Can it still be right to mourn for Jerusalem?

Is­rael’s cap­i­tal is a thriv­ing city, so how can we say prayers lament­ing its fall on Tishah b’av next week, asks Rabbi Gideon Sylvester

The Jewish Chronicle - - Judaism -

LE­GEND HAS it that the Em­peror Napoleon came to Jerusalem on the fast of Tishah b’Av. Deeply moved by the sight of hun­dreds of Jews sitting on the ground weep­ing for the Tem­ple, he de­clared: “A peo­ple who mourns for its tem­ple af­ter thou­sands of years will live to see it re­built.” Al­though the Tem­ple has not yet been re­stored, Jerusalem is no longer in ru­ins, it is a mod­ern bustling cap­i­tal, so should we still be mourn­ing? The is­sue was first raised in July 1920 by the Bri­tish High Com­mis­sioner of Pales­tine, Sir Her­bert Sa­muel, who wrote to the Chief Rabbi, Rav Kook, to in­quire whether the fast could be sus­pended. The great sage replied that the time was not yet ripe.

But af­ter the vic­tory of the Six Day War, with the thrill of see­ing the Old City of Jerusalem re­turned to Jewish con­trol, the ques­tions resur­faced. For thou­sands of years, Jews who vis­ited Jerusalem ripped their clothes in mourn­ing as pre­scribed by the Talmud. Rabbi Moshe Fe­in­stein, the great leader of Amer­i­can Jewry, was asked by Jews trav­el­ling to Is­rael whether this was still nec­es­sary. He replied that even though the fi­nal re­demp­tion had not yet come and it was still ap­pro­pri­ate to rip clothes at the West­ern Wall, “ they do not have to tear their clothes when they see Jerusalem since, by the lov­ing-kind­ness of the Holy One Blessed be He, it has been glo­ri­ously re­built and it is no longer un­der the con­trol of gen­tiles” .

The re­newal of life in Jerusalem also raised ques­tions about the prayers of Tishah b’Av which de­scribe Jerusalem as “the city that is in mourn­ing and in ru­ins, de­spised and des­o­late”. Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion on this, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Haim David Halevy, made an as­ton­ish­ing ad­mis­sion; he wrote that he could no longer say these words, for they were no longer true and recit­ing them would have turned him into one who lies be­fore God.

The rabbi went on to say that even though Tishah b’Av is a most in­tense day of na­tional mourn­ing, he could not help but feel an in­ner re­joic­ing on see­ing masses of Jewish peo­ple and thou­sands of smil­ing chil­dren fill­ing the court­yard where the sanc­tu­ary stood. While pre­serv­ing the fast and all of its prayers, he felt com­pelled to al­ter two words of the li­turgy tilt­ing the most de­press­ing de­scrip­tions of Jerusalem from the present tense into the past.

Not ev­ery­one ac­cepted these changes. One of the great­est schol­ars of our gen­er­a­tion, Rabbi Ova­dia Yosef ar­gued that the li­turgy of the prayers car­ried so much ho­li­ness that it should not be tam­pered with. He also felt that cir­cum­stances did not jus­tify changes, point­ing out that much of the city in­clud­ing the Tem­ple Mount, is still con­trolled by peo­ple of other re­li­gions, many of whom hate Jews; many syn­a­gogues which were de­stroyed in 1948 have yet to be re­built; and also that many Jews are non-ob­ser­vant and young chil­dren are be­ing ed­u­cated to ig­nore or de­spise Jewish tra­di­tion, so there is lit­tle jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for re­mov­ing the sad­dest de­scrip­tions of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Tzvi Ye­huda Kook, leader of the Merkaz Harav Yeshivah in Jerusalem, took a mid­dle line, per­mit­ting in­di­vid­u­als to make changes, if they felt the need, but forbidding changes in pub­lic read­ings.

When the Ethiopian Jews were brought to Jerusalem a few years ago, they saw the beau­ti­ful city, but they were dis­ap­pointed. “Where are the streets and build­ings made out of gold?” they asked, “Where is the Tem­ple? We were told it had been re­built.”

Their re­ac­tion is a timely re­minder that while we are priv­i­leged to have a magnificent cap­i­tal city with syn­a­gogues and yeshivot on ev­ery cor­ner, a thriv­ing cul­tural life and Jews pour­ing in from the four corners of the earth, Jerusalem is not yet the spir­i­tual cap­i­tal it is meant to be. Our con­stant prayers for the re­build­ing of Jerusalem re­fer not only to phys­i­cal struc­tures, but to a vi­sion of a dif­fer­ent world or­der.

The re­build­ing of the Tem­ple will take place when all Jews treat each other with mu­tual re­spect and when “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any­more” (Isa­iah 2: 4). In this new age, the Tem­ple will serve as a cen­tre of prayer for peo­ple of all na­tions. Un­til we reach that goal of a mes­sianic era of uni­ver­sal peace, Tishah b’Av and its prayers re­main pro­foundly rel­e­vant.


Happy fam­i­lies in the Jewish Quar­ter of Jerusalem

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