits and the question of what denomination of Judaism the Messiah will represent for another day.

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