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Op-Ed: Temple Destruction Redux

Some of us seem to have decided to work on another Churban Habayit - destruction of the Temple and of our homeland.
Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 9:03 AM


Like many of my fellow Jews, I find myself in a state of somber contemplation as the 9th of Av draws near. And while we hope and pray that each Tisha b'Av spent in mourning will be our last, and that an imminent messianic redemption will turn the saddest day of the year into a holiday without equal, I am hard put to expect, alas, that salvation is forthcoming; not this year, anyway.

Therefore I am equally confident that the thoughts I am about to share with you, though they may not be read by some until after Tisha b'Av, will nonetheless retain their relevance until then.

Why, our Sages ask, was the Second Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple, ed.)destroyed? One answer, given by the Talmud and known to the majority of observant Jews, is sinas chinam—baseless hatred. And it is this flaw in our national character which, unrectified, remains a primary obstacle to the building of the Third Temple (may it be speedily and in our days). Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi in Masechet (Tractate)Yoma teaches that “A generation in which the Temple is not built is considered to be one in which it was destroyed.”

That the Jewish nation is one rife with internal conflict is no big secret; it's a reality we've lived with since before we even became a nation. I'm pretty sure that immediately following the Exodus, a third of the Jews wanted to follow Moses, another third wanted to go back to Egypt, and still another third wanted to stop and ask for directions to Mt. Sinai. (Gas stations would not be invented for another 3,200 years.) And while my knowledge of Chumash (Pentateuch, ed) might be a little rusty, just speaking from my own experience, it's impossible to get a room full of Jews to agree on how to split a restaurant bill, let alone to reach an accord on serious matters of hashkafa or politics.

Speaking of hashkafa and politics, one the clearest indicators that the Temple is going to be “destroyed” again this year came out, ironically enough, on motzei Shabbos Chazon (the evening following the “Sabbath of Vision,” so named for the selection from the Prophets read during morning prayers). It comes from a member of the Israeli Shas Party's Council of Torah Sages, Rosh Yeshivat Porat Yosef, HaGaon HaRav Shalom Cohen Shlita—in the frum community, as elsewhere, the length of one's title is, evidently, directly proportional to one's level of importance.

The long and short of it is that Rav Cohen, declared the Dati Le'umi, National Religious (also termed Religious Zionist) branch of the Torah community to be modern-day “Amalekites,” and questioned their status as Jews altogether. He said that the Heavenly Throne cannot be complete so long as the kippah srugah (the knit yamulke, a reference to Religious Zionists' head covering) still exists.

This is more than just exclusionism, which would be disturbing enough. Rav Cohen took a portion of the Torah-observant community (many of whom willingly offer their sweat, their tears, and their blood, in defense of the Jewish people), commonly called the “kippot srugot” in Israel, and likened them to the mortal enemies of our nation. Creating a schism within the House of Israel on the basis of headwear? I couldn't make up a more perfect example of sinas chinam! And on the eve of Tisha b'Av, no less!

Of course, the present conflict is rooted not in fashion, but in ideology. Rav Shalom Cohen was, at the time, expressing his fear that Israel could one day have a non-hareidi Sephardic chief rabbi. Heaven forbid! In fact, the only thing I can think of worse than that, would be if Israel had a chief rabbi who declared all Jews who didn't dress, think, and act like him to be enemies of the state.

As of this writing, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi and founder of the Shas party, Rav Ovadia Yosef, who sat alongside Rav Cohen, has yet to say anything to contradict the rabbi's anti-Dati diatribe. There are reports, however, that members of Rav Cohen's household have attempted to soften the blow, clarifying that he was referring not to the kippah srugah-wearing public at large, but rather, the National-Religious political leadership and that the Amalek reference was meant to be taken as a clever play on words. Of course, even if that were the case—I'm not sure that makes the incident significantly less appalling.

But if the last two thousand years of galus have taught us anything (and apparently they haven't), it's this: If the house is in flames, a bucket of lighter fluid makes a poor fire extinguisher. Therefore, to all those who are distressed (or infuriated, as the case may be) by Rav Cohen's poor choice of words, I, a simple, kippah-srugah-clad American chozer b'tshuvah, would like to propose the following: We should all take it upon ourselves to love our fellow Jews and concern ourselves with their welfare, regardless of the type of hat they wear—or don't wear.

That's not to say that we have to agree with everyone, or to pretend that we think that all denominations claiming the name “Judaism” are equally valid. But if we truly internalize the Torah's teachings regarding interaction bein adam l'chaveiro, man and his fellow man, about how we are supposed to treat our neighbors in general and our fellow Jews in particular, disagreement needn't entail personal disrespect.

Zionist or not, frum or not. Velvet kippah, knit kippah, polyester kippah, or no kippah – as defined by the Torah, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and is therefore deserving of the same love and respect one should have for his or her own family.* That is, after all, what we are. And the sooner we all recognize that, the sooner we will dwell securely in our land, and the sooner all people will recognize the common fatherhood of G-d and the common brotherhood of man. May each of us, regardless of our choice of headwear, use this Tisha b'Av to bring that dream one step closer to reality.

To paraphrase one particularly influential secular Jew: If we will it, it is no dream.

 Note: *Sadly, an exception must be made for those rarest of individuals so twisted by their hatred of a secular Jewish state that they openly render aid and comfort to our enemies—for instance, by attending Holocaust denial conferences and hobnobbing with anti-Semitic despots. That's the literal definition of treason, and here a line must be drawn, lest we leave ourselves defenseless against enemies from within. Regarding such people, it is written ולמלשינים אל תהי תקוה, may slanderers have no future, etc.