Eighty percent of American Jews have absolutely no idea what Judaism is. You see them on TV. You read them in some publications. Sometimes they say that they are motivated by their “Jewish values.” In reality, the vast majority of them would not know real Judaism if it were placed on their laps, served on their plates, or sung to them on their iPods. They do not know how to read a sentence in the Talmud. They have no clue what happens in most of the Jewish calendar year. Indeed, a large chunk of those “Jews” who tell pollsters that they are Jewish in fact are not even Jewish altogether.
There is a world of difference between a Ben Shapiro, a Jeff Jacoby, and a Dennis Prager on the one hand, and a Bernie Sanders and a George Soros on the other. Bernie Sanders is a communist who ran away from Black people in Brooklyn to live in lily-white Vermont, and who ran away from Judaism in Brooklyn to live in Vermont. George Soros had a greater connection to Jews, helping his adoptive Nazi father register property the Nazis seized from Jews. As Soros told Steve Kroft on CBS’s 60 Minutes, if he had not kept the ledgers for the Nazi, then someone else would have.
These people embarrass me. And that embarrassment is amplified by the reality that such Leftists and Jewish Ignoramuses influence the news to determine which rabbis get quoted, which understanding of Judaism gets disseminated and transmitted in America. I am a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at Coalition of Jewish Values, which numbers more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis. I recently concluded spending six years on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, which numbers 1,000 rabbis. Those two rabbinic bodies have some membership overlap, but not much. There is yet another mainstream Orthodox rabbinic body to our right, Agudath Israel. We 2,000-plus Orthodox rabbis in America way outnumber the rabbis of “reform judaism” and “conservative judaism,” which basically have become branches of the ACLU, but you the secular non-Jewish reader never would know it. We 2,000-plus Orthodox rabbis in America observe the laws, practices, and customs of Judaism — observing the Sabbath as prescribed, observing kosher laws, and much else. We are pro-life and rarely can allow an abortion under Torah law. We see a world of only two genders because that is what the Torah tells us, that G-d created Adam and Eve, male and female He created them. And so it goes with the marriages that we perform.
But the mainstream media black us out. We don’t exist. None of the 2,000-plus of us — not to mention the millions of American Orthodox Jewish laity whom we guide as our flocks. None suppress us more than the Leftists who identify as Jews — who sometimes are and sometimes are not even Jewish but say they are. All of America knows that Ilhan Omar is a Jew-hater, that Rashida Tlaib is a Jew-hater. Yet, when they both endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, and Sanders campaigned for them, no one was less surprised than the 2,000-plus Orthodox rabbis in America who know the score. We know that our worst haters come from within. It actually is a sickness. Thus, the New York Times, supposedly with Jews in influence, covered up the Holocaust and thereafter led the charge to pressure Harry Truman not to recognize the nascent State of Israel. Surprised? Not we.
We knew from centuries before what to expect. Karl Marx, born of Jewish parents, rapidly grew to be an anti-Semite whose writings were rife with Jew-hate. Did he hate himself? Well, yes, but he would say, “I’m not a Jew. I am a citizen of the world.” So it was with Trotsky, who had been born as Lev Bronstein. He thought he could run away from it by changing his name. But Jews never can run away from their heritage. People know — especially Jew-haters. So Trotsky brought anguish and suffering to Jews in Russia, as he and others like him helped Stalin crush the rabbis still in the USSR, close down and destroy Jewish schools and private places where Hebrew was taught. They made circumcision illegal, arrested people for baking matzo for Passover. And yet Jew-haters, who had ample good reason to hate Trotsky for what he did to Ukrainians and others, reacted by blaming Jews — even though Trotsky hated and warred against Jews long before he assisted Stalin with Ukraine. One famous Jewish expression was, “The Trotskys perpetrate the evil and the crimes, and the Bronsteins pay for it.”
This continues today with the “Jewish organizations” that exist primarily to criticize and demonize Israel and to attack core Judaic values: the Soros-funded “J Street,” “Bend the Arc,” “IfNotNow,” and other such drek. Each of these works with the worst anti-Jewish and anti-Israel elements in America, giving them “Jewish cover” to attack Israel, to try cutting off support for Israel, and just pushing politicians to be more critical of Israel than they otherwise would be. It truly is a sickness. Can you imagine Polish-American organizations that focus on getting American politicians to attack Poland, Italian-American groups focused on hurting Italy, Mexican-American groups devoted to building coalitions in Washington, D.C., against Mexico? No one else does this. It truly is a psychological sickness, born of so many centuries of anti-Semitism and pure Judaic ignorance that they imagine their road to acceptance lies in showing that they are intersectionalist citizens of the world, not parochially concerned with their own ethnic or religious survival.
It always has been thus. Only a week or two ago, a Jewish woman, Bari Weiss, found that she had to quit the New York Times, partly because of overt anti-Semitism she encountered at the office almost every day. They called her a “Nazi.” For clarity’s sake: Bari Weiss is no hero, decidedly not. A hero does not quit. She quit; she no longer could take the ostracism and anti-Semitism at the New York Times. It is a heckuva thing that the same rag whose Jews covered up and ignored the Holocaust, opposed the State of Israel, ran anti-Semitic cartoons of Prime Minister Netanyahu, perpetually attack Israel — even published ink-manure that Jesus was a Palestinian — drove out poor overwhelmed Bari Weiss.
Many readers who are deeply devout Catholics will be nodding as they read these words, thinking, It’s the same with Catholics. And it is. Nancy Pelosi tells the public that all her actions and words should be understood through the lens that she is a Catholic. She has begun press conferences with “As a Catholic … ” Joe Biden is a Catholic. Andrew Cuomo is a Catholic. These are powerful people who have legalized abortion and eradicated the rights of the unborn, who have changed American views of gender and marriage, who have imposed on the public the obligation to pay for other people’s birth control. They actually have diminished religious rights and freedoms in America, to the degree that Orthodox rabbis like Steven Pruzansky, Mitchell Rocklin, and I went to bat for the Little Sisters of the Poor with an amicus curae brief that we filed in the U.S. Supreme Court to support those nuns in their legendary battle against Obamacare’s interference with their religious beliefs. If I were not well-read, and particularly as a student of religion, with some very precious friends among Catholic clergy, I would think that Catholics predominantly are of one theology that promotes abortion and all the other things that “As a Catholics” Pelosi, Biden, Cuomo, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) promote. No need to list Catholics among Democrat governors and congressional representatives; they are just more of the same. Oh, yeah — and Justice Sotomayor.
And yet, a fair-minded observer understands that there are “As a Catholics” like Pelosi, the Kennedys, Biden, Cuomo, et al. — and then there are Catholics who, by contrast, are devout followers of Catholic Church doctrine, belief, and practice. And so it is with Jews. (By the way, there also are some Protestants among the progressives, too. And Jimmy Carter even professed to be Evangelical.)
It is during these Nine Days of Mourning — fixed in the Jewish calendar for at least the past 2,000 years, although at least 80 percent of American Jews have no idea what that even refers to — that these thoughts play out deepest.
This year 2020, “The Nine Days” began on Wednesday, July 22 and will end on Thursday night, July 30, at nightfall. The last day of the period is called “Tisha B’Av” (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av). The Talmud explains that the day is star-crossed by G-d’s order because that night saw the Jews of the Sinai Wilderness cry and lament after hearing the evil report of the Ten Spies whom Moses sent as an advance party to plan the march into the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb, among the 12, enthusiastically advocated marching forward. The 10 spies among the majority reported slanderously that “the Land consumes her inhabitants,” and the people lamented that night, wanting to return to Egypt (Numbers 13-14). From that night forward, this would be the date on the Jewish calendar for tragedy.
On Tisha B’Av in 586 B.C. the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar and his butcher Nebuzaradan burned down the First Holy Temple after a vicious three weeks of fighting within the city of Jerusalem after they had breached the city’s walls. On Tisha B’Av in 70 C.E. the Romans under Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, burned down the Second Holy Temple likewise after a vicious three weeks of fighting within the city of Jerusalem after they had breached the city’s walls. On Tisha B’Av 135 C.E., the fortress of Betar fell to Julius Severus at the time of Emperor Hadrian, marking the beginning of the long Exile that extended more than 1,800 years. On Tisha B’Av 1290, England expelled her Jews. On Tisha B’Av 1306, France expelled her Jews. On Tisha B’Av 1492, Spain expelled her Jews. Germany entered the Great War on Tisha B’Av 1914. That was the day when Germany invaded Luxembourg and declared war on Russia, transforming the European conflict from a regional crisis between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Serbians backed by Russia, into a World War between opposing alliances. That fateful German decision led directly to the Holocaust, as Germany’s subsequent losses in World War I impelled the Allies to impose the terribly punitive post-war sanctions that gave rise to Hitler. On Tisha B’Av 1941, SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.” On Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, en route to Treblinka. The Iran-sponsored AMIA bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85 and injured 300 on Tisha B’Av 1994. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza began with Ariel Sharon expelling 8,000 Jews who lived in Gush Katif on that day after Tisha B’Av in 2005, setting in motion the rise of Hamas. That Israeli Government colossal misjudgment saw 20 synagogues handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and within minutes go up in flames. The area, along with the rest of Gaza, soon became a terrorist-controlled launching pad for thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, leading to three wars. So that is Tisha B’Av. It is fascinating how many of these events unfolded by action of perpetrators who had no idea what day it was in the Jewish calendar when they acted.
During this period, Judaically observant Jews:
(These prohibitions are suspended on the Sabbath that falls within the Nine Days.)
The destruction of the First Holy Temple and the Babylonian Exile are memorialized in Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, and also wept, as we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung up our lyres,
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors [asked us to provide them with] amusement:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing a song of the L-RD on alien soil?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning;
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my palate if I do not remember thee [always], if I do not extol Jerusalem above my greatest joy.
Remember, O L-RD, against the Edomites [Babylonians] the day of Jerusalem’s fall; how they cried out “Strip her, strip her to her very foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, you predator, may a blessing grace whoever repays you in kind for what you have inflicted on us;
May a blessing grace anyone who seizes your babies and dashes them against the rocks!
The famous references to the “right hand forget[ting] her cunning” and the “tongue cleav[ing] to the roof of my palate” are seen in the context of the Babylonians mocking the Exiles during their Bataan-like forced march. Mockingly, to rub in the Jewish desolation and realization that it all was over, the Babylonians charged their captives to play their lyres and harps and to “sing songs of Zion,” knowing they would never see Zion again. The Psalmist writes that, in such anguish, their right hands could not play the strings, nor could their tongues articulate the lyrics of such songs of Zion. And the Psalmist adds that, despite the hopelessness then in the Year 586 B.C.E. — with no conceivable prospect ever to return to Zion and Jerusalem again — Jews yet would never forget Zion and Jerusalem, lest their right hands never again be able to play music nor tongues ever again be able to sing.
This fierce devotion to Zion and Jerusalem, against all odds, is why there is a State of Israel today, after nearly 2,000 years of Exile, and why the City of Jerusalem is reunited today as the capital of Israel despite world opposition to this day, hostile and threatening United Nations resolutions, unhelpful “advice” from Israel’s Arabist “friends” in the European Union, and the unanimous past opposition to Jerusalem reunification by all American presidents and secretaries of state until Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo.
It was famously reported that Napoleon Bonaparte, at the height of his power in France, one day was promenading past a great synagogue in Paris. It was August, and there was not yet air conditioning, so the shul’s windows were open. As he passed, he heard loud crying and wailing. Things were going pretty well in France, he thought, and he actually was famously kind to the Jews of France, so he asked what they were crying and wailing about. According to the legend, he was told that today was the Ninth Day of the Hebrew month of Av — Tisha B’Av — and the Jews were mourning the fall of their Holy Temples in Jerusalem — one, 1,700 years earlier; and the prior, 2,350 years earlier. Napoleon is reported to have commented in response, “A nation that cries and fasts for 2,000 years for their land and Temple surely will see their land and Temple restored.”
When Titus destroyed the Second Holy Temple, he marched thousands of enslaved Jews back to Rome, forcing them to carry ritual holy items he and his legions sacked from the Temple. A huge monument to Titus’s victory was erected in Rome: the Arch of Titus. The Arch is 50 feet high, 44 feet wide, and 15 feet deep. Its sculpted depictions most famously include the Menorah candelabrum brought from the Holy Temple carried by the Jewish slaves.
While a great national debate ensues in America today over whether and which monuments should stand or be toppled or be shifted from public thoroughfares to museums, the Jewish attitude towards the Arch of Titus has evolved. For example, the Rabbinate in Rome that ultimately arose after the demise of the Roman empire formally banned any Jew from walking under the Arch. But that ban was lifted in 1948 with the founding of the State of Israel. That is, during the nearly 2,000 years of Exile, the Arch was a particularly bitter sore point for Jews, an in-the-face reminder that Israel had been destroyed and the Jews exiled. But since 1948, its impact has reversed. The Arch now is seen as a reminder that, every time Israel’s enemies have arisen to destroy her and believed that they actually succeeded, Israel has come back and arisen in even greater glory. So today the great empire that erected the Arch is a figment of history, while the State of Israel has arisen with much, though not yet all, of its glory and splendor restored. And mindful of the mocking and contemptuous depiction of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus, Israel’s leaders made that Judaic ritual object the national symbol of the State of Israel, standing in front of the Knesset.
The Fast of Tisha B’av will be marked this year from sunset on Wednesday through nightfall on Thursday. During those 25 hours, observant Jews do not eat anything and do not drink even water, do not wear leather footwear, and observe other traditional manifestations of mourning. On those same days, expect the likes of Bernie, Soros, Schumer, and the Jews one sees in the media to spend their days as they usually do. And for that, too, we deeply mourn.