On Tuesday, Jews around the world marked the start of a three-week period of mourning. An editorial in a general circulation Jewish newspaper is not the place to discuss matters of observance. That is the task of columnists, and we have ours.
Nevertheless, there is reason to offer comment here.
Arguments abound regarding whether these three weeks of progressively intense mourning are even warranted today.
It is counterintuitive, goes one argument, to turn over 22 precious summer days to mourn losses that occurred 2,600 years ago and 1,943 years ago respectively. The Three Weeks, after all, are intended to mark the destruction of the First and Second Temples.
It is even more unreasonable, goes another argument, to mourn so intensely for material losses that occurred in 587 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., but not set aside even one day to mourn to the loss of six million Jews a mere 68 years ago.
Anyway, all such arguments go, the exile came to an end on May 15, 1948, with the birth of the modern State of Israel, and its subsequent enactment of the Law of Return. God’s face has turned back to us. We can go home. The time for mourning has passed.
It is true that the exile has ended, at least as far as the ability of Jews to live in a Jewish state in the Land of Israel is concerned, but it is also true that for the last 2,600 years, the majority of Jews have lived in exile, even during those periods when they did not have to. Surveys tell us that the overwhelming majority of Jews in the diaspora have no interest in living in Israel. Most do not intend even to visit the Jewish state.
An American Jewish Committee survey last year reported that as many as 30 percent of American Jews do not even believe they have any reason to care about Israel.
That survey also reported other things. Nearly half of American Jews, for example, do not even set foot in a synagogue at least once a year (and of that group, most never go at all). This finding is consistent with others that show that more than half of American Jews have no connection whatever to the Jewish community.
We are a people divided in so many ways, and all too often we do not seem able to agree even on the simplest things. In fact, we cannot even agree on how to define Judaism, or on what it means to live life Jewishly.
Jewish life today overall is better than it ever was for the last 2,600 years. Certainly that is true here in the United States. Yet, in some very basic ways, Jewish life may be worse than it has been in centuries.
Whatever religious reasons continue to exist for mourning during these three weeks, and fasting for more than 25 hours at its end on the Ninth of Av, are for others to say. What we say, however, is that before we argue about how far we have come since the fall of the two Temples, we need to begin a serious communal conversation about how much farther we have yet to go. The Three Weeks offer us the perfect opportunity to begin that conversation.