The Crying Game of Tisha B’Av

Once a year the national-religious right suddenly weeps about ‘baseless hatred’; the rest of the year they’re sowing hatred against Arabs, the left, human rights groups, the media, the High Court of Justice, and recently even the heads of the security services

Tisha B'Av prayer in Israel.
Emil Salman

I’m fed up with the annual Tisha B’Av crying game, starring the religious-nationalist right. This festival of sorrow is ridiculous. Once a year, on a prescribed date, they suddenly weep over “baseless hatred.” They recite poetry, they philosophize and write columns. For the rest of the time the pillar of fire that goes before the camp is back, to sow hatred – against Arabs, the left, human rights groups, the media, the High Court of Justice, and recently even the heads of the security services – and the rest toe the line or remain silent.

The historical truth is that the temples, the first and the second, did not fall because of baseless hatred. Six hundred years separate the two destructions, our historical knowledge of this period is limited to sources that were preserved and the geopolitical situation in the Land of Israel was utterly different. Still, with all due caution we can identify common lines between both disasters and add to them a third fatal disaster – the Bar Kokhba Revolt. In the end, it’s always the same story: Zealotry. Preoccupation with purity. Arrogance. Defective reading of reality. Messianism. A kind of Jewish fundamentalism, national-religious in spirit and suicidal in essence, such that from the moment it takes charge, we can start the countdown.

It’s nice to sum up the story with baseless hatred, but this is at most the margins of the truth. The whole truth is that the Babylonian Empire was too big for Judah even after the alliance of interests it forged with Egypt; not for nothing did Jeremiah the prophet warn of a head-on collision with the Babylonians. And Rome would have defeated Jerusalem in any case, with or without the murderous knives of the Zealots turned against everyone who did not think like they did, or their choice to burn the grain silos in the besieged city. In the period of the Great Revolt there was no world power that could overcome the Romans; and certainly not a small province in the Land of Israel.

The facts of life were still the same 60 years later, when Simon Bar Koziba and his spiritual mentor Rabbi Akiva sparked another hopeless rebellion, and ended up destroying Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Only in a sick twist of history, which was led for pragmatic and shortsighted reasons by figures like David Ben-Gurion and Yigael Yadin, did pathetic crazies like Bar-Kokhba and the suicide cases of Masada became national heroes.

Even the term baseless hatred should be aired out from its sanctity. Not all hatred is baseless. Some people earn it honestly. It’s my right to hate people who threaten my existence, disparage my values, doubt my loyalty to the people and to society. It’s logical for me to despise those who cause me to be ashamed of what this country has become, the country our parents’ parents established in the vision of the prophets of Israel. Hatred is often the other side of a coin bearing basic values like love, peace, equality and justice. It can be contained, we can learn to live with it, as long as it is not channeled into violence, say, beating up protesters or political assassinations of Yitzhak Rabin, Emil Grunzweig and Gedaliah son of Ahikam.

What’s really hard to bear is the hypocrisy. The religious-nationalist right in our time would be disgusted by Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai. (“Give me Yavne and its sages.”) They would call him a bleeding heart. Every ninth of Av, just like they gather at the Western Wall Plaza and in the synagogues and weep as they read the Book of Lamentations, I remember the words of another bleeding heart, the prophet of doom Isaiah son of Amotz: “Alas she has become a harlot, the faithful city.”