When I first began maintaining the Tisha B’Av‘s restrictions, including the fast, for only a half-day, I caught a lot of flak. When I “outed” myself as only keeping the half-day, the flak greatly increased (“How can you, a rabbi, lead Bnei Yisrael to such a grave sin?!?!?!”). Now that I’ve refined my ideas, only reinforcing my decision to both personally observe and also teach others about holding the half-day, I almost expect an avalanche. There are, of course, occasional compensations for being so obscure….
The original insight that brought me to question the full-day fast, eventually to reject it, was that by maintaining such a severe process (not to mention the additional complications of contemporary frumkeit, which yearly adds burdens on top of burdens), we were willfully refusing to see, acknowledge, give thanks and properly respond to the miraculous chesed, Divine Love, that God rained upon us by bringing the modern State of Israel into being and then, as if we actually earned even this first miracle, allowing us to reclaim Jerusalem, including Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount, in 1967.
Our tradition is based on concepts such as Bina, analysis, the capacity for which we thrice-daily pray. After every Shabbat and Chag, holiday, we bless and give thanks for our ability to discriminate between obvious differences (the Havdalah service). And we begin each day’s cycle of mitzva obligations when we are able to distinguish between the blue and white threads on our tzitzit (ritual fringes).
It’s not such a feat of analysis to recognize that even though slightly more than half the world’s Jews (myself, sadly, included) choose to not live in Israel and that Israel and Jerusalem aren’t fully restored, our current reality is nothing like Jewish reality for the previous almost two millennia. It is, however, a feat of monumental ignorance and arrogance to refuse to acknowledge these miracles, childishly holding out for an all-or-nothing “total” redemption before responding to reality and evolving our religious observances accordingly.
Like an increasing number of Jews, I was shocked to read recent polls of the indifference, not to mention antagonism, many Israelis (with one significant demographic exception, the “National/Zionist Religious”, but don’t get me started on denominationalism…) feel towards Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount itself. Perhaps the greatest failing of Israel’s leadership in 1967 was not the returning of absolute control to the Waqf, the bitterly anti-semitic Moslem authority, based in the previous Jordanian usurpation by force of this site in 1948, but, rather, the complicity of the Israel’s religious establishment in this surrender.
Yes, there is no argument that without the mechanism of the פרה אדומה, Parah Aduma, red heifer, which, in ways beyond human understanding, has the ability to fully purify Jews (I’m sure all are relieved that I’m not digressing to here discuss the concepts of טהרה/תאומה, Tahara/Te’Uma (ritual purity/impurity)), Jews are religiously forbidden from full access to all areas on the Mount. But the restricted areas have long been well-known, leaving the rest of that expanse open to our presence and, certainly, to our prayers. Many of our talmudic sages are known to have visited this holy place, so no, this is not some kind of modern, anti-orthodox /rebellious “innovation”(remember, I, myself, am orthodox). In contemporary times, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, zt”l, the late former Chief Rabbi of Israel, carefully mapped the Temple Mount expanse, clearly indicating where, halachically, we can go.
Political sovereignty and possession of Har Habayit, indeed of the entire Land of Israel, is not a colonialist privilege, but, rather, a very serious responsibility, filled with obligations. It always has been, when we’ve been able to fulfill it or not. Our miraculous recapture of this real estate wasn’t and isn’t for the purpose of our building a theme park, a tourist site or a shopping mall on its holy grounds, but, rather, to administer it as a holy place, the past and future home of a “House for all Nations”, not a sectarian shrine relevant to and accessible to only a single religion as is now the case (The Kotel, Western Wall, where we have, perhaps unwisely, transferred our devotion, is, with admitted glitches, still open to people of all faiths, both to tour and to pray). Thus we evade our responsibilities and ignore our blessings.
And yet, on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, every year since 1948, since 1967, we fast and mourn and beseech God to return us to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem its capital and to rebuild the Temple, all as if nothing has changed in the almost two thousand years of our exile. That we have, over the last several generations, not only witnessed, but experienced the חן, Chen, Divine Generosity that has enabled Jews to even visit the land, let alone live in it, that has, after almost two thousand years, restored Jerusalem to the Jewish People. No, the job is far from finished and yes, there is much yet that needs doing.
And, perhaps, this is the point after all. Maybe God has, in the last sixty-five years, completed His part of the miracle. He now presents us with the loving opportunity to do our part, to partner with Him to bring things to completion. With God’s help and support, of course, we must make the brave decisions, undertake the efforts, do the work.
Yes, we’re not yet at the final goal, so we fast and mourn and read Lamentations, while sitting on the floor, beseeching God’s help. But then, at midday, perhaps it’s time to stand up and get ourselves to work.