Monday, July 19, 2010

ט באב תש"ע: Freye Yidden

לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ
אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם

"To be a free people in our own land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem." These are the words that end the Hatikvah anthem. For generations, many of the more traditional factions in Judaism opposed the idea of "Political Zionism", and their opposition could easily be manifest in this last verse of Hatikvah; the Secular Jews who revived Zionism and established the Jewish State in Zion wanted a society "free" from G-d's laws and free from religious responsibilities. Quite simply, they wanted to be freye yidden, or "free Jews", a derogatory term used by the Ultra Orthodox in Europe connoting Secular Jews.

What I always wondered how they overlooked though, is that Hatikvah is obviously not the first Jewish text yearning for national "freedom". Every day we say in our prayers תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵנוּ, "Blow the great ram's horn to liberate us". Also the famous prayer in the Hagadah לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּנֵי חוֹרִין, "Next year in the Land of Israel, free men". We see that Jewish liturgy has always been replete with prayers for freedom. Not freedom from religion, as traditionalists naively suppose about Hatikvah, but freedom to serve G-d as we're meant to.

This topic of national liberation finds an appropriate place in our current spot on the Hebrew calender. Tonight we mourn the destruction of our beloved Temple in Jerusalem, and the subsequent fleeing of G-d's Direct Presence from the earth. Our sages say the main reason for this destruction was because our ancestors harbored too much baseless animosity for one another (Yoma 9b). But that is a more spiritualistic reason responding to why G-d allowed it to occur, but there were naturalistic political reasons the Talmud discusses as well (Gittin 56a), and what arises from the entire narrative is that the reason for the Destruction was the stubbornness of the Nationalist Party, who were always looking to oust the Romans from the Holy Land. Since, had the Peace Party been the only ones in power, there would have not been any reason for war, and Israel would have prospered, yet, under the boot of the Roman, prosperity is quite relative, and for many war is preferable to peace (if it seems silly to you to make such an ado out of the Roman presence in Israel, just see how fired-up the Arabs are today in contemporary Palestine about "foreign occupation").

Were they sinners then? Those who brought about the destruction of G-d's Sanctuary on Earth? I think it would be silly to say such a thing, because, unlike what the Haredim propose, freedom has always had a prominent place in our liturgy and our national conscience. Even in the face of adversity, it is a mitzvah to strive towards the further emancipation of our people. Not to give this post a political tone, but just to be clear: Even today, in what is called the "Israeli Occupied West Bank" and Judea, while we are in fact in power and it is the Arabs who are struggling for their emancipation, there is still much action taken to prevent our people from living freely on its land. So, today as well, it would be wrong to criticize their struggle.

May we all merit to work in unison, drive the Arab off the Temple mount, and rebuild the Third Temple brick by brick with our own two hands. Amen.

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