Today is Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av – the day on which Jews mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Second Temple by the Romans, in 70 CE. This we do by fasting, praying and reading the Book of Lamentations.
The Destruction of the Second Temple, in particular, marked the total loss of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land and the start of 2000 years of exile. That loss of sovereignty ended with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, but Jerusalem remained divided for another 19 years, with no Jew allowed to enter the Jordanian-occupied Old City, or visit the Western Wall.
All that changed with the miraculous Israeli victory over the Jordanians in the Six Day War, in June 1967.
Or did it?
Moshe Dayan, who was then Israel’s Defence Minister, threw away that miracle, by handing the keys of the Temple Mount over to the Muslim Waqf as soon as hostilities had ended, and allowing them to decide who can and who can’t pray at Judaism’s holiest site. And, as expected, the Waqf has determinedly opposed Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount ever since – even individual prayer. A Jew who murmurs a prayer under his breath, or even displays his grief at our loss of sovereignty over the site of Solomon’s Temple by weeping, is subject to harassment by Waqf officials and is unceremoniously removed from the site by the Israeli Police. That’s if he isn’t arrested for “causing a breach of the peace”.
So, when I heard someone on the radio this morning explaining why he is only going to fast half a day, I pricked up my ears. According to him, while it is right to fast in memory of the disaster that befell us 2000 years ago, we have to take into account that we have regained sovereignty in the land of our ancestors, we have a flourishing society in an independent Jewish state, our people no longer have to wander stateless over the face of the earth and therefore, most of the evil consequences of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple have been mitigated. There are some who go even further and claim that Tisha b’Av no longer has any legitimate place at all in the Jewish calendar, now that Jewish independence has been re-established in our ancient homeland.
I might have bought into that claim a year ago. But then came the recent events on the Temple Mount. Just to recap: on July 14th this year, three Israeli Arab citizens from the town of Umm el-Fahm smuggled firearms onto the Temple Mount (quite possibly with the connivance of members of the Waqf), opened fire on Israeli Police guarding the holy site, murdered two Israeli Druze policemen and were themselves shot dead by other Israeli policemen,
The police reaction was to install metal detectors at the entry points to the Temple Mount (astonishingly, prior to this terrorist atrocity, the only metal detectors in use in this most sensitive area were at the single gate used by non-Muslim visitors to the Mount, as well as at the entrances to the Western Wall Plaza). They also installed extra security cameras along the approach road to the Temple Mount from the Lions’ Gate, the nearest gate in the Old City walls. The Muslim response was to scream blue murder, riot, accuse Israel of attempting to change the status quo (as, indeed, we should have done!) and to refuse to pray on the Temple Mount until all the new security installations were removed. They then claimed that Israel was “preventing Muslims from worshipping freely at their holy site.” The “Palestinian Authority” and the Waqf whipped up the fury of the Muslim mob, by claiming that Israel was threatening Al-Aqsa (a mosque in the south-eastern corner of the Temple Mount which is the third holiest site for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina). As a direct result of their incitement, a “Palestinian” terrorist infiltrated the Jewish town of Neve Tzuf (Halamish) in Samaria on July 21st, and carried out a brutal massacre of a Jewish family.
Incredibly, the Israeli government backed down and removed all the security measures which had been installed following the terrorist attack on the Temple Mount.
Can you conceive of anything so stupid? 2000 years ago, we lost control of the holiest of our holy places. Fifty years ago, we regained control – only to have our government immediately give it away, in a futile gesture of peace. Just over two weeks ago, as a result of Israel failing to exercise full sovereignty over the holy site, Israeli policemen were murdered there. The installation of metal detectors was a logical reaction to such an atrocity, and would have been the perfect opportunity to correct Moshe Dayan’s historic mistake and to reassert Israeli sovereignty over OUR holy site – but our spineless government threw it away!
Today, on Tisha b’Av, when Jews are mourning the loss of our Temple and a few dare to go up to the Temple Mount, they are still prevented from praying there, arrested, dragged away by force by the Israeli Police – and, to cap it all, the “Palestinian Authority” continues to incite against Jews and has the unmitigated gall to claim that the Jews who are flocking to the Western Wall – where they have been accustomed to pray for hundreds of years – are “desecrating Al-Aqsa“!!!
UNESCO has been no less to blame, buying into the Arab lie that denies any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and even to the Western Wall.
Bearing all this in mind, I cannot agree that the time has come to discard the fast of Tisha b’Av – or even half of it.
Moreover, the causeless hatred (שנאת חינם – sinat chinam) between Jew and Jew, which was the cause of the fall of the Second Temple, is still with us. Tension between Orthodox and Reform Jews, Left-Wing and Right-Wing, Inner-City dwellers and kibbutznikim…. nor is there any shortage of people with an agenda who are happy to exploit such tensions.
Tisha b’Av is a good time to reflect on that and to consider how causeless hatred can be banished – before it brings calamity down upon us once more.