Is this not cynical, to use that in which you do not believe in order to further your political aims?
The media reports that the judicial reform demonstrators declared a protest fast on Tishah B’Av. The idea was creative and original, and achieved its purpose: It made all the headlines. (Whether there was actual secular fasting for 24 hours is unclear.) But what initially comes to mind is Isaiah 1:12, read just before Tishah B’Av, which most of the protesters probably did not hear since it is recited in the synagogues. In it, G-d says: “Mi bikesh zos miyedchem remos chatzerai? Who asks this of you, this trampling of My courtyards?”
That is, you who do not observe or cherish My Torah, who reject My authentic ways in favor of alien ways, who do not study or practice My Torah — now you suddenly hijack a sacred practice for your own purposes? You wish to protest and demonstrate? By all means. But please do not use My sacred ways and holy days to promote your secular political aims. You do not fast out of mourning and sadness for the lost Temples. You fast as a PR gimmick to catch public attention, to make your point. Ordinarily you flock to the beaches on this national day of mourning. But now you have found a gimmick, a handle onto which to festoon your banners. Is this not cynical, to use that in which you do not believe in order to further your political aims? You give new meaning to the word chutzpah.
Fascinating: One of the origins of Tishah B’Av sadness lies in the seminal incident in Bamidbar 14:1 about the Meraglim, the spies who returned from their scouting mission in Israel with frightening tales of the impossibility of conquering the Land. Because they lacked sufficient appreciation for the sanctity of the Land, their demagogic leaders quickly convinced them that they were about to be destroyed. The weeping became infectious — though by this time they had no idea why they were weeping, only that Moshe Rabbeinu was about to lead them into disaster. This all happened in the Wilderness on the ninth day of Av. G-d responded that just as you cry on this date without cause, I will in the future give you sufficient cause to cry on this very date — which became the harbinger of the historic tragedies of Tishah B’Av.
There lurks here an eerie parallel. Today’s judicial reform protesters for the most part have no idea what they are protesting about, but the demonstrations are infectious ,and their demagogic leaders have convinced them that “demokratiah” is at risk and that the current prime minister is leading them into dictatorship. That they are destroying the good name of Israel around the world, emboldening our enemies, affecting our economy and social stability, and are threatening to take extreme measures and even endanger the Land in order to achieve their aims (aims which are unclear) is very troubling. Just as the original Meraglim cried without cause on that fateful ninth day of Av in the Wilderness, so also are the cries of “demokratiah” without cause — especially a “demokratiah” that only matters when your side wins, but does not count when you are displeased by the results of a democratically elected government.
But on the other hand, perhaps I am being too harsh. In the spirit of the above-cited Isaiah chapter, which ends on a positive note, perhaps the very fact that the protesters utilize a sacred Jewish day and practice — instead of an ordinary day — reveals something positive: that deep down, despite their professed secularism, there beats a Jewish heart and there stirs a Jewish soul. And perhaps G-d in His infinite wisdom wanted them to abstain from food and drink on Tishah B’Av, even if the motivations were far from holy.
With history in mind, I pray that our merciful Creator will forgive this contemporary version of causeless weeping.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 974)
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