OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

The Babylonian bubble

Exile, longevity and the test of time.

An artistic depiction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Image: Tombah/Wikimedia
An artistic depiction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. Image: Tombah/Wikimedia
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

A terrible scene flashed across our screens the other day. It was late afternoon on Friday as Shabbat was coming in, and suddenly, the sirens sounded. Jerusalem was under attack. Alarms blaring, worshippers in their Sabbath garb were forced to flee the Western Wall for the nearest place of refuge. Though under intensive Israeli attack, Hamas is still able to fire rockets at Jerusalem.

I thought we were an independent, sovereign state. Is this what you call independence? That we cannot pray at our holiest site on the holy day because the reviled and despicable agents of Hamas are still at their devilish, murderous work down in Gaza?

This Friday marks the Fast of 10th Tevet. It’s not Yom Kippur. It’s not even Tisha B’Av.

The 10th of Tevet is a lesser-known public fast day commemorating the Siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon back in 425 BCE. It would take 30 months before the walls of Jerusalem were breached and the Holy Temple destroyed, but the beginning of the destruction was that fateful siege, and so we commemorate the day by fasting and offering special penitential prayers—selichot. This is the only public fast that occasionally falls on a Friday. Strangely, as a result, we will be breaking our fast with kiddush wine on Friday night as Shabbat comes in.  

The siege occurred nearly 2,500 years ago, more than 1,000 years before the birth of Islam, and we still remember it every year at this time.

Did we make this stuff up? It would require a very fertile imagination. I’m not an archaeologist, but there is ample scientific evidence of the ancient Jewish kingdoms and our capital Jerusalem. King David acquired it legally, fair and square, for the building of our Holy Temple, duly completed and inaugurated by his son King Solomon more than 400 years before the Babylonian siege.

They may call us occupiers and other horrible names, but we cannot be occupiers if we have been indigenous to the Holy Land for 3,300 years.

On Friday, we will again remember that Jerusalem, though in our hands again, is still not restored to her former glory. As sacred and important as the Western Wall may be, we recall that it is but a pitiful remnant of a magnificent Temple that had three more outer walls and much pomp and ceremony with profound spiritual activities and experiences happening regularly within those walls.

Thank God, the Jewish renaissance continues to advance and develop in Israel today. What our people have built and achieved in 75 years is nothing short of incredible, the stuff of legends. But the exile has not ended. Not only because there is a Diaspora around the world but because the state of exile still hangs over us, even in the Holy Land.

We can declare independence, but are we truly independent? Never mind Hamas. Can we go it alone? Can we resist the pressure from our powerful friends and allies whose military, financial and diplomatic support we depend on?

Until our Holy Temple is rebuilt, we will not be truly independent. Is it not the greatest indignity that Jews aren’t even allowed to pray on our own Temple Mount? Whether we should or not is a halachic issue, but that we should be denied the right is shameful. For highly debatable political reasons, when the Israeli government liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, it allowed the Muslim wakf to continue managing the Temple Mount.

Yet the very name “Temple Mount” derives from the fact that it is the site where our Holy Temple stood, long before Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock came to be.

Who is occupying whose land? Why is Jerusalem mentioned in Judaism’s holy scriptures over 600 times but doesn’t even get a single mention in the Quran? Do you think that’s a coincidence?

And who is responsible for the continued displacement and “refugee” status of so many Palestinians? Israel or her Arab neighbors who couldn’t lift a finger to help their “brethren”? All the obscene oil money in the world wasn’t enough to help settle displaced Palestinians. But somehow, little Israel with no oil wealth was able to accommodate and resettle nearly a million Jews who were expelled from Arab nations in a blatant act of ethnic cleansing. The Arab nations with their vast land and wealth couldn’t settle a single Palestinian other than the Hamas masterminds who wine and dine in Arab capitals. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

So, our state of exile is, sadly, not yet ended. That’s why we still remember, and on Friday we will still fast and mourn Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem that resulted in the destruction of the First Temple. 

But let’s not get too depressed. There is good news, too. Thank God, Israel is alive and well, and thriving on every level. And tell me, have you bumped into any Babylonians lately?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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