Op-ed pieces pondering why religious Jews continue to mourn on Tisha B’Av are a hardy perennial of Israeli journalism. The author invariably notes the creation of the State of Israel, the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, and the influx of Jewish immigrants from the four corners of the earth, and asks how, in light of the foregoing, is it possible that Jews continue to mourn the destruction of the Temple, as if nothing had happened in the interim.
At the simplest level, the question would seem to be based on a false premise: that we are a sovereign people in our Land. The clearest evidence to the contrary comes from the site of the Temple itself. Though the Temple Mount has ostensibly been under Israeli control since 1967, successive Israeli governments have stood by helplessly while the Muslim Wakf has worked unimpeded to destroy archaeological evidence of the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount.
In 1996, the Wakf converted Solomon’s stables and the Eastern Hulda Gate passageway into the largest mosque in Israel, capable of accommodating 10,000 worshippers. A year later, the Western Hulda Gate passageway was also converted into a mosque.
At the outset of the Barak government, permission was granted to build an emergency exit to the larger mosque. The Wakf took advantage to excavate an enormous hole from which thousands of tons of dirt were dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley. A three-foot long stone fragment found among the rubble was, according to one archaeologist, "the most important artifact ever recovered from the Temple Mount. . . ." In early 2001, an entire ancient structure was razed near the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount.
The massive building campaign of the Wakf has been conducted in clear contravention of the Antiquities Law, which requires archaeological supervision of all work conducted at ancient sites. Nevertheless successive Israeli governments have refused to enforce the law, and the Israeli police have repeatedly lied about the extent of the unsupervised building.
Last December, after being provided irrefutable photographic evidence of the Wakf’s building efforts by the Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount (CPDATM), former Supreme Court Presidents Moshe Landau and Meir Shamgar and former State Comptroller Miriam ben-Porat joined their names to a petition effectively accusing Israeli police of lying. The Israeli Supreme Court, however, has consistently rejected petitions from the CPDATM, on the grounds that it is within the government’s foreign policymaking authority to refuse to enforce Israeli law.
A nation that stands by helplessly while its most treasured historical patrimony is systematically destroyed by those bent on denying the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount can hardly be described as acting as a sovereign nation.
MOREOVER, the mourning of Tisha B’Av is not for the loss of political independence but for the destruction of the Temple and the consequent loss of connection to God. Political independence and the possession of the Land are, for Jews, means – albeit vital ones -- not ends.
The Jewish nation is the only one to have received its law prior to possessing a Land. The Law-giver Moses never entered the Land. Prior to our entry into the Land, Moses warned against falling prey to the illusion that our prosperity was a function of our own military prowess or our own cunning.
"Judah was sent into exile because it prized land and soil as the bulwark of its freedom and belittled the Torah," writes Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Each time the Jewish people returned to their Land, they were tested anew to see whether they had learned from the experience of exile. Would they, as soon as their feet touched the earth, once again begin "revering as gods . . . the political independence, the social freedom and the civil rights that this soil provides, . . . committing afresh the old sins that brought upon it the destruction of its state and Temple."
In short, political independence and possession of the Land are meaningless by themselves. Unless directed towards forging a connection with G-d through His Torah, they will be lost.
We were granted Land and independence in order to become a "holy nation" that would be a light to the nations. Israel’s achievements in many areas – medicine, military, high-tech – are nothing short of remarkable for such a small country under constant external threat from the moment of its birth.
Yet not for these did we pray. We prayed for the opportunity to create a society that would reveal to the world the transcendental dimension of life. A holy people revealing a holy God. That we have failed to do.
Holiness in the Torah is always associated with sexual restraint. Through that restraint man shows himself to be more than a pleasure-seeking animal and reveals the existence of his divine soul.
In Israel today, tens of thousands of sexual transactions for money take place daily, as do many others almost equally devoid of human feeling. Hundreds of women soldiers undergo abortions annually, and the IDF has become a dispensary for birth control and morning after pills.
Hundreds of women are bought and sold as chattel yearly. Their masters allow them less control over their own bodies than we give our house pets. The police largely ignore this slavery in our midst, and its presence arouses little outrage.
Far from creating a model society, Israel has one of the widest income gaps in the Western world. Our school system has one of the highest rates of violence. Not surprisingly, Israeli teenagers, according to the World Health Organization, are the unhappiest in the world. Their lives lack a sense of purpose or meaning.
OUR problem is not that we mourn our current situation too much, but that we – all of us -- mourn too little for what we are lacking.
"They shall make for me a Sanctuary so that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). The verse does not say "in it" – i.e. in the Sanctuary – but rather "in them." Each of us is a microcosm of the Temple.
In the Temple, the Divine Presence was felt by the entire nation. That same Divine Presence dwells, however, in each of us. Just as the nation caused the Divine Presence to go into Exile through its sins, so too do we cut ourselves off from that Presence through our individual sins.
And just as G-d promised the Jewish people that even in exile, He would never become so utterly disgusted with them as to destroy them completely, so too the spark of His presence is never fully extinguished from our hearts.
Our ancestors cried in the Desert on the night of Tisha B’Av. Those tears expressed a feeling of estrangement from God, whom they were convinced by the Spies hated them for their former idolatry and was bringing into them into Land in order to wipe them out at the hands of far stronger nations. Because they cried needlessly out of a failure to recognize God’s love, their descendants were doomed to cry on that same night for millennia.
But if those original tears brought destruction and exile, our tears today are the corrective. When we cry for the Temple, or for our alienation from the inextinguishable point of divinity within us, we rectify the estrangement, both collective and individual.
"All those who mourn for Jerusalem," say our Sages, "will one day see her in her rejoicing." May it be soon.