The 9th Of Av: On Failures Of Political And Religious Leadership OpEd – Eurasia Review

Posted By on July 25, 2022

When Jews mourn the two destructions of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple on the 9th of Av (August 7 this year) they begin by reading the Biblical Book of Lamentations, and feel tears of sorrow, pains of grief, and the agony of loss.

But in Hebrew the Biblical Book of Lamentations is named EaichaHow? So we also should silently think about: How did it happen? How come it happened? Who was responsible: our foreign enemies? our political and religious leaders? our own hate filled, inflexible, sectarianism? our God?

Thus we add to the Biblical Book of Lamentations; the rabbinic anthology of Midrashim (traditional glosses) about how, why and whoEaicha Rabba.

The rebirth of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel makes it more important than ever for our generation and its leaders to turn from 9th of Av mourning to seeking an understanding of the lessons our Rabbis learned from these two national historical catastrophes.

The Talmud (Gitten 56a) reports: The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza in this way. A certain man had a friend Kamtza and an enemy Bar Kamtza. Once he made a banquet and said to his servant, go and bring Kamtza. The man went and brought Bar Kamtza.

When the host found Bar Kamtza there he said, You gossip about me, what are you doing here? Get out. Bar Kamtza replied, Since I am here let me stay and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink. The host refused. Then let me pay you for half the cost of the banquet. No! Then let me pay for the whole banquet. The host refused and took Bar Kamtza by the arm and pulled him outside.

Bar Kamtza said to himself, Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the (Roman) Government. He went and told the Governor that the Jews were disloyal.

The Governor asked how he could test them. He replied, Send them an offering (to the Temple) and see if they offer it. So he sent with him a fine (unblemished) calf. On the way, Bar Kamtza made a small blemish on the calfs upper lip, in a place where we (Jews) count it as a blemish but they (the Romans) do not.

The Rabbis were inclined to (compromise and) offer it (on the Alter). Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos said to them, People will say that (we approved) blemished animals to be offered on the alter. Then they proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so he could not go inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos said to them, Is a person who makes a blemish on a consecrated animal to be put to death?

Rabbi Yohanan (ben Zakkai) thereupon remarked, Through the humility (scrupulousness) of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos; our sanctuary was destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land.

According to the Talmuds account, what or who was responsible for the catastrophe? Was it just bad luck; the servants unintentional mistake in bringing the wrong man? Was it the hosts stubborn rigidity or unrelenting hostility to someone who gossiped about him? Why didnt the rabbis who were there intervene? Shaming someone in public is considered akin to murder in rabbinic thought.

Perhaps, like some ultra-orthodox Rabbis today, they didnt rebuke the hosts refusal to have anything to do with someone he looked down upon, because they were busy checking if the food was kosher enough? Perhaps those Rabbis thought there is no reason to compromise with transgressors.

Bar Kamtza is the pivotal character in this tragedy. His intention was to humiliate the Rabbis, as he was humiliated, by slandering them to the governor (he was a gossip, which is also akin to murder). But a charge of disloyalty is a dangerous charge since the governor will demand proof.

Did it occur to Bar Kamtzah that the priests would refuse to offer the calf? The Rabbis are willing to compromise the ritual purity of the offering and desecrate the alter to avoid insulting the government, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos objects. Is he a man of principle, a dangerous fanatic, or a fool? The Rabbis propose killing Bar Kamtzah to shut him up, but Zechariah ben Avkulos again objects. Does he lack the guts to do whatever is needed to prevent a war which will kill tens of thousands?

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai says Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos humility (a lack of willingness to act decisively to transgress the Torah in order to save it) doomed the Temple. Does humility prevent Orthodox Rabbis today from solving the problems of thousands of Orthodox women whose husbands will not give them a divorce? Do they lack the guts to prohibit their followers from smoking and overeating while they keep adding stricter and stricter rules for food and female dress?

This Rabbi is known today only from his role in this catastrophe. He is called Rabbi Zechariah ben Eucolus in an account in Eicha Rabba where it is said that he was present at the party and could have prevented Bar Kamtzahs humiliation but did not intervene.

Rabbi Yose says that Zechariah ben Eucolus meekness burnt down the Temple. But Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that Zechariah ben Amphicalleus was a leader of a group of extremist priests who half way through the revolt overthrew the more moderate rebellious priests. Perhaps Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, who lived in Jerusalem during the rebellion, used humility ironically to indicate a legalistic, narrow minded extremism dressed up as modesty.

Perhaps this is why the Talmud says that while the first Temple was destroyed because of three evils: idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed; the Second Temple was destroyed at a time when people occupied themselves with Torah, with Mitsvot, and with giving charity. Yet unfettered hatred prevailed. This should teach us that unrestrained hatred is deemed as evil as all the three sins of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed together. (Yoma 9b)

How could people who occupied themselves with Torah study, Mitsvot and Tsadakah (charity) engage freely in hate? The Talmud records this amazing statement, Rabbi Yohanan said: Jerusalem was only destroyed, because they judged by Din Torah (rigorous/strict Law). Should they have judged by the brutal (Roman) laws?(no,) but they judged by strict law, and did not go Lifnim miShurat haDin (beyond the letter of the law). (Bava Mezia 30b).

Strict halakah and narrow minded zeal easily lead to anger and hate, which unfettered and unrestrained lead to disaster. It is not surprising that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai openly criticizes the failure to judge people with understanding, flexibility and loving tolerance. He was the only Rabbi in the Talmud to openly declare a Torah commandment abrogated due to changed circumstances.

All the rest of the Rabbis accomplished the same thing by legal reinterpretation rather than an open ruling. The Jewish people, especially in Israel today, need another Yohanan ben Zakkai to liberate the thousands of women who cannot get remarried because their husbands have disappeared or are refusing to give them a get (divorce).

The Quran refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists. (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided.

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that the descendants of Abrahams sons should never make war against each other is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.In thatdayIsrael will joina three-partyalliance with Egyptand Assyria,a blessing uponthe heart.The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.(Isaiah 19:23-5)

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The 9th Of Av: On Failures Of Political And Religious Leadership OpEd - Eurasia Review

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