Belated reflections from Tisha B’Av

By Joshua Yudkin

Having just returned from Israel, I had the opportunity to pray at the Kotel, the remaining portion of the retaining western wall of the Temple Mount. To my left, I heard the recitation of the Kaddish by a rhythmic rocking of shtreimels and kippahs from within the shaded and air-conditioned covered portion of the men’s section. To my right, there was a group of Birthright participants trying to get the perfect angle for a new post to the ‘gram (Instagram).

As I stood in front of these ancient stones, I couldn’t help noticing the definition on the stone, the uneven greenery living across the wall and the paper prayers that are overflowing out of the regular spacing between limestones. Like many, I was overwhelmed with the inspiration, hope and Yiddishkeit that has radiated from these walls for centuries.

Yet, naturally, there is also a feeling of loss when standing at theKotel, because the Temple is no more. The recent holiday of Tisha B’Av,literally, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar and commemorates the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE and the second Temple in 70 CE.

In the Talmud, the rabbis explain that the first Temple was destroyed because of the three sins that prevailed — idolatry, immorality and bloodshed. They continue to explain that, despite the study of Torah, fulfillment of mitzvot and acts of kindness that took place, the second temple was destroyed because of the sinat chinam, or the baseless hatred, that existed. The rabbis conclude that baseless hatred is considered as severe as the sins of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed combined. When we turn to the Zohar, the seminal work in Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism, we learn that the Temple was destroyed because the poor were not given their due respect. In another part of the Talmud, the rabbis conclude that Jerusalem was destroyed because the judges ruled according to the literal letter of the law and without the mercy and compassion that are pillars of true justice.

In summary, our tradition teaches that the destruction of the Temple, the physical center of Judaism, can be understood as a response to the baseless hatred, the absence of true justice and sins like bloodshed that plagued society. Tisha B’Av is a reminder of the dire consequences of these evil forces. Eerily, many other tragedies have occurred on Tisha B’Av: For example, it was on Tisha B’Av that the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and that Henrich Himmler received approval from the Nazi party for the “Final Solution.”

As I feel that same summer heat now radiating off the Texas limestone, I wonder if I stood between disconnected Jewish communities at the Kotel or as a member of a larger united Jewish community. I wonder if the big physical divide between the men’s and women’s sections demonstrated further division within our community or respect for our tradition. I wonder if the geographical quarters of the old city of Jerusalem represent divisive segregation or coexistence and thoughtful organization.

As we turn back to our American context, are mass shootings a symptom of hatred or our failure to care for the mentally ill? Is hateful speech a result of a symptom of inequality or our failure to educate sufficiently?

While the challenges plaguing our Texas community and Jewish peoplehood change annually, the significance and meaning Tisha B’Av adds to our lives is constant: What is the cost of disunity and baseless hatred to our people and society?

Dr. Joshua Yudkin currently serves as a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Community Relations Committee and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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