(Photo: Amir Terkel/Wikimedia Commons)
Healing the Rift in Israeli Society
An Introduction by Rabbi Aron White
In July 2021, a movie called Agadat HaChurban premiered in Israel, depicting the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash by the Roman Empire. The movie vividly portrays the social and political divisions that gripped Jewish society at that time; between various rebel groups, between the wealthy and poor, and between religious and secular leaders. Torn apart in so many ways, the Jewish people didn’t stand a chance against the mighty Roman Empire.
In a remarkable cinematic feat, the movie is made up solely of 1,500 unanimated stills with voiceover, yet the action and drama of the story are so compelling that I nevertheless found myself deeply absorbed in the film. In one of the most gripping and tragic scenes in the movie, rival Jewish groups with different strategies for how to fight the Romans burn the grain storehouses of their rivals, bringing famine and starvation to the entire populace of Yerushalayim. Watching the movie, I understood the famous statement of Chazal that baseless hatred destroyed the Temple in a far more tangible way. The rabbis were not only making a moral statement, but also a clear-eyed assessment of the historic and political realities of their times. Jewish infighting weakened our people from within, allowing the Romans to destroy us from without.
The release of this movie in a modern Israeli context, in a reborn Jewish polity, was no accident. “I want this to have an impact on Israeli culture,” said director Gidi Dar, a secular Jew. “I want it to ring an alarm bell, for people to be aware – we have been destroyed in this land twice, and we need to understand why.”
While this rang true two years ago, the events of the past six months have made this conversation even more urgent. Even by the tumultuous standards of Israeli politics, the first half of 2023 will be remembered as a uniquely fraught period in Israeli history. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested on the streets, both against and for the judicial reform, in the largest constitutional debate in Israel for decades. Tensions between secular and religious communities, especially the Chareidim, have reached a fever pitch. At times, the acrimony has been overwhelming, sadly clouding the celebrations of Israel’s 75th birthday. Is Israel repeating the tragedy that led to the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash?
In this edition of HaMizrachi, we explore some of the individuals and movements who are seeking to change this picture. From rabbis seeking to bridge the gaps, to singers like Ishay Ribo and Aviv Geffen, many people are working to promote understanding and connection instead of division and hatred. Just as we were 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people of Israel are a diverse and complicated nation of tribes, each with their own perspective. But as Rav Kook said, we can only heal the rifts in Israeli society by replacing baseless hatred with baseless love. May we succeed in that mission, and do our part to bring the final redemption one step closer.