Tisha B’Av night at the Kosel is a uniquely emotional experience, but at the close of my first trip to Eretz Yisrael, it wasn’t the churban that caused my tears. I wasn’t mourning the past, the millennia of relentless persecution of our people, and our six million brethren who perished in the Holocaust. Nor was I mourning the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash, and the millions of our ancestors we lost along with them. No, I wasn’t crying over what was lost in the two thousand years of our exile. I was crying about our destruction in the age of today.
Today the Jewish nation is rooted and no longer needs to run. We have established Torah communities flourishing across the United States, with myriads of Jews living the words v’higisa bo yomam v’layla to its fullest potential for the first time in hundreds, if not thousands of years. Financially, our standard of living in this 21st century stands above the mightiest kings in the world’s history, and those of us who are lacking have near limitless charities and government programs on which to rely. And for the first time in modern history, our Jewish brethren have control over the Land of Israel, as a safe space in which Jews can live without fear of our relentless foes. Never has there been a time like today for the Torah world to thrive. So who, pray tell, do we have to form against us, except for ourselves?
On this first visit to Eretz Yisrael, I accompanied a yeshiva on their memorable Summer Zman Program. We spent five weeks learning inside Meah Shearim, an epicenter of religious life, joining those who represent Judaism at its finest. I spent a summer in a place where immorality did not exist, where distractions and physical delights were rare to chance upon, where all I saw was people living a Torah lifestyle. I had never seen anything comparable in my life. People who live and breathe Torah to the spectacular level where they would endure anything, fight through any hardship, and stand up to anyone or anything that dared challenge what they love most. But delving deeper, it seemed merely gilded with gold.
Blissfully unaware of the event unfolding around me, as I rounded the corner to descend Rechov Zonnenfeld, all I heard was a kol melchama bamachane. One hundred and fifty people standing around, sidewalk, street, and balcony, yelling religious slurs at their target. A chayal, I was told, and he was religious too. A man who would give his life in a heartbeat for his brothers, one who puts himself in the line of fire on a near-daily basis, disrespected by the ungrateful individuals he would willingly die for. And it wasn’t a mere ego-bruising, either. The police were summoned to rescue him, before G-d-knows-what could have happened. Returning to the yeshiva after it was reported I had been exchanging heavy words with the locals, I received fitting and incredulous reactions. “Oh my G-d, you’re here, thank G-d you’re OK!” Yet in case I thought that was enough, the next day’s happening hurt even more.
Trapped in a seforim store on the famed Rechov Meah Shearim, attempting an escape from the mob, was an NCSY kiruv camp. Committing the horrific crime of an annual trip through the area as a mixed gender camp, was a group of unaffiliated, impressionable teenage children. Kids who were coming closer, discovering the true light, and eventually themselves, who were on a journey to witness the people who did it best. A kiruv camp that came to show the beauty of a Torah lifestyle done right, by the best of the best, to those who were open to learning. A group of impacted Jews who may now never be religious. The spiritual destruction of untold worlds.
Tisha B’Av at the Kosel it finally hit me. On the day we lost the Bayis Sheini, for the rampant baseless hatred amid our nation, the men’s section of the Kosel broke out in massive arguments over a minor halachic disagreement. Yelling, screaming, baseless hatred. Did we not learn our lesson? Have we failed to progress as a nation in the past two thousand years? Have millions upon millions of our own been mercilessly butchered for the sake of Heaven, for us to stagnate and stall, and fail to learn a most basic lesson? Can we ever expect the Final Redemption in the state we are in today? I’d never cried tears like that in my life.
Yet the violence continues. I see it reported near-daily now; we even have our own Chareidi ‘Day of Rage’ to be proud of. This is not to say that the blatantly anti-religious actions of certain secularists within the Israeli government are within the realm of moral acceptability, but one thing is certain. A tremendous disgrace of G-d’s name is oft-reported across secular and Jewish news, to people who do not understand the political subtleties of various Chareidi factions. To readers, who only see the labels ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ which many, or all of us, are included in. An established psychological principle demonstrates that people tend to judge a group by its most radical members, and Bnei Yisrael as a nation is judged today by the actions of a radical fringe that has been unfortunately accepted into the mainstream, and given status and recognition. For how much longer can we allow this to go on? Were six million martyrs not enough for us to internalize the lesson of the Second Temple’s destruction?
It’s time to come together as a nation. As we settle down en masse for the first time, we begin to take ourselves for granted. And unbelievably, without persecution for the first time, we have lost our direction, and our identity itself. It has come time to unite under one front, to collectively end the hate of those who would die so we all may live in peace. It is our obligation to work together to create a peaceful solution to our problems, and resolve our differences with conversation and respect, replacing protests of rage. To not profane G-d’s holy name. Am Yisrael may still live, but we are fractured. And as long as we continue in our present state, we cannot expect the final redemption (sefer Chafetz Chaim, hakdama).
We need our community leaders and Rabbanim, whom we look towards for guidance in troubled times to speak out and discuss the current controversies, and provide a moral framework for our perspectives within the proper daas Torah. It is simply too easy to find our own path and stumble amongst the treasury of information available online, and it is even easier when the controversial issues within our borders are virtually undiscussed by the leaders we admire. The Jewish People cannot be led from behind, like sheep without a shepherd; halacha is not a direct democracy.
To be l’rosh v’lo l’zanav, we must bridge the canyon between the Rabbanim and their people. It is not enough that the Rabbinate’s position exists, it must also be publicized in order to be followed. When speaking with residents of Meah Shearim, many quoted a prominent gadol as providing the daas Torah for their actions. But would he truly condone such actions? Finding out is the job of our press. It is for them to establish professional relationships with the Gedolim, and bring their message directly to us, the people. We have no way of knowing the truth, if the media is not in sync and actively communicating with our Rabbanim.
Much of American Jewry, myself included, fails to understand the complexities of Israeli religious politics. It is therefore incumbent upon our Jewish media outlets to do a thorough investigation of both the general matter and the specific issues to provide an all-encompassing coverage, which clearly delineates who believes what and why, and what the Rabbinate’s position on the matter is. For sensitive issues, this can be accomplished through paper media, and although non-Jews see what we post online, they rarely purchase printed Jewish publications. But it cannot be done if the Jewish media is not in regular contact with our Gedolim and Rabbanim. This is the important job which falls to the leaders of our generation to accomplish.
Our Sages tell us that every generation that does not build the Bayis Shlishi is held accountable from Above for the Second’s destruction. That is why I cried on Tisha B’Av. Not for the Roman destruction of Bayis Sheini, but for the Churban of our generation. As I return to the Holy Land this upcoming summer, I look forward to spending Tisha B’Av in joy, with the arrival of the Mashiach, b’meheirah b’yameinu amen.
The author can be reached at [email protected], all comments and responses are welcome. The words presented reflect the viewpoint of the author, which would be much improved by public discussion. Mentions of Gedolei Torah are intended with the utmost respect for the great leaders of our generation, and are in no way meant to imply a fault chas v’shalom, on their behalf. The viewpoints and opinions expressed within this article are that of the author alone, and do not reflect the position of Yeshiva World News.
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