Thursday, January 21st 2021   |



Isaiah Berlin, the twentieth century political theorist, historian, and champion of liberty, was a Knight Commander of the British Empire and received the Jerusalem Prize for his lifelong commitment to civil rights. He traced his ancestry directly to Shneur Zalman of Lyadi, founder of Chabad Chassidism. Berlin wrote:

When one is engaged in a desperate defense of one’s world and its values, nothing can be given away, any breach in the walls might be fatal, every point must be defended to the death.

This insight effectively explains the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, observed precisely three weeks before the more intense Fast of Tisha B’Av. Shivah Asar B’Tammuz (marked this year on July 9, 2020), commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by Roman legions… which led inevitably to the destruction of the Temple and, with it, the loss of Jewish national sovereignty for nearly 2000 years.

Shivah Asar B’Tammuz teaches us to beware the initial breach: incremental moral surrender and the creeping compromise of ethical or spiritual standards… each, in potential, the beginning of the end. Or, as another champion of civil liberty, Thomas Jefferson, put it:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)


Wishing you a safe, meaningful, principled fast.

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