On this day in Jewish history, this day in 586 BCE, the Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash) of the ancient Jews was destroyed. Our Orthodox and many Conservative coreligionists believe that, on this day, the Jewish world was draped in darkness. On this day, they believe, it became impossible to comprehend our daily opportunity to rise above the physical realm and to make all life a spiritual experience. The Orthodox tell me that after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, it became far more difficult to experience God in our everyday lives. We Reform Jews don’t believe that. We believe that we carry on the tradition of the Pharisees in adapting our spiritual practice to the the times. We don’t mourn the Temple. But that does not mean we have a shortage of things over which to weep!
In the 21st century we do not long for the daily sacrifices of the temple cult. Much as Spinoza adapted to the Enlightenment, we have replaced our longing with a Religious experience that borrows from the Zeitgeist of Post-modernity. This is not necessarily good in my view, because the Postmodern embodies much I dislike. In fact, I refuse to be called “a postmodern” because it associates one with the irrationality of the likes of Derrida and the post-structuralists. Yet, if you think about it, our method of Torah study now has much in common with Gademer’s notions as described in “Truth and Method”; so, it’s fair to say we are Postmodernly influenced. But, my point is simply that we don’t blindly hold on to the past. We grow. We believe that revelation is a daily occurrence if you just look deeply for it.
Still, the result of Jerusalem’s destruction can be seen throughout history and into modern times. Not only do we often feel distant from the divine but we are still regularly attacked by fanatics who have an obscene conception of a God who they think likes death. Violence against us, not just by fanatic Muslims and neo-Nazis, but even among crazed irrational crowds who would storm a French Synagogue or hold banners depicting us drinking blood in a place like Seattle, is still viewed as a viable tactic.
Amid this, now increasing, antisemitism we Jews can not abandon our people and our culture. The first and second Temples are long gone; but what we call pintele yid (the Jewish spark within our people) must live on. My Orthodox friends may tell me that our Covenant insures that it will never die. I think differently. Anything can die – and will die – if not maintained and cultivated. I believe that only through our action can that Jewish spark remain. We must look at the Crusades, the centuries of ghettoization and marginalization, the ashes of the Shoah, the persecution of the Russian Jews, and even the past month’s dead Israeli soldiers and, within them, find the fragments of our culture upon which to build. We must never give up. Yet, I must add my view that the life of the spark is not just maintained because of some Brit with God; it is we humans and our commitment to responsible action, that is the only way to keep the”pintele” afire.
As we mourn the destruction of Tisha B’Av, my wish is that every Jew will stand with pride against those who hate us. My bigger wish is that each one of us will commit ourselves to taking personal responsibility for building a brighter spark from the ashes of the ever existing, ever unwarranted, hatred we see perpetrated against us.