Tisha B’Av is an uncomfortable reminder of the destructive power of hatred

July 30, 2020

Tisha B’Av is an uncomfortable reminder of the destructive power of hatred

Tonight we commemorate Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av. It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, observed as time of national mourning in which we recount calamities that befell the Jewish people throughout history: The destruction of both the first and second Temples, our people’s experience in exile, the Crusades, the burning of the Talmud, pogroms against European Jewry, the Holocaust and more.

Observances for the day include fasting, communal worship and reading the Book of Lamentations. Although it is a regular work day, we set aside time for reflection and contemplation.

The rabbis teach that the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple was sinat chinam, or causeless hatred. This is hatred that comes from within, perhaps ideologically based, without reason. Sinat Chinam/baseless hatred can result in our de-legitimization of those whose way of life and whose worldview we cannot accept and with whom we fundamentally disagree, with no will for negotiation or understanding. In Temple times, sinat chinam referred to internal strife between various factions within the Jewish people, whose disagreements led to total destruction of the entire community.

Many modern Jews struggle to find meaning in Tisha B’Av: we’re not wishing for the Temple to be rebuilt, and see our forced national exile having ended with the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Practically speaking, it’s August, it’s hot, we’d rather go to the mountains or the beach!

I would argue that during this time of uncertainty and upheaval that we recognize and pay close attention to the observance of Tisha B’Av. It is painfully clear that sinat chinam/baseless hatred is thriving in our world at every level: national, state, community, even among families. Racial discrimination, economic inequalities and political disparities which have surfaced are expressed in terms of hatred and fear, resulting in deep divisions, chaos and unrest. (I don’t need to give examples!) Some might say that the fabric of our society is being torn apart, with many of us wondering if it is beyond repair.

Tisha B’Av is all too timely.

But what comes next? Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel, taught that if the Second Temple was destroyed and the people were sent into exile due to sinat chinam, then the Temple will be rebuilt and the people would gather again through the act of ahavat chinam, baseless love.

There it is: the antidote to hate is love. Acting out of baseless love would mean that we treat all people with the same respect and deference, equally caring for human needs, listening to those whose perspectives are different with an attitude of humility, seeking understanding. Tisha B’Av is an uncomfortable reminder of the destructive power of hatred and how in this time in history, we are in need of acts of love.

Rabbi Judith Beiner
Chaplain, JF&CS of Atlanta