A heretical view of Tisha B’Av
By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
Let’s take a long, hard look at historical reality. Those ex-slaves called Israelites have escaped their Egyptian prison. And for the first time – like your six year old toddled off to school alone – in a strange, new world – they wandered eventually into Canaan, a land full
of pagan playmates.
The Almighty, who can see beyond the curve of the horizon of time, sees the temptations and snares set by the Amalakites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Philistines to entrap his people. He lectures Israel, his young one, incessantly. He seeks to impress them with his power. He splits oceans, he creates a constitution that we call the Chumash – he uses pillars of fire and smoke to guide them through this sandy deathtrap. He incessantly warns them to stay away from the idol worshiping heathens of the arid wilderness. He obsesses on loyalty because he is a G d of morality, while the gods of this new world have
no interest in crime and punishment, mercy and justice, mitzvot and goodness.
So what do our primitive ancestors do the first time Father Moses leaves them unattended? Exactly what the mighty G d of miracles forbade – they build, and worship with abandon, two golden bulls. Just like their pagan neighbors. Totally oblivious to miracles and sermons, they worship their inanimate idols. Gd must have done a
divine double take as he glared down from his mountaintop. So much for loyalty. Well, good thing I sent Moshe with Torah, He’s thinking. But maybe it should have been ten books. These people need rules.
Sad to say, our misbehavior continued. We continued to barbecue beasts like our neighbors. Prayer? Unheard of. Beneficial deeds? Who cares. We continue to barbecue so our Gd may enjoy the fragrance. Our Creator’s nightmare comes true. We worship randomly and indiscriminately. Dumb and dumber, we send scent and smoke heavenward just like the Joneses next door. Eventually, all this mimicry culminates in the Temple, which I’ve been trying to get to for two pages. The Temple is a giant butcher shop – a racket for the Levites and a cloud on our history that almost smothers the real
Obviously, we can’t glory in its destruction since Jerusalem, too, suffered and there was terrible loss of life both in the Babylonian and Roman destructions.
But as our sages say, the fall of a great Oak permits sunlight to nourish a thousand new seedlings on the forest floor. Destruction often clears the ground for follow-on cultural new growth.
The leveling of the Temple took Judaism out of the hands of priests and Levites and put it in our hearts, put it in our home, gave a role to our women. And over hundreds of years we – along with other religions – dropped the sacrificial concept.
High places, sacred groves, granite alters lost their magic. Deeds and morality overturned sacrifice. Who needed a temple? For this invisible G d – is and was a warmth in your heart. Indestructible, never to be destroyed. Let us worship Him instead of feeding him
livestock. Our prophets chorus this from 700 BC on.
And who knew – certainly history doesn’t comment – but the watching world – seeing our Temple in flames but Judaism, still alive – learned the same lesson. So, maybe there’s a bright side to Tisha B’Av.
Sometimes in the study of history we need to reexamine events and institutions that have been acceptable for millennia of dull tradition – not logic, but tradition. Tisha B’Av reminds me that one of those icons is our Temple. From what we read in the Talmud and Chumash, it was the heartbeat of Judaism. Really? An abbatoir drenched in the blood of victims – a government employment office for Cohans and Levites. And a shameful identification with the customs of our heathen Canaanite neighbors – maybe not quite as bad. A lamb took the place of your newborn infant. And we disclaimed sexual activity to
spur crop and livestock propagation. Yes, we had the good taste to eliminate that. So, let’s not be too hard on our forbears. But basically our Temple was little more than an elaboration of our neighbor’s primitive habits of worship. Exactly what our invisible,
morally-obsessed G d in the Chumash told us to avoid.
It was based on the oldest superstition in the world – Jewish or non-Jewish. Before you sip your wine, spill a bit on the ground from whence it came. The gods of fire, earth, wind, and sun and fertility need a little graft – a small donation or they’d never give us more
wine or rib steak or lamb chops or bread. The gods must be appeased. Furthermore, insisted the heathens, you needed children to help you work the land, so on occasion you’d murder one of them as the ultimate sacrifice. Such were the beliefs of mankind 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.
Don’t open a new business on Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of Av. Nothing good has ever happened on the 9th of Av. On 572 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar leveled Solomon’s Temple – on 9 Av, 70 AD the Romans destroyed the second Temple.
And for goodness sake don’t get married on the 9th of Av, either, for obvious reasons. I joke. But it was a fateful date – a date drowned in Jewish bloodshed. For that we should mourn.