Rabbi’s Message: Sep. 1, 2016

Be a Rosh Hashanah Jew, Not a Tisha B’Av Jew

Gavray gibarim katlah d’vaya / Even the most powerful of the powerful can be struck down by sorrow.
Babylonian Talmud Mesechet Sanhedrin 100b

Lo yada enosh ta’amah dim’tikah od d’ta’am m’rira / One could understand the taste of sweetness without having tasted bitterness.
Zohar Parshat Tazria

It’s the same old song
You’ve gotta be somewhere at sometime
They never let you fly
It’s like broken glass
You get cut before you see it
So open up your eyes

You’ve got desire
So let it out
You’ve got the power
Stand up and shout, shout
Stand up and shout, shout “Stand Up and Shout”
by Ronnie James Dio from the album Holy Diver


Tisha B’Av is perhaps the most ironic date on the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av, commemorates through a series of restrictions, such as fasting and mournful customs and prayers, the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash, or Holy Temple, by the Romans in 70 C.E. It is ironic because Tisha B’Av is a rabbinical-created observance of mourning for an institution and a practice of Judaism that in its time stood in fierce opposition to the rabbinic version of Judaism that survived the Roman onslaught and that is the ancestor of every form of Judaism practiced today. In the late Second Temple period, there were many divergent forms of Judaism practiced by competing sects. The two dominant forms were that of the priestly class, known as the Tzadookim (Sadducee s), and that of the early rabbis, known as the Perushim (Pharisees). The Tzadookim promoted a literal understanding of the Torah that promulgated an understanding of the relationship between God and man that was based upon the ancient, venerable tradition of animal sacrifice. The Tzadookim held that the only way to appease a God who may be angry over transgressions or to ensure abundant rain and a good harvest was through animal sacrifice, which of course they were the main beneficiaries of. The Cohanim (priests) in effect had the people by the (as in the popular modern Israeli vernacular) betzim. You can surely figure that out. People needed to travel to Jerusalem for animal sacrifice, where they could purchase animals from the Cohanim with special Temple currency obtained with silver from those same Cohanim, and of course, the Cohanim got the best share of the barbecue that ensued following the slaughtering of the animal and the spraying of the blood. The people generally hated the Cohanim, who purchased their choice positions from the Roman occupiers; but the people also revered and feared them, as the people accepted the role of the Cohanim as mediators between them and their God.

The Perushim, on the other hand, were very popular among the common people. The Perushim promoted a concept of Torah Sh’b’al Peh, an oral Torah that they taught was a methodology of interpretation that began with Moshe Rabaynu (Moses our Teacher) and had been developed and passed down through the generations to them, the early rabbis. This was a far more flexible religious system that favored quick and nimble minds over being born into privilege. The rabbis came up with countless interpretations of verses in the Torah that allowed many leniencies and made living a Jewish life easier and more enjoyable. The Judaism of the rabbis was also more spiritually and intellectually enriching. Their Judaism was based upon a system of observance of commandments, Torah study, and prayer. It was unlike the religion of the Cohanim—it was portable and not dependent on any specific location. Wherever Jews could gather they could expound the Torah, debate interpretations, and pray. The Cohanim were locked into a specific location where sacrifice was allowed to take place and a commoner could have no fulfilling role in their religion.

Nothing benefited the rabbis more than the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. While it was a national calamity that also involved the loss of much life, it eliminated the competition. The rabbis were brilliant. Not only were they sharp and creative scholars of text, but they were very skilled in human relations and politics. They understood that while their competitors had been eliminated, they still by tradition were respected and revered. So the rabbis co-opted the Cohanim. They offered them a few minor special privileges, such as the first aliyah of the Torah service, and made the anniversary of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash a day of national mourning with restrictions almost as severe as those of Yom Kippur.

In the subsequent centuries, the Jews were a powerless and oppressed people. Often Jews were exiled from lands that they had made their homes for decades or even centuries. Jews suffered violence, pogroms, blood libels, and forced and staged theological “disputations” and had little or no means of self-defense. Tisha B’Av became the repository of mourning our powerlessness, helplessness, and lowliness, desolate, and despised status as a people among the nations of the world.

Rosh Hashanah as we observe it is also a rabbinic invention. The Torah calls it Yom HaZicharon, a day of remembrance, and Yom HaTruah, a day of blasting the shofar. Rosh Hashanah literally means the head of the year, but actually Nissan is the first month on the Jewish calendar. The first of the month of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) comes out after six months have already passed at the halfway point on the Jewish calendar. This is not the time and place to fully explain the evolution of Rosh Hashanah. So why is the “New Year” at the midpoint of the calendar? One teaching that is repeated in a variety of ways in numerous rabbinic sources is that it is at the midway point so that we can stop and observe what we have done and how we have done it up to that point. We have a chance then to make a Tikun, a repair, a rectification of our actions and the results of our actions whether they are concerning our relationships, our personal lives, our careers, our religious observance, our health, or the direction we jointly take as a people.

Today the vast majority of Jews live in either the United States or the State of Israel. Here in the USA we enjoy incredible freedom and equal rights with our neighbors. Jews are an integral part of the fabric of America and have been top contributors in every conceivable field. Studies show that Jews are the most highly respected religious group in the country (even though we still are the main victims of “hate crimes”). The State of Israel boldly and proudly makes the statement that Jews will no longer be helpless, weak, and defenseless. Jewish jets flown by Jewish pilots, the best in the world, and an innovative and highly effective IDF and brilliant Jewish minds creating on the edge, state of-the-art Israeli technology broadcast that message to the world including our enemies in an unmistakable manner.

Jews in Israel and the USA are no longer Tisha B’Av Jews. We are Rosh Hashanah Jews. If I had my way, I would remove Tisha B’Av from the Jewish calendar and make Yom HaShoah our national day of mourning, as we are still close to and both mourn and are inspired to action by the suffering of the years of the Holocaust. The Jews still in Europe may be the last of the Tisha B’Av Jews, and we need to stand up for them.

Wishing us all to be proud Rosh Hashanah Jews and Zeeseh Yor (A Sweet New Year)

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Bellerose Jewish Center.