Tisha Be’Av 5773 – 2013

TISHA BE’AV in some hours now for 5773/2013. What to count and how can we measure such events? Destructions of the two Temples of Jerusalem to begin with. A date that is highly significant but has to be determined and examined with precision. Is the real concern the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem, the breach into the divine protection of a nation that has been entrusted a call and a special mission? Is it the demolishing and collapse of the “building? At the present, we consider the destruction as an act that targeted the structure of a House in Which God as Creator of All visible and invisible things had been dwelling. The walls where the Most High and His spirit have resided and somehow has been wandering throughout the Fertile Crescent, from the way-out of Egypt and the “spiritual prison” till Jerusalem, the belly-button and navel of the Earth, the world and the whole of the universe.

This may sound bizarre to modern people. Franz Kafka was kidding about the miracle of Hanukkah when a light flickered and allowed to light the candelabrum in the Temple. Rav Yeshayahu Leibowicz was certainly correct when he repeatedly hammered on the brains of Israeli soldiers that thre is no “Holy or sacred Land or City” and sanctity in the Temple because GOD ALONE IS HOLY AND SACRED. Indeed, in Hebrew and Yiddish, “Tzadik/צדיק doen’t mean that a human is a”just”, but that God allows this man or woman or creature who is entrusted some discernment to be involved in a process of getting justified. This is the same as for the saints.

The Temple was and remains the living and life-giving Body of Judaism –  even when it is destroyed for some time and visibly absent or seemingly not to be seen. According to the rules governing Jewishness, any bar mitzva would immediately be able to serve in the Temple if the House were to be rebuilt. The reality of the House is so pregnant to the Jewish conscience that it may be obsessive. it cannot be obsessive for the secular Jews, for many Israelis that are only in the process of “re-judaization”, a sort of updating. The Christians have no feeling of what the reality of the Service in a Temple means for the present-day Jewish members of the communities worldwide and in Eretz Israel.

This is due to the terrible absence of dialogue between Jews and Christians from the Christian schism confirmed by the Jews by the blessings against the heretics. The Christians -mainly in Western Europe have been questioned about the tragedy of the Holocaust, the Shoah, the Genocide.

Today, I read all through the Israeli groups of photographers that they spoke of a “hurban/חורבן ”. They meant the period of the Holocaust, the Shoah (extermination, reduction to nil). The word is used in Linguistics to define as “shva/shwa” the process of a vowel reduced to muteness.

As most of close-by Shoah survivors, it took me a long time before I could say “I, me”. Our generation and educational system did not allow us to use the first person easily. It took time. Often, in our speech in Yiddish, in all languages and also in Hebrew, the word would be replaced by “one, people”, in Yiddish “men/מען ” and curiously in Hebrew “anashim/אנשים ”Incidentally, I had today an online discussion with a very nice person who told me in Hebrew she wanted to remain “anonymous”. The real semitic word does not exist in Hebrew and we use the Greek root: “anonimi/אנונימ”. It makes no sense in Hebrew. This is why the Jewish tradition at once reacts to murders by saying that those who perished with having been buried accordingly should be given a “place or a stele and their names kept for ever”, i.e. the very name of “Yad VaShem/יד ושם ”. It has much more to convey, because it calls to overcome forgetfulness and really break through the pagan attitude of anonymity.

In our days, in Israel, people can hide as everywhere in the world and hide from who they are, for different reasons: a full right to privacy, self-protection. it may also be a sort of psychological reaction to times where any Jew could be tracked and persecuted for who he had never chosen to be from before his birth, a male or a female. This is why Yad VaSHem is so important for the Israeli community that encompasses – volens nolens – all the Jews over all generations and beyond time and space. It goes far beyond any will to be or not to be because it only depends on Divine call. This divine call can be rejected, denied. People have tried to erase it, to wipe it out. As Victor Hugo wrote: “L’oeil était dans la tombe et regardait Caïn” (“the eye was in the tomb and was looking at Cain”). It does mean that we all, as humans, are the descents or a murderer.

Yad VaSHem collected the names of all those who were assassinated for having been entrusted – someway or in many ways and in different contexts – to witness to the living One, willingly or unwillingly. While we do have a lot of relics of the saints and precisely know who they were because some have duly been buried with names and tombs, Yad VaShem has no bones, no cemetery: names, numbers, digits and photographs. At the present a collection of testomonies.

God has no cemetery, no tomb where He is. He used to have a House on the Temple Mount. This Divine Presence was told to be acting in the First Temple and absent from the Second one. But God is beyond the House and thus in the place where the House had been “alive” and not a building at least in Hebrew it is the way it is said. Life is thus stronger than any wall, any fence, barrier. It cannot be framed. It goes back and forth. It moves ahead into the future and back into the past: it crosses around over present existing.

There is a full confusion right now in Israeli society: “hurban/destruction” cannot be applicable to “Holocaust and Shoah”, restricted to the period of the second world war. Obviously, there is a tremendous restriction of all the suffering that the Jewish communities have gone through over the ages and Israel seems to be directly connected to mainly the period of the “after-Shoah”. The State was considered as a directly consequence of daily prayers in use in Jewishness, everywhere and in all times: to call back from the exile and return to Zion to build the Dwelling of the Presence in the midst of Jerusalem. The Tzarist Russian pogroms did cause the first wave of the newcomers to Eretz Israel.

The word “hurban/חורבן – hirb’n” (Yiddish) does make sense for the extermination of the Jews during the Shoah. There is a real link between the assassination and desire to erasing the Jews and their memory from the societies of the living and the destruction of the two Houses/Miqdash. This aspect had been discussed but not totally defined with precision by Manès Sperber and Elie Wiesel. I had discussed this with them three decades ago and Manès Sperber was willing to define the Genocide as the Hurban (destruction as similar to the destruction of the two Temples). I had the same discussion with Emmanuel Levinas who was a side-observer as compared with the context of the European culture of that time.

The destruction of the Temple is related to Jewish understanding through the Talmudic heritage that should seriously be apprehended by all, both the Jews and mainly the Christians. At the moment, the Churches are to far from such an approach.

The Churches have kept some relics, i.e. bones of the saints who had died as martyrs. The absence of “bones” at Yad VaShem” pre-suppose another aspect of some consideration of the redemption. The Living Divine Presence has accompanied the jewish people throughout all turbulence and is the true Presence of the one who gave birth and to Whom the dead go. Some have chosen the silence of “un-fatih, to deny faith as being far beyond what should be humane as a part of God’s call to life and creation.

This is why 9th of Av cannot be related to the Shoah as such. Tish Be’Av relates to the destruction of the Divine Presence, not to the destruction of any body, flesh and soul only and to begin with. This is the major aspect of something that may not be comprehended adequately for the moment.

The Christians are exactly in the same situation: the Tomb (Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem is empty. It is just empty. There is nobody there. We do not even know with exactitude where the tomb really was located and where Jesus had been “reposing”. We do confess in the faith that it was on the hill where the Holy Sepulchre (called Anastasis in Greek, Resurrection) has been built subsequently the finding of the true Cross by Queen Helena. This has been is is still a reality for the Church a decision taken after the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. and issued by the Roman Emperor Constantine.

Jus tas for those recalled at Yad VaShem, there is no “evidence”, no “personal bones” of Jesus of Nazareth. Memory is then the action of actualizing the very “existence” and “forever-living presence” of those who were called to be born, live, die and resurrect. This is a matter of faith that surpasses any substantial reality.

The Roman Churches have this in the Eucharist and the presence of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth (true man and true God as chanted in the Assyrian hymnography). The Eucharist is this very Presence as recognized and confirmed by faith. In any other matter, the location of the Holy Sepulchre is a memorial that encompasses all generation from past, present into the future and the world to come. It takes time, it takes a lot of self-abandonment to ascertain that such a statement is not due to a dogma, a legal declaration: it is more than anything that can be written or uttered.

This is my daily experience as I live next to the Holy Sepulchre, above the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, Old City. Memory tracks back not only to jesus and the dsciples. It drifts back to all the prohets and somehow to Abraham and all those who firstly came to faith in the One living God. It is a very strong feeling when I am in my cell, from the table to the bed – to be overshadowed by these ages unto ages… and still expecting goodness, pardon, life to cover sins and murders, hatred and disconnections.

But the Body and Blood of Jesus’ Presence have been destroyed, just in the same way there ws a will to eradicate the Presence of God from the midst of Jerusalem.

In both cases, “living memory/zikkaron-זיכרון” allows to substantiating the Presence. Living Sacraments cope with  the absolute memory of the Jewish tradition.

It is often not that known that in the very pious and religous circles of Judaism, those who speak Yiddish, on the day of Tisha Be’av, people greet each other with these apparently strange words “kh’vintsch dir a giter hirb’n/כ’ווונטש דיר א גוטער חורבן = I wish you a “jolly good holocaust (hurban)”. This relies upon the conviction that destruction is never an end, but a start. when Yohanan Ben Zakkai saw the little foxes getting out of the holes of the destroyed Temple, he laughed. he laughed most loudly. His disciples thought he had lost his mind. The foxes are those to be caught in the Song of the Songs (Shir/Song 2:15). He responded: “No, I just see now that one day we shall see the Redemption”. Just as Sarah had laughed at the words of the angel telling her she would bear a child.

Tisha Be’Av calls to revolving, turning around into God’s direction and give Him the right answer of our lives.

av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

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