Monday, August 4, 2014

Drasha Diamond Number 6

Shabbat Hazon 2014: In recent months*, Abq Jew has highlighted exceptional drashot that he felt deserved to be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

And Abq Jew invited any and all of the reported 24 ordained rabbis who currently reside in the Land of Enchantment to join in the fun. Today, we turn again to Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Congregation B'nai Israel of Albuquerque.

This drasha - another jewel - deals with the meaning of Tisha b'Av for Jews of today. It is reprinted here by permission. Rabbi Flicker's got the copyright; all rights reserved.

Drasha Diamond Number 6
Shabbat Hazon

Rabbi Arthur Flicker
Congregation B'nai Israel

Fasting on Tisha b'Av

Monday night marks the beginning of Tisha b’Av.

Tisha b’Av is the day when we commemorate the destruction of the two holy Temples in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish People from the land of Israel. For some Orthodox sects, it is also the day when the Holocaust is commemorated.

In observing Tisha b’Av, one is to fast for twenty five hours, just as on Yom Kippur, share in special Torah readings and read the Book of Lamentations. The idea is that these tragedies which we remember on that day, occurred because of the actions of the Jewish People. So, we mourn and remember as a way of repentance for the sins of the past.

I have always been troubled by Tisha b’Av. While the destruction of each holy Temple marked a low point in Jewish history, I am a firm participant in Rabbinic Judaism.

I do not believe in the need for animal sacrifices. I am not in favor of building a third Temple. And, although my family tells me that I am a Kohayn, a descendant of Aaron the first High Priest I have no desire to be a Priest in some future Temple in Jerusalem. I am very happy as the Conservative Rabbi in Albuquerque.

So, since I do not yearn for the re-establishment of the Temple cult, and we are again blessed with a free and independent Jewish State of Israel, I am challenged about how to and even whether to observe this holy day which commemorates events that took place thousands of years ago.

As a student of history, I believe it is important to study and remember the past. However, doing so with a twenty five hour fast for the traditional reasons seems a little extreme.

Most Jews no longer buy into the theology that everything bad that happens to us is a form of punishment from God for our own actions. The death of the six million smashed that theology. Since 1945 or so, we began defending ourselves, understanding that we are not the bad ones. We are not the ones to blame for 2000 years of Jewish suffering.

Therefore, the question remains, “Why observe Tisha b’Av? What does Tisha b’Av mean in our modern world?”

Unfortunately, the reality is that tragedies and challenges continue to effect Jews in our modern world. There is discrimination and persecutions in countries around the world. Recently, Jews have been attacked in synagogues in France. The hate against us continues.

More important, our beloved Israel is, once again, facing a battle for its existence. 

Rockets from Hama, which used to be like fireworks, now threaten over 70% of Israel. Were Hezbullah in Lebanon to join in the battle, all of Israel would fall under the threat of attacking rockets. In addition, Israel has discovered mile after mile of underground tunnels beneath Gaza,

in some cases built to hide weapons and rocket launching facilities for Hamas, and in other cases, built to go under the border with Israel and provide Hamas fighters the opportunity to sneak into Israel and carry out terrorist attacks or kidnappings in the Israeli farms and villages near the Gaza border.

Were any other country in the world to face this kind of challenge to its very existence, there would be absolutely no question about that country’s right to defend itself.

Yet, as Israel tries to defend itself by trying to restrict Hamas’ ability to bring weapons into Gaza, by attacking missile launching sites and by searching for and destroying tunnels, the world demands that Israel stop.

President Obama doesn’t call Arab leaders and demand that they get Hamas to stop firing missiles. The President doesn’t call for the demilitarization of Gaza. Instead, he calls Netenyahu and demands that Israel stops its acts of defense.

The truth is, that as free as we are as Jews in America, there are many places in the world in which Jews are not only not as free, but often even threatened. Anti Israel protests often go beyond peaceful protest to include attacks on Jews or Jewish institutions.

Even here in the United States, the news coverage often focuses on the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, without explaining the facts behind the destruction of their homes, schools and mosques.

The suffering of innocents in Gaza is tragic. But all they have to do to stop the suffering is to get their leaders to stop launching rockets into Israel. When the rockets stop, Israel will stop. It is that simple. But the world and the media don’t always see that. It is easier to blame Israel. It is easier, as it has been throughout history, to blame the Jews.

The truth is that Jewish suffering is not a uniquely Jewish problem. It is a human problem. 

We live in a cruel, often heartless world and for us, as Jews - that is simply not acceptable.

So, as Jews, we take responsibility for our own contributions to that cruelty and heartlessness through our actions or lack of actions. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can learn to solve the hatred and cruelty within ourselves and our community.

I think that is where we find our message for Tisha b’Av in a modern world. We fast and we pray, not so much in memory of the Temples, rather as a response to hatred and cruelty.

We will fast and pray in memory of Jews who have been persecuted or killed throughout history. We will fast and pray in the hope for world understanding of the challenges faced by the land of Israel.

We will pray and fast for peace in Israel. And we fast for the countless victims of shootings and hatred throughout our country, because while we Jews have and continue to suffer, we don’t have a monopoly on suffering or pain and we DO sometimes, unfortunately, play a role in the suffering.

Will our fasting change the world? Probably not. But perhaps our fasting will change us and help change our community, just a tiny bit. Because unless we remember our own suffering and sorrow, we can never understand the suffering of others.


Rabbi Arthur Flicker was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. A graduate of Northwestern University, with an MA in Jewish History from the Ohio State University, Rabbi Flicker was ordained by Rabbi Rueben Luckens in 1990.

Prior to coming to Congregation B'nai Israel, Rabbi Flicker served congregations in Tyler, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Columbus, Ohio. He always been active in community affairs, having been awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit Award by the Cincinnati Baptist Ministers Conference. 

In Albuquerque, Rabbi Flicker has served on the board of the Samaritan Council, the Public Safety Partnership, the Governor’s Homeland Security Religious Advisory Taskforce and as a Chaplain for the Albuquerque Police Department.

A former public school teacher and coach, business owner and synagogue administrator, Rabbi Flicker brings a unique collection of skills to the rabbinate. Partnering with volunteers within  the congregation, Rabbi Flicker has brought diverse services and programming to our community. He has also encourage the participation of members of all ages in our religious services. 

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