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Sunday, September 24, 2017

This past week, we observed the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, commemorating the day that Roman legions broke through the walls of Jerusalem. In less than three weeks, we will observe Tisha B’Av, the day those Romans destroyed the second Temple. The Gemara (Yoma 9b) says that the destruction of the Temple was a punishment for the sinat chinam (baseless hatred) that the Jews expressed towards each other in that period.

Also this past week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published a “blacklist” of rabbis purportedly banned by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. The list named 160 rabbis, some of whom are prominent Orthodox leaders, who were, according to the article, supposedly not trusted to confirm the Jewish identities of Israeli immigrants.

A letter that The Jewish Link obtained from the Chief Rabbinate’s director-general confirmed the facts of the matter—the names were not part of a blacklist in any way, shape or form. On Tuesday, Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, Rabbi David Lau even went to the office of Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, to explain and apologize for the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the “list,” of which he had been unaware. Rabbi Fass’s name was on the so-called list.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 30b) explains the concept of sinat chinam with a metaphor: If a person accidentally stabs his hand with a knife, would the wounded hand then grab the knife and stab the hand that cut it in revenge? No! That would be ridiculous—both hands belong to a single cohesive unit, a human being, and a fight between the hands would only cause the human more pain. The Jewish people are the same way, implies the Talmud. By virtue of being Jewish, we are as interconnected as a single person, and any infighting between Jews harms all of us.

Are the Three Weeks, the time dedicated to mourning the horrible sin of sinat chinam that led to the destruction of the Second Temple, a time to make and publish unfounded, uncredited and unexplained lists founds on a desk somewhere in the office of the Chief Rabbinate?

How far have we fallen that we repeat the transgressions of our ancestors with the specter of Tisha B’Av looming on the horizon? Perhaps we have forgotten the nature of the fabric that binds us together and need to be reminded why sinat chinam is so egregious.

All year round, but especially during the Three Weeks, we need to be particularly careful and vigilant not to jump to conclusions and antagonize the fellow parts of our Jewish body. If we can make an effort to be a little kinder and more patient than we normally are, we can right the wrongs of the past.