One of the first times we read about the minor Jewish fast day Tenth of Tevet is in the Talmud of Rosh Hashanah (18b). In Mishnaic times, messengers would be sent to Diaspora communities from Jerusalem to declare Rosh Chodesh during the six months that contained holidays, in order to standardize the calendar for festival observance.
However, the month of Tevet - and with it the fast day commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem - was not included on this list. Not surprisingly, the rabbis of the Talmud questioned this, given the day’s significance. Surely having a fast day fall on the right day would qualify as an important time to send out messengers?
Yet the response that the rabbis give to this concern is surprisingly both optimistic and practical. Quoting from prophet Zechariah, they indicate there will be no need to send messengers to announce the fast day of Tenth of Tevet because of the hope that it will eventually become unnecessary. “The fast of the fourth month [...] shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness” (8:19). This is because, according to Rav Papa, a Babylonian rabbi, fasting on the Tenth of Tevet will be entirely conditional on the level of Jewish persecution. “When there is peace they (the fast days) shall be for joy and gladness; if there is persecution, they shall be fast days; if there is no persecution but yet not peace, then those who desire may fast and those who desire need not fast.
Today, I think that the Jewish people are living in a time without direct persecution, but where the peace we desire is becoming increasingly elusive. Unfortunately, as a first step toward creating the peace the Talmud speaks about, the terms of the most recent P5+1 agreement with Iran are a step in the wrong direction. The United States, Israel’s greatest friend and ally, had nothing to lose by going to the negotiation table, but had everything to lose by accepting this raw deal. As a result of these agreements, Iran - which still denies it has a military nuclear program – essentially commits to almost nothing in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Deliberately ambiguous language has further emboldened Iranian leaders back home, where they declare that they have a right to nuclear enrichment, which destabilizes the region as a whole. The deal has done nothing to improve Israel’s standing in the eyes of the Iranians, who continue to belittle Israel and marginalize its role from playing in role future negotiations. Even more troubling is a provision in the deal that states that if the powers do not eventually reach a final agreement, this unsatisfactory first deal can be automatically renewed and become the de-facto final agreement.
Today, on the Tenth of Tevet, it seems that a new dangerous regional superpower is circling the walls of Jerusalem and preparing for a siege. This is why, given the present state of affairs between Israel and Iran, I will be fasting this Tenth of Tevet. Certainly, negotiations are always more preferable than going to war. Perhaps having some inspectors regulate known Iranian nuclear facilities will make a difference. But Israel has been burned by negotiations in the past, and what is most troubling for me is that this negotiation appears not to be of its own making or choosing.
I pray that for the sake of Israel’s sovereignty, safety and security, this deal does not become a modern Tenth of Tevet, and that we may someday see a real peace in our day.
Rabbi Dan Dorsch is the assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, New Jersey. You can follow him on Twitter @danieldorsch.