A rare interview from the archives of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority sheds light on the significance of the Ninth of Av, on which Jews commemorate the destruction of both Holy Temples and a host of other tragedies in Jewish history, for our times.
The interview, with Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, was part of the Tzerufim program which was broadcasted in 1985 on Channel 1 every week after Shabbat.
Rabbi Ashkenazi was among the foremost spiritual leaders of French Jewry in the 20th Century.
Interviewer: Is it still possible to describe in today’s age, when 300,000 Israelis have [voluntarily] left Israel, the exile as the most severe of sufferings?
Rabbi Ashkenazi: The Exile is defined by the Sages of Israel as “unnatural,” “abnormal,” and for he who feels himself to be healthy, [the Exile] is as difficult as death.
I: Is the Exile over, despite the fact most of the Jews still reside outside of Israel?
RA: The situation of a dispersed nation in foreign lands without its capital city has ceased. And even the situation today of Diaspora Jewry has changed because of the establishment of the State of Israel, [as] now they have a connection to their Nation based in reality. Diaspora Jewry of today is in an anachronistic position: on the one hand, they are the result of the Second Temple exile which yearned for redemption, while on the other hand, the Third Temple is already starting to be rebuilt in our day. Therefore, a Jew who leaves the State of Israel today is a bit more connected to Israel than one who never moved to Israel in the first place, since he is the [true] Diaspora of the State of Israel. Diaspora Jewry needs to repair its relationship with the State of Israel - and it may take time, since we are in a transition period.
I: Even so, weren’t there good periods when Jews resided outside of Israel (like the Golden Age in Spain)? Is all that considered “Exile?”
RA: There are periods of Exile, such as under Joseph in Egypt, which it is possible to call “good.” But every good period in exile, without exception, ends with destruction. Whoever looks at the post -Biblical period sees the constant failure, as if there’s some sort of fatalism; We don’t know how to pull ourselves from the external world at the right moment. A historical law is very dangerous. We need to be aware of consequences.
I: If failure in exile is a historical law, how can we change the law?
RA: What is the source of the [law]? There is a certain tendency in our identity towards the universality of the external world, which explains the pull of exile. In our forefathers, this was a good trait. But in their descendants, this universalism reveals itself as cosmopolitanism, a doubt about the uniqueness of the Jewish People.
I: Is there an element of similarity between our generation and previous ones?
RA: We are in a very similar period to that of the beginning of the Second Temple period. Also in that period, the Jewish people was in its land, and there was also a Diaspora community from the First Temple exile which did not return in the period of Ezra and Nehemia. So the question today is, What is the nature of the connection between the Diaspora of then and the State of today? Are we at the beginning of a process [like what we saw in the Second Temple period] and heading for a crisis, or at the end of the crisis?
History can only go on for so long. We had two thousand years of exile, and all of a sudden something completely different, so I’m optimistic.