Saturday, August 09, 2008

Tisha B'Av, Nagasaki

Today is Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, in the Jewish year. It commemorates the destruction of the two temples, the destruction of Betar due to Bar Kochba's revolt and the razing of Jerusalem on the same date the following year, and the decree of God that due to unbelief, the people could not enter Canaan for 40 years until that generation had all fallen in the wilderness.

It is also the date of the decree in 1492 expelling the Jews from Spain, which some Jewish theologians consider God's severe mercy by which the Jewish people were kept from participating in the genocide of the North American Indians that began that year.

As Rabbi Michael Lerner observed yesterday in his meditation on the meaning of Tisha B'Av, it is a reminder of the disasters that Jews have brought upon themselves through their own wrongdoings - or in the case of the expulsion from Spain, of what would have happened due to spiritual weakness.

Lerner points out that the Nazi slaughter of the Jews caused Jews to lose hope in what Abraham Joshua Heschel called the "cosmic bellhop," and the resulting emptiness made way for other idolatries. Lerner puts it like this:

In our own day we mourn the sad ethical state of the State of Israel. We can mourn the consciousness of the many within the Jewish people who have made worship of Israel their central religious doctrine. Go into any shul these days and you can deny God, the relevance of Torah, the value of observing mitzvot - and you'll find a benevolent response from the community, who will quietly and gently try to instruct you about the Jewish perspective on these questions. But question the validity of a secular state in the Middle East called The State of Israel, talk about its immoral behavior toward Palestinians, and you'll be labeled an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew, and you'll find yourself surrounded by anger and hostility sufficient to drive you out of that community. Why? Because Israel is the one thing that they believe in - it's their god, the center of their religious faith. The only close 2nd is the materialism and selfishness of the Western world which Jews have embraced with the same eagerness as most other people on the planet.

I disagree with Lerner about various things, but here - as in his Jewish Renewal - he is precisely describing the idolatry of American Christians, who in just the same way commonly worship the state of Israel along with the American empire, together with exactly "the only close 2nd" that Lerner describes.

Thus today we also commemorate the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, in which the drop point was Saint Mary's Cathedral, which the Christians of Nagasaki, the most Christian city in Japan, had built in 1917 when the 250 years of persecution of their community finally ended.

Why are American Christians wholly indifferent to this massacre of their fellow-believers, from that day to this? Why are they in no way offended by the blasphemy that on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August, which celebrates the occasion when Jesus was transfigured before his disciples and became too bright to look at,
their favorite empire chose to mock this glory with the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima - itself too bright to look at?

These are the same people, remember, who rose up in fury when the Beatles observed in perfect truth that they were more popular than Jesus. What was wrong with that? Jesus didn't get nailed on a cross by aiming to be popular. But to mock his glory with a nuclear bomb on a non-military target, on the very day in the liturgical year that celebrates his brightness, and killing hundreds of thousands of unarmed people - now that's a camel they can swallow!

When we adore idols we become blind, deaf, and wholly callous, just as Psalms 115 and 135 warn us. They become planks in our eyes, and from there it gets worse.


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