Photo Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon
Supporters and detractors of judicial reform hold a prayer at the Western Wall, July 23, 2023 |

Israel’s public square has become a boxing ring where two camps, each with its own worldview, are fighting each other and losing their mind. The clash has affected practically every aspect of our lives and created a reality where it is seemingly unthinkable to embrace someone from the opposing side despite common sense and logic suggesting this is the right thing to do.

As a result, we have unfortunately reached a situation where the restaurateurs feel that being spiteful and staying open on Tisha B’Av just to be spiteful is a legitimate weapon in the culture war that is being waged on the street. An army marches on its stomach, the old saying goes, and now that the debate is becoming increasingly militarized, it is hardly surprising that chefs are all but donning their combat fatigues and joining the battle.


One of them said that he was going to open on the evening of the fasting day in which we mourn the destruction of the Temples because he “has to remain loyal to those who have been demonstrating for 30 weeks.” Customers have also signed online petitions saying they planned to flock to open establishments during that somber day and will pay 200 shekels ($50) even if they won’t be hungry – just for the sake of democracy.

When something is absurd, it doesn’t fit with logic and triggers an immediate human response of ridicule, bewilderment, or fear. But it appears that Isrelis have let go of the first two. We no longer treat such declarations with bemusement or sneer; the only thing left to do is just harbor some fear over the ugliness that has taken over our collective national judgment. Who are the chefs trying to punish? Who are their patrons trying to take revenge against? Restaurants have been open on Tisha B’Av Eve for years; there is nothing illegal about it that should concern the authorities. But why use this reality as a means to launch an in-your-face civil disobedience campaign that is simply designed to provoke and negate the Jewish identity of other publics?

A national common denominator

On Tisha B’Av Eve 569 (1934), Berl Katznelson found out that one of the youth groups had arranged for a summer camp to begin that very night, “on the same night on which Israel mourns its destruction, its enslavement and the rebellion of its exile.” A day after Tisha B’Av he wrote in the paper Davar an essay called “Destruction and Detachment.”

“What value does a liberation movement have and what kind of product can it produce if it does not have roots, if it forgets rather than imbues its members with the sense of origin, if it blurs the point of departure from one’s memory?” For this Zionist thinker, Tisha B’Av was a point of national origin, not just a day relegated to lamentations of religious Jews in Jerusalem.

He went on to write, “Had the People of Israel not known how to mourn the destruction on a day of remembrance spanning many generations with such intensity, as if those who perished were laid out unburied just before them, as if they were the ones who had just lost their liberty and their homeland, we would not have had Hesse and Pinsker, Herzl and Nordau, Sirkin and Borochov, A.D. Gordon and Y.J. Brenner; Yehuda Halevy could not have authored “Zion, will you not ask?” and Bialik would not have written “The Scroll of Fire”.”

The distrust each side of the political divide has toward the other has naturally trickled into the daily interaction between groups and even individuals – and that is what’s most concerning. The avoidance of one another and the mutual suspicion are omnipresent; they cannot be ignored. Even the banal acts of operating a restaurant, studying a chapter of the Bible with friends, and waving an Israeli flag are now considered to be all but a declaration of war. This is very troubling and it shows how our collective mindset has been distorted.

Tisha B’Av is not just for Haredim

This warped reality is a result of a series of detached and reckless steps taken by the leadership on one side. The outrageous draft legislation introduced this week just as the polarization reached new heights– which seeks to make Torah study equivalent to military service and enshrined through a basic law –  is but one example. Another is the statement made by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who said that the controversial bill passed this week limiting the Supreme Court was just “the appetizer,” – words that are laden with grudge. Such conduct has had the effect of instilling fear among a huge segment of the population who is increasingly worried that Israel’s character will no longer be Democratic and Jewish, but just the latter. It’s hard to argue with pathological findings, but you have to fully understand them. The sense of fright is very much present in their hearts, and one cannot dismiss such feelings.

On the same token, rejecting the Jewish part of the equation hurts and undermines the very essence of what most conservative and liberal Israelis – secular, observant, and religious Jewish alike, from all ethnic backgrounds – have been fighting for: building an Israel that is a laboratory for Jewish pluralism, a source of diversity and humanism that espouses equality for a variety of Jewish publics –  not just acceptance, because acceptance implies disavowal. Yes, the pursuit of such a vision is costly and is still very much ongoing; the makeup of the current government puts the gains that have been attained so far in doubt. Nevertheless, this passionate drive is very much present in Torah study halls, in the media, and on social networks, as well as in our literature and even in the tents pitched up near the Knesset on Sacher Park.

Tisha B’Av is not just for Haredim, and it is not just observed next to the Western Wall. It is part of our national consciousness and it does not need special definitions; rather, it needs introspection and a feeling that those who perished are laid out before us.

{Written by Omer Lachmanovitch  and reposted from IsraelHayom}


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