Tisha B’av with Helicopters

by Brian on July 20, 2010

in Jewish Holidays and Culture,Only in Israel

The book of Eicha is traditionally read on Tisha B'av

Every year on Tisha B’av, there are pundits who write in the local newspapers that we should stop fasting and start celebrating.

Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av (which always falls somewhere in super-heated July or August) – commemorates various tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people, first and foremost the destructions of the first and second temples in Jerusalem and their subsequent exiles.

In order to properly mourn, traditional Jews refrain from eating from sundown to sundown on Tisha B’av.

But why, if the Jewish people have returned from exile to re-establish a sovereign Jewish state and even have control over Jerusalem itself, should we continue to fast? Anshel Pfeffer, writing in Haaretz, is the latest in an annual stream of columnists calling for an end to all the pseudo-sackcloth and ashes. As usual, he makes some good points.

“Tisha B’Av was never supposed to be an eternal day of mourning,” Pfeffer writes. “The prophet Zechariah, who according to tradition lived 2,500 years ago, at the time of the first return to Zion and the building of the Second Temple, quoted the Lord of Hosts promising that ‘the fasts of the fourth month, and of the fifth, seventh and tenth months will become festivals of joy and happiness for the House of Judah.’”

Not only is the exile over, but those Jews who remain living outside of Israel are not being prevented from emigrating but rather are doing so out of choice, Pfeffer says. “Praying to God that all these millions of Jews will up themselves and make aliyah is hypocritical.”

Now, there are those who say we must continue to mourn until a third temple is built. Pfeffer has an answer for that as well. When Israel captured the Old City in 1967, it was Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan who assured Muslim Wakf officials they would have full control of the Temple Mount area. “The only reason that the third temple has not been built is that a majority of Israelis simply are not interested,” Pfeffer writes.

When I presented Pfeffer’s point to some friends, though, I was quickly reminded that the temples were destroyed by what the rabbis deemed “baseless hatred.” And we are far from overcoming such feelings today. Indeed, a Ynet-Gesher poll asked Israelis “What, in your opinion, is the worst source of tension in Israeli society?” 42 percent indicated religious vs. secular issues (there’s lots more in the poll – worth checking out).

So, said my friends, we continue to mourn – not for the destruction of the temples but for the continued brokenness of our fragile society.

That’s also what our rabbi said in a preface to reading the book of Eicha (Lamentations) in the garden of the Jerusalem Nature Museum last night. But as we sat outside, listening to the mournful tunes being chanted under the stars, the silence was repeatedly broken by the sound of a helicopter circling directly above us. I timed it – it came around regularly every 5-6 minutes. The copter must have made at least 10 very noisy flyovers during the reading.

None of us knew what the helicopter was doing. Was it police or army? Had their been a tip-off that a terror attack was immiment? Or was this area – close to the Knesset – always patrolled and we just normally never stop to listen?

Regardless of the reason, the symbolism seemed clear: exile must truly be over – we have our own security forces with our own helicopters that can protect the Jewish people from future disasters.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the reason we need the helicopters is that we still have enemies who are bent on our destruction. Only once we have true peace in the region can we start eating again on Tisha B’av.

Food for thought…well at least for after the fast.

A slightly different version of this article was published on Erev Tisha B’av on Israelity.

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