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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Neither memory nor shame

Last night while sitting on the dusty stones of Herodion with Ariella and Gilad listening to Echa (Lamentations) being read, my mind wandered.

Who were the Jews who sat here on the stones of Herod's desert palace watching the smoke and flames of Jerusalem's destruction in the distance to the north? Could they have imagined in the midst of their grief that almost 2000 years in the future Jews would be sitting on the same dusty stones recalling the devastation they were witnessing?

More importantly, if they could imagine such a thing, would it make them happy or sad?  I asked myself these questions because we don't seem to have progressed very far as a people from that time to this.

Many, if not all, of the factors that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews still exist today.  As has happened many times in our history, there is once again a rift within the nation along cultural and religious lines.  The antipathy between religious and secular, and the struggle between our own culture and those of the nations around us are nearly as old as Judaism itself. 

But because we are incapable of destroying ourselves, our modus operandi has always been to invite the world to adjudicate our struggles... and to destroy us in the process.

Many otherwise well-educated people are under the mistaken impression that the Roman Legions marched into this part of the world as invaders and conquerors.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Romans were invited in by the Jews to help adjudicate an internal dispute between the supporters of the brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus... each of whom felt they had a stronger claim to rule. 

But the dispute between the supporters of the two brothers (groups called the Sadducees and Pharisees) was about much more than just the throne.  It was a class struggle between rich and poor... cultured and provincial.  It was a fight between those who wanted to embrace outside cultural influences and those who wanted to resist them.  Even among those for whom religion still held value, there were bitter battles being fought at the time over the role of the Temple and Torah law in daily life.

In truth, neither side really wanted a fair adjudication of the dispute from Pompey... they each simply wanted Rome to provide muscle against 'those other Jews'!

Time and again we fight these same battles to rule over one another using culture and religion as our weapons of choice.  And each time we do so we invite the world in to watch and cheer (and even participate) as we tear ourselves apart.

Every time we perform this tragedy on the world's stage, we are so blinded by our hate for each other that foreign ridicule, and even rule, seem infinitely better than letting 'those other Jews' have their way.

And here we are on another Tisha B'Av... once again reading about the destruction wrought by baseless hatred and Jew fighting Jew... and learning nothing from the lesson.

Once again we are inviting the world to come and sit in judgment of us... and once again a foreign army sits at our doorstep waiting hungrily for the time when we will be at each other's throats and won't notice them marching in.

Isn't 2000 years enough time to have learned even one small lesson?

As we walked down the steep sides of Herodion last night I pointed out some foxes that sat with bright eyes watching the silly Jews walking quietly through the dust. We had just read how such foxes had wandered on Mount Zion after the destruction of the Temple, and here they were still... watching us and wondering what other morsels we might leave to them.

Where is our memory? Where is our shame?


Posted by David Bogner on August 14, 2005 | Permalink


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Good question considering many of our holidays ask us to reflect and remember. Perhaps we think ourselves more righteous and educated but in the end there will be a struggle for power just like any other culture. It is, sadly, human nature. And we are human, afterall.

Posted by: celestial blue | Aug 14, 2005 4:06:47 PM

It is very sad. It occurs to me that a prophet these days would be a blogger. We both hope you are not foretelling the third exile. The next weeks will be gut-wrenching. I don't know what to hope for anymore.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 14, 2005 6:37:15 PM

no time is ever enough. thats the way the human race is. thats why those of us who study history often wonder at the continued repeat of mistakes. but someone is always convinced that this time it will be different. that is just the way we are.

in other news- well im back from jerusalem, and once things die down this next week, i would love to meet you/your family.

Posted by: Lisa | Aug 14, 2005 10:35:26 PM

apparently, we CANT learn a small lesson in 2000 yrs...

i wonder what it was like in gush qatif when they read eichah 5:2 in shul motza'ei shabbos:

"Nachalaseinu nehefichah l'zarim, bateinu l'nachrim."
"Our inheretance has been turned over to strangers; our houses to foreigners."

Posted by: Tonny | Aug 14, 2005 11:28:12 PM

A sad day and sad times, indeed.

Posted by: Stacey | Aug 14, 2005 11:48:18 PM

Thanks for writing this. Very powerful. I linked to you.

Posted by: Alice | Aug 15, 2005 3:15:13 AM

Human nature is a stubborn thing, isn't it? We're fortunate that hope is just as strong as obstinance. If not for hope, why would we teach our children about our traditions, our history, and work to overcome the injustice in this world ourselves? We are a hopeful people. Stubborn, forgetful, proud, selfish, all of that; but hopeful too.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Aug 15, 2005 3:30:04 AM

History repeats itself in many different ways, but the outcome of the repetition does not have to mirror the first time around.

Posted by: Jack | Aug 15, 2005 9:38:08 AM

That's a fine insight you've drawn from your sacred history. I certainly hope the immediate future doesn't turn out as badly as you fear.

As a complete outsider, I'm struck by how independent a course Israel strikes. I know Israel leans heavily on the support of the USA, but your government doesn't meekly take orders from President Bush (or anyone else).

When you consider the size of the country, and the number of Israel's enemies, it's really quite remarkable.

It's certainly true that Jews cannot afford to be divided against one another, in addition to all the other obstacles that stand in the way of peace.

Posted by: Q | Aug 15, 2005 4:03:05 PM

Hi all... I appreciate your thoughts on my Tisha B'Av post.

I had originally intended to turn off comments for this post... but by the time I hit the publish button I had forgotten.

I was in a foul mood when I wrote it (could you tell?) and a few hours later I got the news that inspired today's post. I really hope that we (as a people have learned more from history than this post's suggests.

Thank you.

Posted by: David | Aug 15, 2005 6:00:30 PM

I felt something simalir in the kinah where Jerimiah laments over King Josiah. It seems the first exile and destruction could have been avoided if only if the leader had a diferent political / miltary approach. As if God left it to Josiah and he made the wrong move. I wonder did God ordain the Gush Katif expulsion, or did he let his children vote in a democratic society. Either way He is crying with all of us awaiting the results.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 16, 2005 1:21:01 AM

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