Professor Assa Kasher
The Danger of Extreme Nationalism Then & Now
Tisha B’Av interests me, not because of the five things that happened to our fathers ….on Tisha B’Av” as stated in the Mishna, but rather because of the five other things that could happen to us and to our sons, if we don’t find interest in one aspect of Tisha B’Av, understand it and learn its lesson, properly.
Tisha B’Av interests me, not because it is based on “the destruction of the first and second Temples”. The Temple, Maimonides taught us, in his book “The Guide for the Perplexed”, had secondary religious value, suitable for the circumstances at that time, superfluous in the circumstances of the present time. Maimonides continues and says: “It is impossible, by the nature of man, that he puts aside everything that he is used to suddenly”. During the times of Moses our Father “there was a famous custom throughout the world, that they were used to which was the idolatry that they had been raised upon, to sacrifice types of animals in those halls in which they placed idols and bowed down to them”. Therefore “His wisdom did not decree ….that He would order to place those kinds of idolatry and abandon them, because then it would be something that they could not accept, as the nature of man is that he always tends toward that which he is used to” but rather He commanded us to build a temple to Him….an alter to His name….a sacrifice to Him….and cautioned against doing any of those things and acts for his fellowman….because they do not bow down to one God” (Part 3, Chapter 32). The Temple was required solely and only as a Jewish substitute for the process of idolatry ritual. Two thousand years of Judaism without a Temple have proven absolutely how tasteless and valueless it is, how superfluous it is from all aspects.
Tisha B’Av interests me, not because of the tragedy of the results of the destruction, but rather because of the drama of its causes. The results cannot be returned to. What has been has been and gone. The reasons can be repeated, because it is possible to repeat to principal errors, but it is also possible not to repeat them, it is possible and appropriate not that what has been will be again. Two of the legends of the destruction lead us to principal errors, which must not be repeated. One of them focuses on idolatry; the second leads us to values.
The first legend says, freely translated from Aramaic: “Caesar Vespasian came and besieged Jerusalem for three years. There were three rich men: Nakdimon ben Gurion and Ben Kalba Savua and Ben Tzitzit the Quilt…they had enough food for twenty one years. There were also there thugs. The sages said to them, let’s go and make peace. They were not consoled and said to them, we will go out to war. The sages said to them,: It will not help you. The thugs rose and burned all those same reserves of food and there was famine.”
Thus the thugs caused the destruction. The thugs, Rashi explains, are “empty people reckless for war”. A short and accurate description: “empty” although the national pride beat within their hearts, “empty” although the patriotic ideology motivated them. “Empty” because there was no substantial religious justification for their acts. “Reckless” Rashi explains on another occasion: “rushing to take action without wisdom”. “Reckless to war”, rushing, without wisdom, to go to war, instead of going to make peace. Urgent patriotic pride, without wisdom. Objection to peace, fervour for war, decisive failure, destruction, exile. This is the malignant factual chain, an awful and terrible chain, even in the opinion of a man like me, who does not see the possibility of destruction and exile, even in the worst case scenario of the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. It is an awful and terrible chain, even if it ends in decisive failure, not specifically in destruction or exile. We have already seen the fervour for war that brought upon us decisive failure, loss of masses of lives of combatants and citizens, lack of any moral justification, unforgivable.
The second legend is so well known that no-one has taken the trouble to understand it. They have taken from it a two word expression, turned it into a cliché, eroded it down to nothing, until no lesson of value remains of it, neither from the entire legend nor from the intense expression taken from it, “unjustified hatred”. It is worthwhile relooking at this legend: “Why was the first Temple destroyed, because of three things there – idolatry, incest and bloodshed….but the second Temple, which focussed on the Torah and the commandments and charity, why was it destroyed, because there was unjustified hatred, to demonstrate to you the weight of unjustified hatred as compared to the three transgressions, idolatry, incest and bloodshed”.
What does “unjustified hatred” mean? It is impossible to say that this is hatred without cause, because there is no such hatred, as any hatred rests with that that instigates it. It is also impossible to state that this is hatred without justification, because it is inconceivable that such hatred would be worse than the three gravest transgressions, idolatry, incest and bloodshed, the only transgressions about which it is said: “under no circumstances”. Unjustified hatred should be worse, from a religious aspect, than all those transgressions together, so much so that it justifies destruction and exile.
Only one thing could be worse than a transgression, which is execution of the transgression under the disguise of carrying out a commandment, harm to values under the disguise of service to the values, creating of a clear impression that an act of transgression is an act of a good deed. This is the sin of those same “thugs”, those “empty people reckless for war”. Empty and reckless nationalists under the disguise of lovers of the Torah, unjustified haters under the disguise of lovers of Israel; Yigal Amir and his like throughout history.
On Tisha B’Av this week, more than anything it is appropriate to contemplate the murder of Yitzhak Rabin of blessed memory, in order to stand strong against the poisonous flowerbed in which Yigal Amir grew, the toxic flowerbed of hundreds of his friends, who spoke like him, or at least heard from him his idea to murder Rabin and Peres and were silent, the elusive flowerbed which has still not been uprooted, the most dangerous flowerbed of unjustified hatred.