This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Tisha B’Av is upon us, a fast day for Jews, commemorating the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. With the accumulation of events of destruction in Jewish history, though, Tisha B’Av has become a time to mourn subsequent calamities that befell the Jewish people. The Holocaust is the most recent.
Some think of Tisha B’Av as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. I agree. Yet there is an even sadder twist of fate that Jews need to reckon with. Unfortunately, most Jews won’t be thinking of this reckoning. In our time, our fast on Tisha B’Av is severely compromised.
Through most of our history, mourning occurred in a context where most Jews lived on the margins of power or suffered under it. Today Jewish mourning takes place within the context of Jewish empowerment. Like mourning, Jewish empowerment is complex and entangled. Still, one things is abundantly clear: Jewish power, enabled by our mourning on Tisha B’Av, is oppressing the Palestinian people.
Whatever one thinks of the emergency years after the Holocaust, Jews in Israel and America created the state of Israel that, then and now, diminishes and destroys Palestinian land and life. There isn’t any end in sight either. The emergency years of the Holocaust passed decades ago. Jewish mourning is still being used to oppress the Palestinian people.
Simply put, what was done to us, we are doing to others. Our Jewish liturgy of destruction recited on Tisha B’Av, must include the Palestinian people.
As we mourn Jewish suffering and call out those who transgressed against us, we must confess the suffering we are causing and call ourselves to account. Will we?
How sad it is that Jews have become conquerors and that the best and brightest among us have volunteered to serve this dubious cause. On Tisha B’Av, we must mourn our complicity.
As we mourn, we should not forget the light that some Jews shine on our complicity. In Jewish history, mourning has been the occasion for the arrival of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel among others. Today, the Jewish prophetic is on the move, pointing the way forward for Jews – with Palestinians.
Prophetic Jews, Jews of Conscience, recognize that mourning takes us in different directions and that we can choose the direction we travel. We can secure the Jewish future at the expense of others, including the Palestinian people, or boldly take on a broader solidarity with all those who are suffering, including and especially the Palestinian people.
In synagogue services on Tisha B’Av, the Torah scrolls are kept in the Ark, covered with a black shroud. As they should be. Yet, in my imagination, the shrouded Torah scrolls are surrounded by Star of David helicopter gunships.
Mourning combined with state power is an unholy alliance. Too often, mourning becomes an excuse for violating others. Jews are no exception.
This Tisha B’Av, Jews will choose mourning as destiny or possibility. Fasting is the least of it.