Today is January 21, 2019 -

The Three Weeks

By Rabbi Steven Abraham

In the month of July we will commemorate two very important days on the Jewish calendar. Two days that since they do not fall during the school year rarely get much attention or acclaim. The first day is the 17th of Tammuz, (July 5, 2015) a daylight fast that commemorates five calamities that befell the Jewish people, the most notable being the breach of the Temple walls by the Romans, which led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The second date is Tisha b’Av or the 9th of Av (July 26), the only other 25 hour fast outside of Yom Kippur, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people that followed. The time in between these two dates, from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av, are simply known as, “The Three Weeks.” It is a period of mourning or deep reflection, as we look towards the horizon to see the High Holy Days a few short months away.

The rabbis relate many teachings as to why the Second Temple was destroyed; the most pervasive says the following, “The Second Temple was destroyed because there was senseless hatred between Jews (sinat chinam).” The Temple was not destroyed because the Romans hated us or simply because they wanted to conquer us; the teaching explains that the Temple that housed the presence of God was destroyed because we hated each other.

In April, only a few months ago, the mayor of Rehovot (located 20 miles south of Tel Aviv) cancelled a b’nai mitzvah celebration for autistic children due to the fact that it had been planned by the Masorti Movement in Israel. The Masorti movement, while not identical to the Conservative Movement in North America, are our brothers and sisters in Israel. The Masorti Movement in Israel is the only national program doing such work, and it has worked with more than 3,000 families over the past twenty years. The Movement works with children who have all types of disabilities, whether it be cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism, blindness…etc. Their goal is to bring b’nai mitzvah to families and children that would otherwise not have such joy in their lives.

The Mayor cancelled the event since it was not taking place in an Orthodox synagogue, something that had not happened in the twenty years prior. The issue landed on the desk of the new President of Israel,
Reuben Rivlin. President Rivlin and his advisors decided to have the bar mitzvah at his residence in Jerusalem. In meetings it was agreed that both the Orthodox and Masorti rabbis would co-officiate. While that had been the deal, when the program was printed for the event the Masorti rabbi, who had spent months working with the boys, was given other responsibilities, allowing the Orthodox rabbi to run the show.

As American Jews we are in a tough spot. Our love for the State of Israel must be unwavering. We must be able to respond both articulately and intellectually to those in the world who question Israel’s existence. Yet we must also ask the State of Israel, which we love with all our heart, “Why can you not love us in the same way?”

In a few short weeks we will once again come upon the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, days that commemorate the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. Those temples, we are told, were destroyed not because of outside threats, but because we were our own existential threat. The greatest threat to our own survival was ourselves.