Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, commemorates the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. According to tradition, the First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed because the Israelites had violated the most important laws of the Torah: they worshiped idols, shed blood, and engaged in sexual indiscretions. During Second Temple times, the Jews no longer committed these grave sins. Instead, their Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, because they were unkind to each other.
During the Shabbat study session last week before the beginning of the Tisha B’Av commemoration, we asked the question, what is “baseless hatred”? One way of looking at is as arguing over the little things. The Jews were no longer fighting over the big questions of idolatry and accepting the Torah. Instead, their divisions were about small slights and disagreements.
The classic example of this conflict is the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza, where a case of mistaken identity led to someone being misinvited to a party and then ultimately being thrown out. The anger over his mistreatment led the man to inform the Roman authorities that the Jews were going to rebel, which led to a crackdown that resulted in the Great Revolt.
The story teaches that even small quarrels over insignificant issues can have world-historic consequences. A little kindness and understanding, a little menschlichkeit, would have prevented the incident from ever happening. Sometimes there is a need to fight over big issues. Sometimes our differences are insurmountable. Of course, even in these situations there no reason not to show kindness; all the more so when the conflict is over a mistakenly invited guest.
This Tisha B’Av the Jewish world was given another lesson in baseless hatred when a group of extremist Orthodox-nationalists disrupted egalitarian prayer services at the Ezrat Israel section of the Western Wall. This is an area that has been designated for non-Orthodox prayer since the Conservative and Reform movements cannot conduct services in the main section.
Unfortunately, because of the intransigence of the ultra-Orthodox parties, the status of Ezrat Israel has never been definitively established by the government. Additionally, the liberal streams have hoped to keep it open to all who want to worship there, even Orthodox. They do not want to create discrimination in Ezrat Israel after having experienced discrimination in the main Western Wall Plaza.
The extremist group was able to take advantage of the ambiguity of Ezrat Israel to set up a mehitza, or barrier between male and female worshipers and prevent members of the Conservative movement from entering the area. It seems that during COVID, when fewer non-Orthodox Jews were willing or able to pray at the wall, some Orthodox have attempted to take over the space so that they can in the future claim it as an Orthodox synagogue, giving it the same status as the main plaza.
I’m not sure if the extremist group intentionally chose Tisha B’Av for their disturbing stunt, but certainly they made it plain that they are interested in promoting baseless hatred on a day when we mourn its consequences. They certainly do not need to give their approval of or lend legitimacy to liberal Judaism, but do they need to try and evict their fellow Jews from a space that the Orthodox have never been interested in before? That is nothing more than hate for hate’s sake.