It’s the fast of 17 be’Tammuz and again begins the perennial question what are we mourning in these next three weeks. Does the destruction of the Temple and the end of Jewish sovereignty in the year 70 still hold emotional and political weight? After all we are living in Israel, Jerusalem is built and being rebuilt all the time. We have a government, an army, a transportation system, and so on.

Ironically the Rabbis who crafted these days of national mourning put in place a really healthy model for Jewish identity and meaning without a national land. They envisioned a network of courts and local Rabbis and teachers, connected though several larger centers of learning. Unity was based on holidays and a shared calendar, study of single yet growing canon, and letters and petitions for tzedaka, which crossed the borders of other nation states.

Did they institute these fasts to instill a sense of peoplehood and history or to highlight a real political ideal: the temple, the Sanhedrin, sovereign government?

I don’t think anyone wants to go back to being a vassal of the Roman Empire, though life in the Babylonian-Sassanian empire seems like it was pretty good- maybe like being a Jewish minority in the US today. It’s a moot point. Israel exists. We have an independent Nation State once again.

Yet on this fast day, I am not overly focused on mourning the destruction in 70 but rather the challenges of rebuilding this country. Recently a law was passed here that erodes the rights of free speech by allowing the government to sue anyone who plans a boycott against the State. Now there are more bills on the table that the ‘right’ wants to pass to give them the ability to squeeze and limit the ‘left’. As an American I feel some a deep panic attack brewing. I don’t want to live in a tyranny even if its expressed goal is to protect me.

In the Diaspora over the last two thousand years we developed a way to be unified and yet diverse. I realize I am romanticizing the past and there were many vicious debates about who was in and who was out of the Jewish community. But there were no laws against speaking one’s mind. If an idea or a movement had the weight of a community to follow then no big brother could stop it. The overarching sense of the Jewish people remained even as we diversified and went in different directions.

We have a lot to learn from our years in the Diaspora and the current global Jewish communities and we in Israel should take notice. I don’t want to live in a country where opinions are monitored. I don’t want to live in a country where there is a centralized religious establishment. I seek today a society built on mutual respect and freedom of thought and practice. I fast for liberal democratic rights, for a little chaos of ideas within the boundaries we call home. Returning to power must not mean an abuse of that power. 

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