9 AV 5778 : SINAT H'INAM - Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur
Do you recall the saga of the explorers in the Torah? Moses sends a dozen men to explore the promised land and to report back to the Hebrews, but what they discover does not please them and ten of them (all but Joshua and Caleb) make a report that demoralises the entire people in the desert. This episode is considered by our sages as an extremely serious sin by our ancestors that took place at a quite precise date.
According to the Rabbis, the explorers story occurred on the 9th of Av or Tisha Be'Av, famous as the date of a major fast in the Jewish calendar, a date of collective mourning. This date is remarkable because it strangely corresponds to several catastrophic events in Jewish history: it is on that date that Jews are said to have been expelled from Spain; suffered the worst persecutions in the middle ages; or even the raids of the Nazi period. The 9 Av returns incessantly as the date of the worst dramas of our history.
It begins with the event that we officially commemorate this week: the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, which according to legend were both destroyed on that same date. Something to make the Jews tremble, weep and lament across the centuries. Something to provoke, most surprisingly, a process of self criticism, an inspection of our history and our past, which the Rabbis call on us to undertake.
The Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans, that is by foreign armies. But the Rabbis tell the story differently, saying that what caused the Temple's destruction -- the loss of what was the divine residence in Jerusalem -- was not so much foreign power or the strength of an idolatrous power, but rather the evil that took hold of the Jews at that time, an emotion, a way of relating to the world which in Hebrew is called: SINAT H'INAM or "gratuitous hatred".
It is said that the Temple was destroyed because the Jews detested and despised each other, failing to respect different points of view and sensitivities to the point of hating their neighbour and causing the loss of Jerusalem.
The Rabbis go so far as to accuse themselves for the Temple's destruction. They do not seek a guilty outsider who could relieve them of their responsibilities; rather, they recognise that the Jews themselves have something to do with that catastrophe. Let's be clear: this does not mean that the misfortunes of the Jewish people throughout history should be blamed on them: rather that the Rabbis consider that every experience demands a moment of introspection.
Which is why this story cannot be confined to the past and why it is still retold. Something in this legend continues to haunt us, and each year we continue to talk about it, to weep over it, on the fateful date of Tisha Be'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av.
Never in my life have I felt this so keenly as this week, listening to the news from the Near East.
It is never easy - and somewhat contrary to our natural instincts -- to look ourselves in the mirror, but this date more than any other in the Jewish calendar calls on us to do just that.
In just one week, the mirror has shown us a sordid set of images:
• In the newspapers, we read that Women of the Wall prayer books had been burned during an extraordinary Jewish auto-da-fe that reflects the hatred of religious pluralism among some in Israel.
• In the Knesset, a member of parliament explained that the repeated tremors in the north of Israel were due to Liberal Jews.
• At the airport, an American Jew who loves Israel and is deeply attached to Zionism, was retained and interrogated at length because a prospectus favouring Israeli-Palestinian co-existence was found in his luggage.
• On Thursday, we learned how a Conservative Rabbi was arrested at his home in the early morning following a complaint by the orthodox rabbinate in Israel which accused him of challenging the ultra-orthodox monopoly on conducting marriages in Israel.
• In the Knesset again, a much-contested law was passed that seemingly reinforces a little more an attempt to establish an ultraorthodox monopoly on Jewish life in Israel. A law in which the words equality and co-existence do not appear and accords no place for minorities.
Like many others, I could not avoid hearing the word SINAT H'INAM which seems to resonate as a warning from our History, as if something in us has learned nothing from History.
SINAT H'INAM a word that still calls upon us -- nearly 2000 years after the destruction of the Temple and at a time when the Jewish people has returned to the land of which it dreamed so much. This voice questions contemporary Zionism:
• Will you know how not to destroy what your generation has been given to build here?
• Will you guarantee the principles of plurality, diversity and equality, whether intra-religious or inter-religious?
• Will you be fully faithful to the Jewish, democratic and humanist project that was the ideal of Israel's pioneers, the first explorers, the fathers of the nation, those dreamed of a modern state and set the first stones?
This week, I heard the voices of hate and I asked myself suddenly if we too were not threatened by the story of the explorers. A story that could discourage us, inviting us to give up our faith and turn back. Are we not at risk of repeating the biblical sin, giving up or abandoning the Israel of our dreams?
While questioning myself in this way, I lent an ear to other voices in Israel --which resonated for me like those of Joshua and Caleb -- echoes of those explorers that come from the wonderfully creative civil society, the NGOs that fight for the principles of a fair society that we hold so dear, Israelis who do not wait for the words of a draft law to give life to daily coexistence. I heard the voices of our Israeli colleagues -- liberal, conservative or orthodox -- all those who unite their forces today to build the Israel of tomorrow.
I said to myself that now more than ever we must offer to relay those voices, reinforce our dialogue with them and support them. These voices remind us that Israel is greater than any one of its faces, greater than any single denomination, greater than its grand rabbinate, greater than any government of the day.
We may well need to cross more deserts and other Tisha Be-Av.
And we will have to fight together to build a society of AHAVAT H'INAM, "gratuitous love", a promised land where there is room for loving one's neighbour, for concern for others, for diversity of ideas and respect for differences, a place for minorities, a society of enlightened Judaism, faithful to the ancestral promise that we are all – liberal, orthodox, unaffiliated, practicing, anti-religious, traditionalist or secular – the children and legitimate heirs of an ideal of which no-one can claim a monopoly.
Translation: Robert Ley