Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mourn for Jerusalem

We are now entering the period of the first nine days of Av. It is now that Sephardim begin the period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and when Ashkenazim intensify their mourning. In the spirit of this mourning, this is a clip of a chorus singing Solomone Rossi's setting of Psalm 137, "On the Rivers of Babylon," with a background of Hebrews sitting on the bank of a river with a harp hanging on a tree, as described in the Psalm.

How can we sing the song of Adonai on the foreigner's land
If I forget thee o Jerusalem
May my right hand wither
May my tongue cleave to my palate
If I do no elevate Jerusalem above my greatest joy.

This psalm also presents the start to a response to those who claim that the Palestinians are descended from the Jebusites and/or the Canaanites, that is they claim ancestry to the land from well before Joshua ben Nun conquered it. The question is, where were the Palestinians' ancestors when our ancestors were singing "On the Rivers of Babylon?" Where were they when our ancestors were composing kinot, dirges, such as Yehuda Halevi's "Tzion halo tishali?" Where were they when Dona Gracia Nasi, upon escaping from being a maranno under Christendom and finally being able to live openly as a Jew saw one of her tasks being to reestablish the Jewish community of Tiberias?

Unfortunately, we must accept some of the blame for making Abbas' claim possible. Too often, the narrative we present of our connection to the land goes, as Ruth Calderon put it, from Tnakh to Palmach. As I wrote before, this feeds the narrative that whatever connection we had to the land in the past, it was abandoned and forgotten until the horrors of Europe induced us to remember it. If that is so, that the only connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is from the Bible, then any ancestral connection the Palestinians have to the land from before the biblical conquest should trump the Jewish claim. The thing is, that we Jews have a continuous maintenance of their connection to the land at least from the time of Ezra, as is evident in our liturgy, our literature, and our ancestors' patterns of alms-giving through the centuries, which is completely absent among any Arab group.

As this is also the time to commemorate all the other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, I have included a clip of Av Harachamim, a dirge written originally to commemorate the communities that were obliterated during the Crusades. The initial custom was to recite it only on the Sabbath before Shavuot, when those communities were uprooted by the Crusades, and the Sabbath before Tisha B'Av, which is still the practice of those communities following the customs of Frankfurt D'Main. However, other communities added other occasions on which to recite Av Harachamim as additional tragedies befell their communities. Eventually, so many occasions were added on which to recite Av Harachamim that the practice in most Askenazic communities became to recite it on any Sabbath which does not have any special reason for celebration. Given the recent tragedies, it seems appropriate to include a prayer that was composed for such unfortunate circumstances.


  1. Sar Shalom, thank you for this thoughtful and heartfelt piece.

    This goes well beyond politics.

    1. Concur. And I regret that I failed to leave an appreciative comment myself when I read it.

      More like this, please, thanks...