Friday, July 12, 2013

Tish'ah Be'Av and the Egyptian Connection

My summer travels have found me gallivanting through multiple airports, and while trying vainly to find a wi-fi signal in Ataturk International (i.e. Istanbul, where a violent anti-government protest was in progress, although thankfully nowhere near Gate G-11), it occurred to me that if Israel is ever at peace with all of her neighbors, Ben Gurion Airport could be an international hub that rivals the big European airports. Peace produces prosperity.

Meanwhile, the drama in Egypt has been working up for a few weeks now, and I must confess that I am following it with slightly more interest than I would the average Middle Eastern uprising. I suspect that instability in Israel’s largest and most powerful neighbor is, at least in the short term, good for the Jewish state. First, the Egyptian military is interested in maintaining peace, and honoring prior agreements is the best way to do so. Second, the leaders of this coup are mostly former allies of Hosni Mubarak, the deposed president, who (despite his many failings) did keep those agreements during his tenure. Third, we can be sure that just about any ruling party that will succeed the Muslim Brotherhood and now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi will be better for relations with Israel. But in the long term, stability will be far more valuable.

As we are now into the Nine Days of the month of Av, the somber lead-up to Tish’ah Be’Av, I am reminded that uprisings and their aftermath tend to come during the hot summer months (think the Fourth of July, or Bastille Day, July 14th, in France). True, the Jewish rebellion against the Romans had been raging for three years, only to be crushed on the ninth day of Av in the year 70 CE with the destruction of the Second Temple; the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple on the same day in 586 BCE followed a siege that may have lasted the better part of a year. But the dramatic conclusion in both cases on the same day suggests that Av is the season for rebellion.

As Israeli strategists try to divine what all of this might mean for border security and concerns for the viability of long-term peace in the region,* we should not forget the Egyptian people, with whom the people of Israel have a relationship that stretches back at least 3000 years. Let us hope that whatever stumbling blocks they face as a more-ideal democracy unfolds on the Nile River valley will be minimal, so that Egyptians can soon go about their worldly pursuits with some modicum of safety and security. In the long run, a stable democratic government that empowers the Egyptian people will afford them better lives and greater satisfaction, and satisfied citizens do not wage reckless wars against their neighbors.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism was fundamentally changed, and for the better. Scholars of ancient Judaism tell us that it took several hundred years of commentary and learning and debate for normative rabbinic Judaism to emerge as the standard of Jewish practice, but it is worth noting that this model is far more democratic with respect to our individual relationships to God than the sacrificial Temple cult that preceded it. May the Qadosh Barukh Hu help raise the democracy quotient in Egypt, speedily and in our days.

Rabbi Seth Adelson
(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, July 11, 2013.)

* An update from this column as it appeared in the Voice: The Wall Street Journal reported on July 11, 2013 that
Israel's military plans to downsize its conventional firepower such as tanks and artillery to focus on countering threats from guerrilla warfare and to boost its technological prowess, in a recognition that the Middle East turmoil has virtually halted the ability of neighbors to invade for years to come.
  It seems that Israel's borders are safer now than they have been for a long time. Good news!

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