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July 5, 2013
This week's commentary is special contribution from Rabbi Lionel Moses, who is in Jerusalem attending the annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly.
Can We Still Mourn for Jerusalem in the City of Gold?
I have been in Jerusalem for a week, attending the annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly and beginning my fourth and final summer as a Fellow of The Shalom Hartman Institute, SHI for short. The city is teeming with tourists, the shops are filled with shoppers, the Light Rail is running up and down Jaffa Street and the city is bursting with life and energy. It is therefore hard to believe that next Tuesday will begin the month of Av and the countdown to Tisha B'Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem, not once but twice. In the Haredi, ultra-Orthodox communities and neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the mourning period began a week ago on June 25, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, but even in the mixed neighborhoods of religious and secular Jews, the signs of the impending fast will begin to appear. The Jerusalem Film Festival will close next Thursday, July 11 and the Jerusalem Theatre will go dark two days later. The restaurants will start to add dairy or parve items to their menus to accommodate those who do not eat meat during the first nine days of Av. And on Tisha B'Av itself, a certain hush, different from the calm that ushers in Shabbat, envelops the city, especially on the eve of Tisha B'Av.
The dichotomy between the bustling, ever expanding vibrancy of the contemporary City of Jerusalem, soon to surpass Tel Aviv as the largest city in Israel, and the morbid mourning that occurs on Tisha B'Av does not go unnoticed and can hardly be ignored. Why are we still mourning Jerusalem, fasting for 25 hours on what is often among the hottest days of the year, chanting Eichah, the biblical Book of Lamentations, in a hauntingly beautiful melody, written in a minor key to elicit and emphasize the sadness we are expected to feel, sitting on low stools or on the floor like mourners, reciting Kinot, medieval dirges bemoaning the destruction of Jerusalem, when all around us there is growth, expansion and vibrant life?
An answer might lie in the Gemara's explanation of why Jerusalem was destroyed in the first place. The Gemara attributes the destruction of Jerusalem to Sinat Hinam, baseless hatred. While Jerusalem may very well be rebuilt, while Jerusalem has now become one united city 45 years ago, Sinat Hinam still remains a fetid sore that eats away at Israeli society. Rabbi Donniel Hartman, in a recent lecture described the challenge of contemporary Israel as overcoming the baseless animosity and distrust among the different "tribes" of modern day Israel. Modern Israelis, both religious and secular, hate the Haredim. Israeli Jews hate Israeli Arabs. Tel Aviv Liberals hate the Jews of the smaller cities who voted for the various right of centre political parties in the last election. Jewish tribalism is part of our 3500 year history, but certainly we need one day a year to reflect on the distrust and animosity our different tribes feel for each other. Furthermore we need to be reminded that such distrust and animosity nearly 2000 years ago brought down the Second Jewish Commonwealth and sent our people into a 1900 year exile and dispersion that was only reversed 65 years ago. As Jews, we will not always agree with one another, but our disagreements must be L'shem Shamayim, for the higher purpose of creating an even more dynamic Israel and an even more vibrant Jewish people who collectively can serve God's ultimate purpose for us, that we be "A Light unto the Nations," worthy of being called Israel, the people who contended with God and won.
This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Lionel Moses. Rabbi Moses, a native of Toronto, was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1977, and hold degrees from the University of Toronto and a MA in Jewish Literature from JTS. He is currently a Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and Rabbi at Shaare Zion Congregation in Montreal, since August 1995. He has served pulpits in Alabama, New York, and California.