Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tisha BeAv and interfaith

On the 9th/10th Av 3829, the Beyt HaMikdash/Temple of Holiness, was destroyed, plundered by the Roman soldiers led by Emperor Titus. The kelim (instruments) were brought in triumph to Rome. One year later, Trucus Rufus ended the work of capture by plowing the Temple Mount, apparently erasing all marks of sacredness from the site and the city of Jerusalem.1938 years have passed and Tisha BeAv became the central memorial day for the destructions of the two Batim (houses). The Beyt HaRishon/First Temple had been destroyed in 5173/72 as Nebuchadnezzar first ruined the Temple, inhabited by the Shechinah/Divine Presence. It was built by King Solomon as to definitively fix God's housing in the city that linked the “Shalayim”: the “Peace of Above and the Peace on earth/nether world”.

For the pagan world, it consisted in eradicating the Jewish nation and the House where they were worshiping a God Who both attracted and galvanized the jealousy of other empires. In terms of history, the construction of the First Temple showed the Jews settling in the Land of Canaan/Israel. Again, they passed from a nomadic culture inherited from the wanderings through the wilderness and wandered for ages to come the place where the Avodah/Divine Service should be performed perpetually. Thus, the Mishkan/Tabernacle would no more be on a journey, but reside forever in a meaningful site. This notion of installation of the Shechinah in a stable location is a real question: how and why should the Only-One God, life-giving and Redeemer of the world, abide in a non-movable place that would moreover gather all worshiping forces and priestly call of the Jewish communities?

A very interesting transfer occurred from the time the Israelites built the Mishkan/Tabernacle in the wilderness and could carry it everywhere they journeyed and the moment when David was told by God that he would not built the House, but his son Solomon would. Both committed sins, usually mixing sex and leadership with idolatry, thus reducing the existence of the Living House. The Beyt HaSheni has also been restored, but not to the full and as a consequence of the decree promulgated by the pagan Messiah Cyrus allowing the Jews to go up to Jerusalem and rebuild their God’s House. It should be noted that it is the last word of the Jewish canonical TaNaKh that ends with this prospect: “Whoever is among you of His people, may the Lord His God be with him! Let him go up/vaya’al” (2 Chronicles 36:23).

Tisha BeAv is considered as the “saddest day” in Jewish history (Taanit 6b) because God’s Batei Mikdash were more than stones. They were kayam (existent). In both cases, the Temple only lasted for two periods of ca. 400 years, which is terribly limited considering history. But these years have shown to be times of intensiveness and sins. Or, let’s say that abomination – (to’avah) merely happened to be stronger than faithfulness and desire to comply with the Mitzvot.

Thirty years ago, I was working with of one of the most intriguing and brilliant re-builders of the post-Shoah Jewish communities. We usually met for long travail sessions abroad and then in Jerusalem. The city had been under Israeli control only for ten years. By that time, the local inhabitants and the Churches (not to speak of the Muslims) were in shock and convinced that the Jews would “be kicked out or leave speedily”. The local Churches had never had any special reflection about any spiritual development and deployment of God’s prospects and looked astoundingly dazed at the new situation. True, the problem of belongings and properties is a constant challenge for the faithful. All the local Churches have sold and bought properties (churches, monasteries) that they had entrusted to other Christians while their people were facing wars, hungers or epidemic diseases in their homelands. In return, it allowed some Churches to seize some places. Some Churches refused to give them back to their original owners, which raised conflicts, still pending at some courts today.

But nobody could even think that there is no “certificate of property” with regards God. The Jews had experienced this throughout history and they also had enough faith and insight to disconnect temporary properties from long-term promises given by God. So, as I worked with this rabbi, we did agree that very soon the Jewish communities of Israel would show a real will to get closer to the Temple Mount. It could not suffice to go to the Kotel/Western Wall that we had seen as a sandy and dusty place in Iyyar 5727/June 1967. There should be a move that would lead to require more, i.e. to ask for the re-observance of the daily sacrifices and the rebuilding of the Temple. Don’t say this is weird or ridiculous or that we are World Wildlife at the present, i.e. against animal sacrifices. This deals with the irrational part of human nature and identity.

Indeed, the very first steps were taken at the time by collecting the money in order to shape again the Kelim/instruments, the great Menorah… Interestingly, the rabbi, and many rabbis of other parts of the world, were absolutely aware that these problems could be considered as “light-hearted’ and somehow unrealistic conversations at that time. We were just convinced that, in some unexpected manner, this huge issue would powerfully develop among Israeli society over the coming years. We were not members of any specific group. We were simply describing what history had always proven: the return en masse of the Jews to Eretz Israel in conformity with some blessing from the Nations (as Cyrus represented Persia) includes the necessity to positively reckon on the Temple’s primacy in both the Jewish and the non-Jewish life, as by the time of the destruction of the Mikdash in 70 ce.

Today, the question grew to a serious concern and became a harsh political issue. This had and still has nothing to do with our method of thinking three decades ago. Faith and religion in Israel are systematically patterned in narrow boxes or niches. Judaism is much diversified; still tevot/boxes are apparently very convenient. From Noah’s Ark to the boxes protecting the tefillin and, in some way, the Temple housing God’s Shechinah (only in the First Mikdash according to the tradition), there is a permanent trend to “lock without locking up” the Divine Presence or Her related instruments in manually controlled places or objects.

There might be a sort of constant misunderstanding or confusion today. We see some slowdown in the celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the entrance of the Israel Army into the Old City and their taking over of the Temple Mount. It did allow free access to the Western Wall and the State of the Jews exercises, for the first time since 70, a legal control of the Churches, which was totally unheard or unthinkable. 5727/1967 marked a turn in the Jewish conscience that will require years and decades of patient dialogue with the other faith bodies and vice versa. Just as we cannot leap over centuries of hatred and estrangement, we definitely cannot compel – not even ourselves as Jews and Israelis – to become aware, accept, comply and agree with what has happened forty years ago. Again, any political point of view about this issue is biased and vain. But the Old City of Jerusalem tracks back to the very roots of what deals with the Jewish faith before the time of King Solomon’s First Temple.

On the Feast of Rosh HaShanah, the Jews are told to remember that they were strangers and that “my father (Abraham) was a wandering Aramean” (Deut. 26:5). The point is between stability in a definite location and/or journeys through the world bearing in mind the Land of Canaan. Without any reference to any other religion, Judaism has been and is still confronted with hatred and will of extermination, as if their own being could impulsively drift the Nations to a mental, spiritual, physical extermination and erasing process of Israel.

Sadly enough, this alien desire of annihilation goes along with some crude and recurrent self-hatred shown by the Jewish communities who would tend to trespass or capture God’s gifts and miracles… and destroy them. Thus, the First Temple was ruined, according to the Sages, because of a “conscious hatred – sichliyut”. “Sechel = wit, intelligence, awareness”; from radical “achel = to consume means “destruction: “I created the angel of death to work destruction (mesakel)” (Numbers Rabba 16:24). Are humans so spaced out that they can hate each other with awareness? Thus, the Shechinah left because of humane pretence to replace Her. With regards to the Second Temple, it was destroyed by “sinat chinam”(baseless hatred or rather an irrational hatred). There are definitely times when humans lose any sense of spiritual orientation. They desperately need some coaching, guidance. The Temple was frequented by the Jews, Gentiles and proselytes, later by the first Christians (Acts of the Apostles 2:46). “Churban” is the usual word used for “Temple destruction”. It is a “desolation that devastated the vineyard” (Kilayim 4, 29c).

Indeed, we may be in a situation of confused destruction process. On the one hand, “Churban” applies to the murder and physical eradication of the Beyt/Temple as the living and acting Mishkan or Dwelling of God. Forty years after the entrance of the army of the Jewish State, Moshe Dayan’s attitude to given back the Mount to the baffled Muslims was not only a wise and tactical move. The Jewish authorities would not have been able to bless the Jews to go up to the place. Today, after 40 years, the tendency is to allow going up there without any overall consent. We are searching our way… as if going out of the wilderness after 40, 400, 4,000 years…

But the Churban is a very specific Jewish concern that will require time. Again we are without clocks or delays. The destructions of the Temple constitute the first and major element of the Jewish memory that also extended throughout history to the will to wipe out the Jews. On this particular day, I would presume it would be good to disconnect Tisha BeAv from the Shoah (Holocaust, Katastropha in Greek/Russian). At this point, the Shoah directly refers to the attitude of the Christian faith and Churches towards Judaism. On the 9th of Av, Jesus’ words: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up… He was speaking of the temple of his body”.(John 2:19) might pre-suppose for the Christians that the time of the Temple is over and that the Churches are not concerned by the destruction. The misunderstanding continues as the Christians would consider that the Holy Sepulcher – Empty Tomb or place of Resurrection (Anastasis), has unconditionally replaced the Living House where Jesus himself used to come daily (Matthew 26:55).

Whatever friendly relationships between Judaism and the Churches that seemingly develop in many places – but hardly in Israel because of this permanent political hindrance – Tisha BeAv is a major rift between the community of Israel and Christendom. One can regret that theological stiffness and recent decisions taken by some Churches with regards to their own traditions, continue to sustain either fear or distrust from the part of Judaism. The rift of splitting is a long-distance, long-term one. How in the world can any Church tradition positively consider the reconstruction of the Temple? The Amidah/18 benediction prayer “Boneh Yerushalayim – building (the two) Jerusalem” refers to “Build the House” (Berachot 2:3) that certainly dates back to the pre-Maccabean times. The original prayer is found in the Birkat HaMazon (3rd blessing, graces after meals).

On the 9th of Av, we may become aware that, in any way, any time, any how, i.e. in unexpected ways God might “soon and speedily = 1 day to thousands years” reverse history, comfort/nachem or have mercy/rachem upon the community of Israel and thus remove the veil of pretence that blindly freezes any believer. Faith implies to enjoy the dynamics of being together. And to go up, “vaya’al”!

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