Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Observations from My Sabbatical Leave: The Ninth of Av, Trayvon Martin, and Race Hatred as an American Affliction

Beginning Monday evening July 15 and continuing until sundown on July 16, the world-wide Jewish community will observe the day of the Ninth of Av (in Hebrew, Tishah B’av).  This is a day on which we commemorate the destruction of the two ancient Jerusalem Temples, once in 587 BCE, and the other in the 70 CE.

At Temple Beth El, we do not observe this holy day as other congregations might.  However, on this particular Ninth of Av, it is necessary for us to acknowledge one of the lessons put forth about this sorrowful holy day by the rabbis of the Talmud, for this lesson has a direct connection to the verdict of the trial just concluded in Florida which decided the criminal case brought against George Zimmerman.

In teaching about the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome in 70 CE, the rabbis inform us that God destroyed the Temple on account of the “baseless hatred” (Hebrew: sin’at hinam) that we Jews had toward one another: During the years leading up to the destruction, the Jewish community had divided itself along many different political and ideological lines, bringing forth a great amount of vitriol and enmity toward each other.

There were ultra-religious Jews who observed the Torah word-for-word, as well as ‘interpretive-tradition’ Jews who believed that lessons of Torah had to be updated and interpreted in each era; there were also new Christians who believed that their savior had eliminated altogether the need for the Torah and its laws.

There were zealots who looked past the ideological stances of these groups, and advocated for the violent overthrow of Rome by the Israelite nation; and there were those who simply left the body of Jews in Palestine and retreated to the Dead Sea community of ascetics and hermits.

The rabbis of later years analyze the situation, and state that since we could not band together and present a united front in the battle for our land, and since we exhibited a baseless hatred toward – and a total disregard for – one another’s opinions and feelings, we deserved the fate of exile.

In America, in our times, there exist, we must acknowledge, a similar, underlying hatred and suspicion of some of our fellow citizens toward others, specifically some whites against blacks.  From calls for voter registration schemes that would disenfranchise poor and minority voters to the fear that brought about the Trayvon Martin shooting, race prejudice is still an affliction in our country that we have yet to cure.

And the thought that plagues me, as I write on this eve of the Ninth of Av, is whether and when we - as freedom loving and advocating Americans - will ever be able to rid ourselves of our racial fears and animosities, and look upon all others as beings created in God’s image.

Many issues can divide us.  Race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion, should not be the things that separate us from one another.

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