The concept that more than one group or idea can coexist is an important value held by many. Few connect this idea of pluralism to Tisha B’Av (תשעה באב, the 9th Av) or ahavat chinam (אהבת חינם, unconditional love). While the day is traditionally dedicated to mourning the destruction of the Temples, by looking deeper, it can also be a day to focus on these concepts, and repair the rifts that may divide us.
What is Tisha B'Av?
Tisha B’Av is one of the traditional fast days of the Jewish calendar. Similar to Yom Kippur, it lasts for 25 hours. It is the culminating day of the Three Weeks, beginning on the fast day of Shiva Assar B’Tammuz (שבעה עשר בתמוז, the 17th of Tammuz).
According to the Mishnah, or Oral Law, in Ta’anit 4:6, five events happened on the 9th of Av which led to its institution as a fast day:
- The 12 spies sent to explore the Land of Canaan returned and gave their report. Only two of them gave a positive description and the people sided with the 10 who spoke negatively. The punishment given to the people was that their generation would not enter the land, (but wander the desert for 40 years) and that this date would be a day of calamity for generations to come.
- The first Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE.
- The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
- The Romans quashed the Bar Kochba rebellion and destroyed the city of Betar, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews.
- Subsequently, the Temple Mount—which had laid in ruins since 70 CE—was razed in approximately 135 CE.
What does it mean to be pluralistic and embracing of all? There are several days in the Jewish calendar that are arguably dedicated to these values or could (and perhaps should) be centered around them:
- Yom Rabin (commemorating the yahrzeit of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a fellow Jew in 1995) highlights just how divided Israeli society was and continues to be.
- Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) memorializes the millions of Jews and others killed as a result of baseless hatred.
- Yom HaAchdut (Israel’s Unity Day) unifies the diverse Jewish community. Instituted in 2015 after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens (Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah), the Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat pronounced, “It is imperative to our very survival as a nation—as a people—to understand that what divides us is insignificant in comparison to what we hold in common. The Jewish people are many-colored, multi-faceted, and come in every shape, size, language, nationality, political leaning and temperament. That diversity is our strength, and a strength that we actualize only when we respect and accept that we are not the same – and that we are all the better for it."
Yom Rabin and Yom HaShoah were added to the Jewish calendar more recently, post-1948. Historically, the far earlier opportunity to connect to the value of pluralism and ahavat chinam is on Tisha B’Av.
Kamtza and Bar Kamtza
There are many traditions related to Tisha B’Av including fasting, reading Megillat Eicha (מגילת איכה, Lamentations), and not wearing leather shoes. However, many feel that the overwhelming connection of Tisha B’Av is to the Temple. So how do pluralism and ahavat chinam connect to this day?
A key text is the Gemara of Talmud Bavli, Yoma 9b:
מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב מפני ג' דברים שהיו בו ע"ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים...מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות ע"ז גלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים.
"For what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed because of three matters: idolatry, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed… Why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was baseless hatred during that period. This comes to teach that the sin of baseless hatred (sinat chinam) is equivalent to the three severe transgressions of idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.”
A more accessible text describing the general feel prior to the destruction of the Temple is this story, also from the Talmud, in Gittin 55-56:
The Story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza
Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, Jerusalem was destroyed.
It happened this way: A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza.
When the man who gave the party found Bar Kamtza there he said, “See, you are my enemy; what are you doing here? Get out!” Said the other: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”
Said the host: “Absolutely not.”
“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.”
The host refused.
“Then let me pay for the whole party.”
Still the host refused, and took him by the hand and threw him out.
Said Bar Kamtza, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them to the government.”
He went and said to the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”
Said the emperor, “How can I know that this is true?”
“Send them an offering,” said Bar Kamtza, “and see whether they will offer it on the altar.”
So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip (or as some say, on the white of its eye)—in a place where we count it a blemish but they do not.
The rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the government. Said Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas to them: “People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar.”
They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, “Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?
Rabbi Yochanan thereupon remarked: “Because of the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land.”
Who, if anyone, is to blame for the destruction of Jerusalem?
Do you think there are other guilty parties in this story? Who and why?
What does it mean to be a bystander? What would you have done if you were a guest at this party and watching this play out?
What are lessons and/or values we can learn from this piece that are applicable today?
Let’s think back to the Gemara above regarding why the Temples were destroyed. The primary sources inform us that the Jewish People were politically and socially divided. If the theological reason given by the Rabbis for the destruction of the Second Temple (by the Romans in 70 CE) was baseless hatred, or sinat chinam, the opposite and perhaps the antidote is ahavat chinam.
Let’s look at another text, an anonymous poem entitled “Moshiach’s (Messiah’s) Hat.” This deals with some similar themes and flips sinat chinam on its head, illustrating the need for ahavat chinam.
Excerpts, written by Anonymous—Click here for full text
'Twas the night of the Redemption,
Sounds of Torah could be heard
This one in English,
Some saying P'shat (something simple)
And up in Shamayim (heaven)
"The time has come
"Rouse the Moshiach (Messiah)
"Have him get in his chariot,
The Moshiach got dressed
Went down to earth and entered
"I am the Moshiach!
"Your redemption has come!
They all stopped their learning;
And they look at him carefully,
"He's not the Moshiach!"
"Just look at his hat,
"That's right!" cried another
"Whoever heard of Moshiach,
"Well," thought Moshiach,
I'll turn my brim up
- What does this poem say to you about pluralism and ahavat chinam?
- Which groups or people are mentioned in this poem, and which are not? Why might that be and how can the other groups be included?
- What are some practical ways in which pluralism and ahavat chinam can be brought into your life and your community, both on Tisha B’Av and beyond?