JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 18, 2002 / 9 Menachem-Av 5762

A mourner on Tisha
B'Av at the Western Wall

The Original 9/11

By Michael Freund

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Today marks the observance of Tisha B'Av, the fast day that so many people love to hate. It is hot, it is long, and, unlike Yom Kippur, the bulk of which is spent in the synagogue, there is little to keep us occupied until the fast is over.

Furthermore, Tisha B'Av commemorates seemingly remote historical events - the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem -- that would appear to have little bearing on our daily lives, a fact that hardly makes forgoing food and water any easier.

And, one might suggest, since Israel recaptured Jerusalem's Old City in 1967, liberating the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, why should we have to spend the day fasting and mourning? After all, didn't we get everything back?

The answer, quite simply, is one of perspective, both historical and national. Indeed, to better appreciate the meaning of the day, let's put it in modern terms. Tisha B'Av, it so happens, is the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Hebrew calendar, which means it is the original 9/11, the Jewish people's day of infamy.

"Ground zero" is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the two Temples stood before being sacked by the Babylonians and the Romans, centuries apart.

Jerusalem's skyline has never been the same since that fateful day, over 1900 years ago, when the emperor Vespasian's troops, led by his son Titus, set the Temple alight, mercilessly pillaging and ransacking the place where the Holy of Holies had stood.

According to the historian Josephus, in Book 6, Chapter 9 of "The Jewish War", some 1.1 million Jews were murdered by the Romans during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and another 97,000 were taken captive, many of whom were either sold into slavery or fed to the lions.

It was the ancient equivalent of a Holocaust, one that devastated world Jewry both demographically and spiritually, shattering the Jewish commonwealth and sending its sons and daughters into an exile from which they have yet to fully return.

Practically overnight, Judaism's established order was dealt an enormous blow, as the daily sacrificial rites, the priestly service and the thrice-annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem were no longer possible.

Osama Bin-Laden attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because they symbolized America's financial and military might. Titus and Vespasian targeted the Temple because it embodied the Jewish people's spiritual strength and power. Despite the passage of nearly two millennia, it is a wound that has yet to heal.

And that is hardly surprising. For, the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty was a near-death experience for the nation of Israel, a blow that came perilously close to being fatal. Just as a person is unlikely to forget a harrowing brush with death, so a nation forever recalls the most traumatic moment in its history.

Thus, we continue to mourn. Not only for what happened back then, but also for what it still does to us today.

The events of Tisha B'Av set the stage for the blood-soaked travails of the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora, across the length and breadth of history. Had the Jewish people not gone into Exile, then every tragedy over the past two millennia, every pogrom, every massacre, every blood libel and concentration camp, might very well have been averted.

The fact that there are Jews living today in the Diaspora is because the Romans deported their ancestors long ago. Consequently, any Jew who abandons his identity or is otherwise lost to the Jewish people is a modern-day casualty of Tisha B'Av, making it an ongoing tragedy, even though our Roman foes disappeared long ago.

And though our ancestors somehow survived the capture of Jerusalem, and the centuries of persecution that followed, we nevertheless owe it to all of those who did not to perpetuate and preserve their memory.

When we sit down on the floor and read the prophet Jeremiah's Book of Lamentations and deny ourselves food and drink, we are doing precisely that. We are mourning for the Temple and for Jerusalem, but we are also mourning over the current plight of our people.

And if that is not worth commemorating, then what is?

Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999. Comments by clicking here.

© 2002, Michael Freund