Monday, September 7, 2009

From Temple to Synagogue...and Beyond? (part II)

Is Tisha B'Av a day of grief for us, 2000 years after the Roman Empire turned the Temple into a battered, solitary wall? As I started to say yesterday, my answer is "Yes--and no."

Yes. The destruction of the Temple was more than a symbolic blow, more even than the bitterness of actual conquest. With the Temple lost (as I discussed in my 1991 book Political Discourse in Exile), the Jews could not carry out many of the commandments of the Torah, by which they had lived. Their purpose, their identity, their culture were all in jeopardy. Tisha B'Av can stand for all the time (personal, like when my first wife left me, or social, like when the towers fell in New York and the Pentagon broke open to the sky eight years ago this week) when the world and all meaning seem to crumble.

But no! We do not need to mourn the daily ritual of animal sacrifice. We have not missed the hereditary priesthood and levitical caste living on the labors of the rest of the population. We have found other ways to express our gratitude and our ongoing relationship with the power of the universe, the source of life and justice. Practically everything that we now know as Judaism came about after the Temple was destroyed...because the Temple was destroyed. The rabbis who built the day of mourning into the calendar also build institutions like prayer, study, and fellowship that define Jewish identity today. In the moment after the Temple fell, of course they mourned. But today? Shouldn't we be rejoicing on Tisha B'Av? Shouldn't we be dancing?

And yet.... (see tomorrow's post for concluding thoughts)

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