As if There Were No State

Until a logical, current, relevant and Zionist way to mark Tisha B'Av can be found, perhaps the right way to behave on that day is exactly the way that most non-observant Jews do: to ignore it.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, a few important rabbis from the national-religious camp proposed making changes to the Nahem prayer recited on Tisha B'Av. The idea was that since we had established a sovereign state and resumed control of Jerusalem, it was no longer appropriate to continue to speak about "a desolate and vacant city... laid waste and deserted." Most Orthodox rabbis, however, wanted to continue to mourn the destruction, even when Jerusalem was quite rebuilt, and were unwilling to lend a hand in even this small and very sensible reform. It is unlikely that anyone thought about turning this day of mourning into a festival.

Tonight, many non-observant Israeli Jews will be wondering why the cafes are closed. Yes, indeed, tomorrow is Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning over the destruction of both the First and Second Temples and the dispersion (as well as a long list of other calamities). It is interesting to consider how many of our readers knew that it is tomorrow, how many will feel themselves to be in mourning, and how many of them even deem it significant. It is doubtful that anyone should even feel bad about this, with the possible exception of the rabbis, who have not bothered to make the fast day relevant.

It is no accident that so many non-observant Jews feel no connection to Tisha B'Av. Some people say it is because it falls during summer vacation, so children do not learn about it in school. But the source of the resistance seem to be deeper. In many ways, Tisha B'Av is the negative of Independence Day. Everything that a secular Zionist could wish for -- an independent, sovereign, democratic, Jewish state, the in-gathering of the exiles of the Law of Return, a strong army, model academic and scientific institutions -- already exists. That is why Independence Day is celebrated.

Tisha B'Av is the day on which large segments of the religious and ultra-Orthodox community say, this is not enough. For us, until the Temple is rebuilt, until redemption comes, until the Messiah comes, until we all follow the laws of the Torah -- it's just not it. What relationship to the state is expressed by the people who, on Tisha B'Av, sit on the floor, barefoot, as if we were still in the midst of the destruction and exile?

Tisha B'Av is also the day on which non-observant Jews look at their religious friends in disbelief and ask themselves: The Temple? Really? Is that what you want? The revival of priestly service? Sacrifices? Come on, be serious. The vision of rebuilding the Temple is not a prophecy, it is a nightmare. After all, it is hard to imagine a situation in which the Temple would not be at the center of a Jewish mullah state, and even many religious Jews would not want to live in that kind of state.

In the past several years, non-religious Jews have attempted to place fear of civil war at the center of Tisha B'Av. The religious, however, continue to focus on mourning for the Temple. Talking to oneself about internecine conflict is not particularly effective, and is unlikely to bring the warring camps closer. This begs the question: Is it really possible to create a secular alternative to Tisha B'Av?

Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg proposed changing Tisha B'Av, making the first half a time for mourning and the second half a meal of thanksgiving, in a combination that echoes the rapid succession of Israel's Memorial and Independence days. But Burg's proposal cannot be implemented without cooperation from the Orthodox. You cannot celebrate while many of your co-religionists are mourning, even if they are mourning an exile that has ended, and even if it is unclear whether they are mourning for the Jerusalem that was destroyed or for the ruins that no longer exist and to which they cannot say goodbye.

And anyway, the religious community does not need to celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av. It has demonstrated a remarkable ability to celebrate Jerusalem Day as if there was no Tisha B'Av, and commemorates Tisha B'Av as if Jerusalem had not been liberated.

Until a logical, current, relevant and Zionist way to mark Tisha B'Av can be found, perhaps the right way to behave on that day is exactly the way that most non-observant Jews do: to ignore it, as if it did not exist. But even those who ignore this day of mourning find it difficult to ignore the fact that our religious brethren insist on behaving as so many of the things that are so important and precious to us are not even worthy of their attention.