Today is the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar, a date that is synonymous with disaster and mourning. It was on this date that the Babylonians destroyed the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The second Temple also fell to the Romans on the same day. Subsequently, other oppressors also chose to inflict suffering on the Jewish people on the ninth of Av (or Tisha B’Av as it is known in Hebrew). Spain expelled its remaining Jews who had not converted on this day in 1492. The Nazis also selected that date to begin the deportation of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 to death camps.
Observant Jews commemorate Tisha B’Av with fasting and prayer, but it is also traditional to use this day as a starting point for discussions about the concept of sinat hinam or mindless hatred. Jewish teaching has always held that the temples fell not merely because of foreign power but due to the mindless hatred of Jews against each other whose disunity weakened the community to the point where it became easy prey to its enemies. Israeli society, with its divisions along religious lines and divisive arguments, provides plenty of fodder for such discussions and this year, like any other, is a good time to remind all sectors of the Jewish world to try and listen to each other rather than to reflexively demonize their foes. But just as Jews should use the anniversary of the destruction of the first and second Jewish commonwealths to look inward, the day should also be a reminder that the external forces of anti-Semitism and hate that inflicted suffering in the past are far from dead in our own day.
The trouble with most discussions of sinat hinam in the contemporary Jewish world is that introspection is fairly rare among those on all sides of the disputes that do the most to exacerbate divisions within Jewry. Jews who do not consider themselves more sinned against than having sinned are unusual.
When those sectors of the Haredi community that routinely abuse and demonize those Jews who worship differently or are not observant speak of the concept, they generally refer only to the statements and actions of their non-Orthodox or secular opponents, and vice versa. Haredim consider themselves an oppressed minority fighting to preserve their way of life against secular oppression never thinking of the way they have exploited the system with regard to funding of institutions or evading Israel’s draft laws, let alone the contempt and coercion against those who do not share their beliefs. Secular and non-Orthodox Jews only see the way the Haredim manipulate the law or misbehave without stopping to think of the contempt they readily display for the observant, a trait that is shared by many American Jews.
Suffice it to say that there is plenty of room for soul searching in a Jewish world in which Haredi Jews who serve in the Israeli army are singled out for abuse by their co-religionists and where non-Orthodox American Jews regard the growing Orthodox community in Greater New York with fear and loathing. No matter where you stand in the secular/religious divide, you have something to account for and need to acknowledge the need to work for communal harmony, no matter how steep an uphill slog that cause might be.
But as much as internal divisions continue to rend the fabric of the Jewish community, it is pointless to ignore the growing spirit of intolerance and hatred against Jews and Israel that continues to rage both in the Middle East and Europe.
In much of the Arab and Muslim world, the Ramadan holiday is being observed with television blockbusters that often feature anti-Semitic themes. This year’s entry is Khaiber—a miniseries produced in Dubai and aired around the region—which depicts the destruction of the Jews of 7th century Arabia and portrays them as evil enemies of Islam that deserve their fate. But, as anyone who reads websites such as memri.org and Palestinian Media Watch (palwatch.org) knows, such anti-Semitic programming is nothing out of the ordinary as hatred for Israel and Jews and support for terrorism against them is mainstream thought, not the opinions of outliers. On the day that Jews remember their ancient temples, the Arab media continues to spew material that denies any connection between the Jewish people and their ancient homeland and capital.
Iran, a country that has promoted Holocaust denial, gets closer every day to a nuclear weapon that could help their fanatical Islamist leaders perpetrate another.
In Europe, what the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism continues to grow, fed by both traditional Jew-hatred and hostility to Israel as Jews now feel themselves at risk in various parts of the continent as well as finding themselves having to defend their religious practices.
In the United States, a movement dedicated to boycotting Israel that is steeped in anti-Semitic attitudes that single out Jews and the Jewish state for prejudicial treatment also continues to grow, even if it is more marginal than its European counterparts.
The traditional reading of the Book of Lamentations on this date provides a sobering reminder of the horrors of war as well as the fruit of disunity. For Jews, it should be the starting point for discussions about how to step back from the abyss of demonization that seems to escalate with every year. But it should also serve as a wake-up call for those who think the only enemies to be seen are those from within. Mindless hatred of Jews on the part of Israel’s enemies is a growing force that cannot be ignored.