I admit it. Guilty as charged. When it comes to the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel, I am always looking for the good and the positive. I have been accused of being an eternal optimist and I proudly admit; Yes, I am! Maybe it’s all the negative press or maybe it’s the constant Israel-bashing in the UN… I’m not really sure… but know this; when it comes to Israel, I will always focus on the cup being half full.
Take this past Tisha b’Av for example. I was driving home after hearing Eichah. It was about 9pm. Normally, my neighborhood is buzzing at that time. I live in Herziliya, a coastal city in Israel that is hoppin’ and boppin’ in the summertime, well into the wee hours of the night. Yet, as I drove home, there was an eerie silence. There was no traffic, no music being played and very, very few people walking around. I drove past the stores – the ones usually packed with loads of people – and they were closed. The coffee shop, the shwarma restaurant, the 24 hour convenience shop and even the pub… all closed! I couldn’t believe it. They were closed because it was Tisha b’Av.
Is there such a law, I asked myself? Do stores in Israel have to be closed on the night of Tisha b’Av? And then it happened. Just as I was asking myself this very question, I drove past Benedict, a non-kosher 24/7 dairy restaurant that was open for business! You know what they say, there’s always one. (I wonder if this restaurant was named after Benedict Arnold…)
I did some research and found that, yes, there is a law that certain businesses have to be closed on the night of Tisha b’Av, similar to the night of Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Day) and Yom Ha’Zikaron (Memorial Day). Israeli law actually refers to this day as “Yom Eivel l’Am ha’Yehudi” (a day of mourning for the Jewish nation). When I studied that law a bit more I found that only “fun” places have to be closed like restaurants, coffee shops and movie theatres while other businesses can remain open. I then read an incredible fact that this law has never been enforced, and since the establishment of this law, no businesses have been fined – even the ones like Benedict who are in clear violation. And that excited me.
What this means is simple. The pub in Herziliya, near the beach, could have remained open and no police officer would have given the owner a summons… but the guy closed for the night. The coffee shops and restaurants closed – not because of the law – but because they chose to and the 24 hour convenience store was actually permitted to remain open (the law does not even apply to him!) yet he closed as well. All these business owners turned down serious money for one reason: To connect with the Jewish nation on this day of national mourning.
I know some of these business owners personally and trust me, you wouldn’t think that Tisha b’Av speaks to them, but it does! Looks can be deceiving… especially when it comes to Jews. These guys look like they just care about money but don’t be fooled! They love their people and identify with their pain.
Many years ago I learned – what seems to be – a crazy concept in the Talmud. (Note: When I searched for this source, I actually found it in the Daf Yomi studied on the day after Tisha b’Av!) Talmud Sanhedrin 17a states; “Rav Kahane said: If all the judges of a Sanhedrin saw fit to convict a defendant, he is acquitted.” Let me explain that. When a person is on trial for a capital offense, he appears before a court of 23 judges. When they take a vote to decide on the man’s fate, if all 23 judges state “Guilty”, the man goes free! The Rambam explains that this rule applies only to when a case is brought before the Great Sanhedrin of 71 judges, but the concept is the same; a unanimous verdict by the Sanhedrin is not good and the defendant is exonerated! The alleged guilt of the defendant is immaterial and the killer walks away a free man. Unbelievable.
With that Talmudic teaching in mind, I thank the owners of Benedict for remaining open for business on the night of Tisha b’Av! Had they closed, it would have been unanimous and I would have worried. My conclusion would have been that they closed out of fear of the police, but now I see otherwise. The ones who closed, did so out of love, not fear. They love their people and they closed to be part of the Jewish nation regardless of the loss of profit.
It’s things like this that give me comfort because I know that the Jewish spark is alive and well. Must we do more? Definitely yes… but on these post Tisha b’Av days of comfort I focus on the positive. We are one nation, living in one land and serving one G-d. The overwhelming majority of Jews believe in that concept and it’s from that point where our rebuilding will come!
Next year in Jerusalem!
Editor’s Note: This week’s column was written by Shmuel Sackett, co-founder of Zehut along with Moshe Feiglin.