Ignorant Orthodox Protesters Disrupt Egal Tisha b’Av Prayers at Western Wall

Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. 

We commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (twice), the crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and numerous other disasters to befall the Jewish people.

The “main event,” the one considered the most painful of the lot, was the destruction of the Temple the second time, in the year 70 CE, which put an end to Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel for nearly 2,000 years. It ended the sacrificial cult that was centered in Jerusalem and led to the majority of Jews living in exile, and transformation of Judaism into the religion we know today (which is a good thing).

The rabbis in the Talmud say that the Temple was destroyed in 70 because of sinat chinam, because of baseless hatred between Jews, based on the following story.

The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is well known. An unnamed guy was having a big party, and he wanted to his invite his friend Kamtza. His servant accidentally invited the wrong guy, someone named Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza shows up and gets turned away. He’s very embarrassed – after all EVERYONE is there – and he even offers to pay the expenses of the party if the host will just let him avoid embarrassment by staying.  The host refuses. Bar-Kamtza notices that the rabbis are sitting there watching, and therefore, they seem to condone the host’s lack of hospitality.  So Bar Kamtza decides to tell the Romans the rabbis are plotting against him.

On Tisha b’Av this year, a group of Orthodox men tried to commandeer the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. They put up a gender divider to turn it into a segregated space. They were trying to prevent the egalitarian prayers, and they were expressing their disapproval of a government plan to upgrade the egalitarian space.

Everyone in the Orthodox world is familiar with the Kamtza / Bar Kamtza story. So how could they possibly engage in act that clearly seems to be one of “baseless hatred,” on, of all days, Tisha b’Av when we should be exceedingly tuned in to that sin? Well, maybe they would argue, they don’t hate those egalitarian Jews, they just think they are misguided, and are trying to prevent them from sinning doing them a favor, really.

And here’s why I titled this piece, “Ignorant Orthodox Protesters…”  Because maybe they simply weren’t paying attention to the end of the Bar Kamtza story while they were sitting on their butts in the yeshiva. Because there’s more to the story than baseless hatred for other Jews.

When Bar Kamtza decided to tell the Romans the rabbis were plotting against him, he told them as proof the Roman governor should present an animal for the Jews to sacrifice.  Clever Bar Kamtza offers to deliver the animal, and on the way gives it a minor injury which no one except the punctilious rabbis will notice – an injury which disqualifies the sheep from being offered in the Temple.  The rabbis had a quandary: offer a blemished animal on the altar (which is a religious no-no), or risk the wrath of the Romans?  The rabbis were inclined to offer the blemished animal, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Abkubas said no, people will say we are offering blemished animals.  So they rejected the offering, and the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.  Right in the Talmud it says, “R. Johanan thereupon remarked: Through the scrupulousness of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.”

It wasn’t JUST baseless hatred that led to the destruction of the Temple. It was religious zealotry, aided and abetted by baseless hatred. Which is exactly what those protesters were doing. I don’t comprehend how anyone who really understands the Bar Kamtza story could possibly have thought it’s a good idea to harass fellow Jews because of their own religious zealotry on Tisha b’Av of all days.

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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