Baseless Israeli Self-Hatred
On the eve of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans, most restaurants in Israel close early and no comedies are broadcast on TV. As a result, when invited to a dinner at a trendy eatery in Herzliya on Saturday night, I questioned whether it would be open.
Not only was the answer yes, but the place was packed, to boot.
Seated near a large window watching the orange sun slowly sink into the Mediterranean, I felt a mixture of great fortune and guilt. The meal I was about to enjoy, the price of which could cover my rent, would be as delicious as the company was interesting. But it was the start of a somber Jewish fast day, when we should have been at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, not partying along the beach.
Years ago, an Orthodox friend contended that Tisha B’Av should have become a feast day when the state of Israel was established, because it signified that we had returned to our homeland from exile. When I asked why he did not put this theory into practice, he said his neighbors would take it the wrong way.
Indeed, Judaism is big on “marit ayin,” meaning the way things appear, which is why I’ve never been good at observing it. I am nevertheless a sucker for its spiritual tenets, moral lessons and endless wisdom. So I decided that if we were all feasting while our neighbors were fasting, I could at least make a meaningful toast befitting of the occasion.
“Let us hope that next year on Tisha B’Av, Jews will be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount,” I said, referring to the fact that today only Muslims are permitted to do so, and if any Jew is caught even mouthing words suggesting he is communing with God, Muslims and police descend upon him like the plague.
And boom, before our glasses even had a chance to clink, it was clear I had sparked a political fight. In my defense, it was one of few times I actually hadn’t intended to be provocative. I knew that the people at the table shared my views, and believed I was saying something non-controversial.
I turned out to be wrong. One man there, whom I was meeting for the first time, responded to my comment with a look of disdain so withering that the ice I thought I was breaking melted in an instant. But it was too late to put the lid back on. I had opened Pandora’s Box.
For the rest of the three-hour meal, this fourth-generation sabra (a native Israeli) — a former IDF officer with a successful high-tech business — lectured us on the ills of Israeli society. The country, he argued, is a failing enterprise of questionable ethics and an increasingly illiterate population of religious zealots. Soldiers kill indiscriminately, egged on by primitive and corrupt political leaders. Within a decade or so, he asserted, we will implode.
“You are describing the Palestinian Authority,” I said.
“Yes,” he agreed. “That’s where we are headed.”
The discussion grew more heated when specifics were raised, among them the justification — or, in his eyes, the lack thereof — for a group of tough Border Police killing a knife-wielding Arab girl. He cast doubt on my familiarity with the details of recent speeches made by former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, all of whom he defended against the “right-wing riff-raff” ruining the original idea behind the state built by his father’s generation.
We didn’t have enough time for me to enumerate the many and varied reasons for my complete rejection of his assault on our wonderful country, despite its warts. Nor would another few hours of debating have persuaded either of us to accept the other’s facts, let alone positions.
Which brings us back to our peculiar commemoration of Tisha B’Av. The First Temple was destroyed as a result of sexual immorality and idolatry — crimes of passion for which we were exiled for 70 years. The Second Temple was destroyed as a result of “sinat hinam” (“baseless hatred”) — a seemingly more minor sin for which we are ostensibly still being punished.
It’s a concept that’s not so easy to grasp. But thanks to my Tisha B’Av dinner companion, I finally have a handle on it.
Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.