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Tisha B’Av invites you to imagine how everything could go wrong

This story originally appeared on My Jewish Learning.

(JTA) — Next Thursday is Tisha B’Av, the day on which Jews traditionally commemorate the destruction of the two ancient Temples with fasting and other modes of self-denial. The goal of these rituals is to induce a mindset of mourning in an attempt to appreciate what was lost with the destruction of the Temple.

Let’s be honest: This isn’t easy. The animal sacrifice practiced in the Temple would be regarded today as, at the very least, countercultural. And Jewish sovereignty has returned to Jerusalem, undoing the millennia of exile initiated by the Babylonian and Roman armies that destroyed Jerusalem.

If we want to achieve empathy, to feel what ancient Jews might have felt with the destruction of the Temple, we have to use historical texts to channel their experiences. This is the objective of the traditional liturgies read on Tisha B’Av — particularly Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, which describes the horrors of the destruction in vivid detail. In the talmudic period, the practice arose of reciting additional laments known as Kinot, which poetically render the destruction of the Temple and a variety of other historic Jewish catastrophes.

But these are only the best-known examples of this genre. Two lesser-known but deeply poignant passages offer additional doorways into the Jewish mindset in the decades following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. Unlike Eicha and Kinot, these accounts have an apocalyptic tone, emphasizing that life itself is no longer worth living after the destruction, which makes them particularly affecting.

Consider this passage from Second Baruch, likely composed around 100 CE in Judea, in which a character known as Baruch ascends the Temple Mount and laments.

You, farmers, do not sow again.
And you, earth, why do you give the fruits of your produce?
Hold the sweetness of your sustenance within you.
And you, vine, why do you continue to give your wine?
An offering will no longer be made from it in Zion,
nor will first fruits again be offered.
And you, heaven, hold your dew,
and do not open the reservoirs of rain.
And you, sun, hold the light of your rays,
and you, moon, extinguish the abundance of your light,
for why should light rise again
where the light of Zion is darkened?
And you, bridegrooms, do not enter,
and do not let the virgins adorn themselves with crowns.
And you, women, do not pray that you may bear,
because the barren will rejoice more.
Those who have no children will be glad,
while those who have children will be grieved.

In a similar vein, Tosefta Sotah, a work of classical rabbinic literature redacted around 200 C.E. but reflecting earlier traditions, offers these teachings:

Rabbi Ishmael said: From the day that the Temple was destroyed, it would have been proper not to eat meat or drink wine, except that the court cannot decree on the public matters that they cannot withstand.

He would say: Since they are uprooting the Torah from among us, we should decree upon the world that it be desolate, that one not marry a woman or have children or have “son’s week” celebrations, until the seed of Abraham will disappear on its own.

Both these sources reflect a deep-seated sense of despair, an inability to imagine a world without a Temple. Both texts call upon nature to stop its course and for people to stop marrying, procreating and celebrating life. Life is so painful, so inconceivable without the Temple, that the only reasonable approach is for the world to literally end, to stop producing food or procreating “until the seed of Abraham will disappear on its own.” If the world won’t disappear, at least the Jewish people will.

Some of us may relate to a distress so extreme it robs us of the will to live, where even the normal functioning of nature feels like an affront. But for many of us, inhabiting this kind of mindset is challenging. The best we may be able to do is attempt to appreciate why the loss of the Temple was such a cataclysmic loss.

The Temple was both the religious and political center of Jewish life and thus the preeminent symbol of Judaism itself. Its loss represented an absolute reversal of Jewish life, which was organized around the Temple in major ways. Not only did the priests offer sacrifices there on behalf of Israel, but the priesthood took on major political roles as well, with the high priest serving as the de facto ruler of the Jews. Pilgrimages to the Temple on major holidays brought together Jews from across the Roman Empire. And the Temple’s very existence afforded the sense that biblical rites were being followed, that things were as they should be.

Imagine if someone destroyed your synagogue, but also eradicated the sovereignty of the government under which you lived, with no obvious alternative for either. Consider the implications not only for your theology and your worldview, but for your morale. This is how Judeans must have felt after the Temple, as we see all too vividly in the depictions above.

Whether through the accounts of Baruch or the teaching of Rabbi Ishmael or the imagination we can muster from an understanding of what the Temple meant to ancient Jewry, this Tisha B’Av, let us try to experience for ourselves the magnitude of such an overriding loss.

The post Tisha B’Av invites you to imagine how everything could go wrong appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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US Lawmakers Interrogate Columbia University President Over Response to Surging Campus Antisemitism

Columbia University administrators and faculty, led by President Minouche Shafik, testified before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 17, 2024. Photo: Jack Gruber/Reuters Connect

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik testified for over three hours before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday about her administration’s alleged failure to address antisemitism, which has prompted a congressional investigation and prompted widespread backlash against one of America’s most prestigious schools.

“Trying to reconcile the free speech rights of those who wanted to protest and the rights of Jewish students to be in an environment free of discrimination and harassment has been the central challenge on our campus and numerous others across the country,” said Shafik, who admitted she prepped many hours for Wednesday’s hearing. “Regrettably, the events of [Hamas’ invasion of Israel on] Oct. 7 brought to the fore an undercurrent of antisemitism that is a major challenge, and like many other universities Columbia has seen a rise in antisemitic incidents.”

Shafik went on to defend her record, insisting that she and other high-level administrators promptly acknowledged the severity of antisemitism fueled by anti-Israel animus. Columbia’s president argued she took concrete steps to ensure that the rights and safety of Jewish students were protected without qualification, including opening contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Shafik added that she attended a vigil which commemorated the lives of Israelis who died on Oct. 7 and has spent “most of my time since becoming president on these issues, holding over 200 meetings with group of students, faculty, alumni, donors, parents, some of whom are here.”

Wednesday’s hearing, titled “Crisis at Columbia,” invoked for many observers the infamous testimony of Claudine Gay and Elizabeth Magill, who both appeared before the same congressional committee in December to discuss campus antisemitism and refused to say that calling for the genocide of Jews would constitute a violation of school rules against bullying and harassment. Days later, Magill resigned as the president of the University of Pennsylvania; Gay followed suit at Harvard University about a month after the hearing.

Unlike Gay and Magill, Shafik did not provide the same equivocating answers to direct questions about the treatment of Jewish students in her care. However, she would not say that chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a popular slogan widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel — was antisemitic, opting instead to say it was “hurtful.” Shafik did say that any student or professor who advocates murdering Jews is in violation of Columbia’s community standards.

Shafik received many questions about the school’s continued employment of professor Joseph Massad, who has a long history of uttering allegedly antisemitic statements in his classroom and said after Oct. 7 that Hamas’ violence was “awesome.” Lawmakers demanded to know whether Massad has been reprimanded by the university, questions to which Shafik did not provide clear answers. She claimed that he has been “spoken to” by the head of his department and removed from a leadership position, but US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) responded that this change has not yet been reflected on the university’s website.

Another professor, Mohammed Abdou, who was hired after cheering Hamas’ atrocities publicly, has been terminated, Shafik said, adding that he “will never” be invited back.

“Don’t you think it’s a problem when the hiring process of Columbia is hiring someone who makes those statements, hired after he makes those statements?” Stefanik asked.

“I agree with you that I think we need to look at how to toughen up those requirements,” Shafik said. “We do have a requirement, but I think we need to look at how we can make them more effective.”

Stefanik then brought up another controversial Columbia professor.

“Let me ask you about Professor Catherine Frank from the Columbia Law School who said that all Israeli students who have served in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] are dangerous and shouldn’t be on campus,” Stefanik continued. “What disciplinary actions have been taken against that professor?”

“She has been spoken to by a very senior person in the administration,” Shafik answered, adding that Frank has said she misspoke and that “she will be finding a way to clarify her position.”

Stefanik then denounced what she described as a double standard on college campuses: that antisemitic statements uttered by students and professors about Jews are rarely, if ever, followed by disciplinary measures dictated by the school’s strict anti-discrimination policies. Stefanik argued that antisemitism “is tolerated” at Columbia University and that the school’s response to it has never signaled otherwise. Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) added that there are no circumstances under which similar treatment of minority groups, such as Black students, would be allowed.

During her testimony, Shafik claimed that over a dozen students have been suspended for antisemitic conduct and holding an unauthorized event, titled “Resistance 101,” to which a member of a terrorist organization was invited. However, committee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), responded that since Oct. 7, only Jewish students have been suspended for allegedly spraying an “odorous” fragrance near anti-Zionist protesters, an incident mentioned by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to seemingly undermine the verbal and physical abuse to which Jewish students at Columbia have been subjected.

“Only three students were given interim suspensions for antisemitic conduct. All three were lifted or dropped to probation, including a student who repeatedly harassed students screaming, ‘F—k the Jews.’ Of the ten suspensions that came in response to the Resistance 101, five were lifted because Columbia determined they were not involved,” Foxx said during her closing remarks. “The only two Columbia students who remain suspended for incidents related to Oct. 7 that took place before we called Dr. Shafik to testify are the two Jewish students suspended for spraying the odorous substance Representative Omar referred to. Dr. Shafik’s testimony was misleading there, too. Documents Columbia produced to the committee show it was a non-toxic, gag spray. While that was an inappropriate action, for months Jewish students have been vilified with false accusations of a ‘chemical attack,’ and Columbia failed to correct the record.”

She added, “Radical antisemitic faculty remain a huge problem throughout Columbia … while some changes have begun on campus, there is still a significant amount of work to be done.”

Several Jewish civil rights groups have alleged that Columbia allowed antisemitism to explode on campus and endanger the welfare of Jewish students and faculty after Oct. 7.

“F—k the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab” are among the chants that anti-Zionist students have yelled on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, according to a lawsuit filed in February.

Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

After bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence, the complaint filed in February alleged. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Columbia University remains under investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post US Lawmakers Interrogate Columbia University President Over Response to Surging Campus Antisemitism first appeared on

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Aron Heller, a part-Canadian writer living in Israel, on the experience of seeking escapism amid an unprecedented Iranian attack

One would think that news of an impending, widescale attack from your nuclear threshold, sworn enemy nation would set off a panic. But that’s not what happened when I heard that Iran had finally unleashed its first direct assault on Israel. After living through the horrors of the murderous Oct. 7 Hamas infiltration there was […]

The post Aron Heller, a part-Canadian writer living in Israel, on the experience of seeking escapism amid an unprecedented Iranian attack appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Netanyahu Says Israel Will Make Own Decisions on Self-Defense After Meeting With Allies to Discuss Iran Attack

Israel’s military displays what they say is an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel, April 16, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday that Israel will make its own decisions about how to defend itself after meeting with the British and German foreign ministers to discuss how the Jewish state plans to respond to a recent direct attack by Iran.

“During the meetings, Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted that Israel preserve the right to self-defense,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “The Prime Minister thanked the Foreign Minister of Great Britain and the Foreign Minister of Germany for their unequivocal support and for the countries’ standing in an unprecedented defense against Iran’s attack on the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu echoed that message in a subsequent meeting of the Israeli cabinet. The premier said that while he appreciated the “suggestions and advice” from David Cameron of the UK and Annalena Baerbock of Germany, Israel would “make our own decisions, and the State of Israel will do everything necessary to defend itself.”

The top British and German diplomats traveled to Israel to meet with Netanyahu as part of a coordinated effort to prevent confrontation between Iran and Israel from escalating into a regional conflict.

Iran launched an unprecedented direct attack against the Israeli homeland on Saturday. Israel, with the help of allies including the US and Britain, repelled the massive Iranian drone and missile salvo.

World leaders, especially in the US and Europe, have been urging Israel to show restraint in its response and to de-escalate tensions. The US, European Union, and G7 group of industrialized nations all announced plans to consider additional sanctions on Iran.

From his meetings, however, Cameron said it was “clear that Israel has decided to respond to the Iranian attack. We hope that Jerusalem will act in a way that will cause as little escalation as possible.”

Baerbock argued that escalation “would serve no one, not Israel’s security, not the many dozens of hostages still in the hands of Hamas, not the suffering population of Gaza, not the many people in Iran who are themselves suffering under the regime.” She also told Israel officials that “we won’t tell you how to act, but think about the future of the region. Act wisely.”

Leading up to Saturday’s attack, Iranian officials had promised revenge for an airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria last week that Iran has attributed to Israel. The strike killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, including two senior commanders. One of the commanders allegedly helped plan the Hamas terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the incident.

The escalating tensions between Iran and Israel risk spreading an already explosive situation in the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Iran has been Hamas’ chief international sponsor, providing the Palestinian terror group with weapons, funding, and training.

The post Netanyahu Says Israel Will Make Own Decisions on Self-Defense After Meeting With Allies to Discuss Iran Attack first appeared on

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