Tisha B’Av and the virtue of Jewish Statehood


(Here are a few paragraphs from an essay I had published today at PJ Media, which represents a rewrite of a piece originally published in the print edition of South African Jewish Affairs in 2011.  A link to the full essay follows.)

“People resent the Jews for having emerged from their immemorial weakness and fearlessly resorted to force. They thereby betrayed the mission that history had assigned to them — being a people … that did not get tangled up in the obtuse narrowness of the nation-state.” – Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt

It is now Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout their history on the same date on the Hebrew calendar — the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, but on this day we also reflect on the many other tragedies which occurred on this date, from the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 to the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Like many Israelis, I intend to spend some time on this day at the Kotel participating in what represents a public bereavement for the many victims of our collective tragedies. Typically, however, in addition to such mourning, I often can’t help but reflect on this painful annual recollection of suffering and catastrophe in the context of the Jewish community’s often ambivalent relationship with power. Such ruminations are only heightened by my new citizenship in Israel, a nation often forced to exercise power in order to prevent additional tragedies from befalling the Jewish people.

Indeed, Israel’s rebirth in 1948 can be seen as a direct response to these calamitous events — an attempt, through the various mechanisms of statecraft, to turn Jewish history around and act instead of being acted upon. Whether defending itself in war or aiding and rescuing endangered Jewish communities around the world, the Jewish collective has had at its disposal — for the first time in over 2000 years — a state apparatus with the means (politically, diplomatically, and militarily) to protect its interests as other nations have throughout the centuries.

However, with this organized exercise of strength comes a price, a unique moral burden that many Jews, especially in the diaspora, seem unwilling or unable to bear — as any exertion of power, or control over your own fate, inevitably carries with it the loss of innocence often projected upon people perceived to be victims and lacking in moral agency.

Israeli military power (exercised against terrorism, asymmetrical warfare and other small-scale regional threats, and in major wars against state actors) and the relative success and political power of Jewish communities in the West, seems to instill in many Jews a loss of identification with their community for fear of falling on the “wrong side” of the left-right political divide.

This chasm often finds expression in the need to identify in a way uniquely separate from such seemingly crude “ethnocentric” expressions of political and military power which carry with them the necessity of physically defending a nation (one representing a very particular identity) in all the complexities and compromises that are invariably associated with even the most progressive national enterprises.

Read the rest of the essay, here.

8 comments on “Tisha B’Av and the virtue of Jewish Statehood

  1. I hold my head high on this date! Celebrating life that even though they try and try and try to wipe us out they continue to fail and fail and fail!

    We are here as a nation! Here to stay!

    When out enemies come to terms with this, peace will arrive!

  2. Not sure about it, but the reversal of power and identification from the left to the right, from the secular, socialist side to the religious and capitalist side of Zionism, the immigration of a lot of haredim from the USA and the emigration of left orientated artists and journalists as I happen to observe for Vienne f.e. influences the view taken from outside, from the diaspora, from the Reform movement and the assimilated.
    Reform Jews and Haredim:
    http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/136072/tisha-bav-chaplain-messianic
    http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/137841/on-tisha-bav-sadness-and-reflection
    http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/137791/other-peoples-sinat-chinam

    Especially under the reform Jews, the left orientated and the almost assimilated ones being part of the cultural or financial elite in the diaspora there is a strong bias, against settlers, haredim, identified with backwardness, colonialism, religion, nationalism, as they share almost common values like multiculturalism, postnationalism and the imagined protection of the weaker
    Not quite thought through, more a free association..

    • Slightly over simplifying things in my opinion.
      The discussion about the route of Jews in Diaspora has been raging for over 300 years.
      Also there are links of this discussion taking place as early as the Maccabim times.

      • I especially referred to this passage
        “Israeli military power (exercised against terrorism, asymmetrical warfare and other small-scale regional threats, and in major wars against state actors) and the relative success and political power of Jewish communities in the West, seems to instill in many Jews a loss of identification with their community for fear of falling on the “wrong side” of the left-right political divide.”

      • and this
        http://pjmedia.com/blog/tisha-bav-and-the-virtue-of-jewish-statehood/2/
        “Indeed, some diaspora Jews have expressed their disapproval of Israel or the Jewish community at large by lamenting this newly acquired capacity to exercise political and military power via fetishizing their people’s historic weakness, and thus fail to see the role that such powerlessness has played in the suffering that has befallen their community through the ages.”

        • “Indeed, some diaspora Jews..”

          Indeed with emphasis on the word some.

          “Especially under the reform Jews, the left orientated and the almost assimilated ones being part of the cultural or financial elite in the diaspora…”

          In my Reform synagogue a large portion are Israelis or part Israelis who most certainly do not fit into the Anti Zionist camp you portray.
          Almost Assimilated make it sound like we’re in a Borg society.
          We are all assimilated into the host countries in legal terms.
          This should not contradict our national or cultural identity with regards to Judaism.
          It doesn’t for many secular Jews in Israel who party in Shishi nights and do not follow halacha rules.
          You make it sound like leaning to the left is a bad thing but rather a political choice.
          As for the being part of the cultural or financial elite… give me a break, you start to sound like those AntiSemites pricks that say there are no poor Jews in Cape Town!

          You want to look for racism I suggest you look into those who refuse to be assimilated and herd their society into closed villages and closed schools in the UK or in Israel (Mea Shearim).
          Take a look at the product of such fine societies who refuse to live by the rule of law!

          http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4403398,00.html

          In short, what I’m trying to say is that there are bad examples and good examples everywhere and every community is different depending on the public pressure within it.

          Judging communities as one only leads to bad things.
          The past 1000 years of diaspora pogroms teaches you that.
          The 1920’s should have brought this to anyone’s radar.

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