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The Legend of Destruction

The disengagement opposition movement is managing to plant in the public consciousness the idea that the evacuation from Gaza and northern Samaria is a national disaster on the magnitude of the destruction of the Temple.

The disengagement opposition movement is managing to plant in the public consciousness, certainly in the consciousness of cabinet ministers and the prime minister, the idea that the evacuation from Gaza and northern Samaria is a national disaster on the magnitude of the destruction of the Temple.

On the strength of this linkage, the security establishment is in favor of accepting Disengagement Administration head Yonatan Bassi's recommendation to postpone the withdrawal until after Tisha B'Av. Some settlers see this as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's blinking first in the face of opposition to the pullout. Others see the postponement as a sign from heaven strengthening them in the justice of their struggle to thwart disengagement, and in the religious significance they attach to settlement in the areas slated for withdrawal.

Jewish tradition determined, rather arbitrarily, that Tisha B'Av (the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av) was the day the First Temple was destroyed. In the Bible, two different dates appear as the day that Nebuzaradan, Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzer's commander in chief, set fire to the Tabernacle of the Lord: the eighth of Av (2 Kings 25:8-9) and the 10th of Av (Jeremiah 52:12-16). The date of the destruction of the Second Temple was also set arbitrarily: The sources say the Romans took control of the Temple Mount during the first part of the month of Av. The exact day the Temple was destroyed is not clear. Josephus Flavius says the destruction began on the eighth of Av, and that the Temple was set ablaze on the 10th of the month.

Other traditions appear in early rabbinic commentaries, among them one stating that the ninth of Av was determined as the day the First Temple (which had not yet been built) would be destroyed at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, because of the slanderous things that were said about the land of Canaan by the 12 men sent by Moses to spy out the land. Another commentary has it that a warning of the destruction of the Second Temple was heard 40 years before it was actually destroyed.

This is hair-splitting, of course. What counts is the tradition that became sacred over the generations pinpointing the ninth of Av as the date on which horrific calamities twice befell the Jewish people. The symbolism of the arbitrary date intensified over 2,000 years and more: Other national disasters that struck the Jewish people were ascribed to that date, either artificially, or because the various tyrants actually chose that date to issue their edicts. That is how the ninth of Av became the date on which Betar fell (the last bastion of the Bar-Kochba Revolt), the day of the expulsion of the Jews from England (in the 13th century), of the expulsion of the Jews from France (in the 14th century), of the expulsion from Spain (the end of the 15th century), of the expulsion from Austria (in the 17th century) and even some of the Nazi annihilations during the Holocaust.

And so, when disengagement's opponents link this mythological date to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, they are seeking to give it the same significance: It, too, portends destruction; it, too, symbolizes a turn toward a major disaster in the history of the Jewish people; it, too, must be lamented and mourned as if it were the destruction of the "Third Temple" (that is, of the very renewal of the state and of the independence of the Jewish people).

The hardships that disengagement holds for every family involved are not to be taken lightly; it is not right to describe it as merely a moving day. It is the uprooting of a dream and of habitude. The distress surrounding the entire settler community is also understandable: Their collective worldview is collapsing, their vision has shattered. The difficulty of getting used to the change in the prime minister's stand, and the cabinet and Knesset decisions proceeding from it, is no simple thing.

However, it is not a national disaster. Here is another way to look at disengagement: It is a harbinger of redemption, of liberation from a heavy burden that has distorted the development of the state these past 38 years, caused unnecessary bloodshed and mutilated the state's moral image. And for those who need symbolism, the messiah is to be born on the Ninth of Av.