Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Fasted For on Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is always a difficult day in North America. It's hot. It's long. It has become associated with tragedies far beyond the destruction of two Temples and the loss of our homeland. When I was in university, there was a trend to fast only half the day. Much like the midrash of Nachshon jumping into the sea before God split the waters, the modern State of Israel was the human start to bringing the messianic age. I still believe this, but my belief is tempered. While we enjoy a modern Jewish state, our unity as a people is regularly tested by the actions of those who claim to follow the letter of the law, but forget the spirit. 

Talmud Gittin tells the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza as a prelude to the destruction and exile.

A wealthy man was throwing a party. His servant was sent to invite his friend Kamza, but mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamza. When this man sees Bar Kamza at his party, he orders Bar Kamza to leave. Three times, Bar Kamza tries to save face and make peace: offering to pay for his food, for half the party, and even for the entire party. The man, so caught up in his hatred, throws Bar Kamza out. 

Humiliated, Bar Kamza seeks revenge against the rabbis who were present, but did not stand up against his public embarrassment, informing the Roman authorities that the Jews are planning a revolt. Unsure whether to believe Bar Kamza, the Roman authority sends an animal to the Temple as a peace offering. Along the way, Bar Kamza wounds the animal in a way that disqualifies it as a Jewish sacrifice, but would still be acceptable under Roman law.

When the animal arrives, the Sanhedrin debates whether to still allow the sacrifice due to the precariousness of the situation. Some say the offering should be done to avoid war. Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos says no lest it lead to people bringing blemished animals to the Temple. Others suggest Bar Kamza should be put to death to show his duplicity. Again Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos argues that this is not acceptable because death is not the penalty for bringing a wounded animal for sacrifice.

Angered by the refusal of the sacrifice, the Romans lay siege to Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan says, the result of the punctiliousness of Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos was the destruction of the Temple and exile from Israel.
Our tradition has always attributed this to senseless hatred. But it's only marginally the hatred of the man for Bar Kamza. Instead, the senseless hatred is actually loving the law more than the people. This is the senselessness. 
Our unity as a people is regularly threatened by those in the State of Israel who put their interpretation of the law before the unity of the Jewish people. We have never been a monolithic people when it comes to interpretation, but we have stood together through the good and the bad. Israel must be a place where all Jews can have a comfortable home free of intimidation and fear. Until that day, I will be fasting all day.

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