Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ro’sh Ḥodhesh ’Av


Jewish date:  1 ’Av 5769.

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh, the Nine Days, Feast of the Scarlet Woman.

Today’s quasi-holiday:  Pied Piper Day.

Worthy cause of the day:  “Ask Interior Secretary Salazar to advance a bold new vision for preserving America's wilderness heritage.”

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. A note on the Nine Days:  The Nine Days culminate in the Ninth of ’Av, which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.  Both destructions were a severe blow to the Jews, as the Temple occupies a central place in Jewish ritual and life.  (Note that an entire book of the Torah, Leviticus, and an order of the Mishnah and Talmudhim, Qodhashim, are dedicated to the Temple service.  This is not a minor matter in Judaism.)  The Temple was also a center for Jewish learning and the court system, as well as a physical symbol for the unity of the Jewish people.  Having lived for 1,939 years without the Temple, and indeed, largely among peoples without a concept of sacrifice, the emotional depth of the loss of the Temple largely escapes us.  In an effort to get us into the proper mood, mourning-related restrictions (e.g., no eating meat and no bathing for pleasure) are practiced, with the Ninth of ’Av being a full-day fast.  As such, the Nine Days are frankly the most unpleasant period in the Jewish calendar.  Which leads us to a common religious misconception.  Religion is not meant to be a fun activity performed only once a week or on holidays.  Rather, since religion is ultimately about truth and truth is applicable every single quantum of time that anything exists, religion deals with every single aspect of life.  And one consequence of this is that religion deals with the unpleasant aspects of life just as much as the pleasant ones.  It may be easier to celebrate the pleasant holidays, but mourning and fasting are just as necessary.  History is littered with disasters, and the most painful among these are disasters in which people suffered ultimately due to things they did wrong when they should have known better.  Pointless in-fighting and playing dangerous politics led to the destruction of both Temples at the hands of hostile powers.  Unfortunately, humans have not gotten any better along these lines in the past 1,939 years.  We are still fighting each other, often putting short-term interests ahead of long-term potential for danger, trusting people who should not be trusted, and hating each other for no good reason.  Let these Nine Days be a warning to us of what tragedies we can create for ourselves and our descendants.
  2. “Danish military unit involved in headscarf row”:  The Danish military is trying to decide whether it is OK for a female Muslim soldier to wear a headscarf.  This is an obvious violation of freedom of religion, and the argument that the headscarf is “a symbol of oppression of women and discrimination” does not apply in this case.  It is not merely that freedom of religion means that everyone should be enabled to embrace whatever she believes is the proper thing to do, no matter how much other people hate it.  Rather, if she can be a soldier, she ought to be able to beat up or shoot anyone who tries to oppress or discriminate against her.
  3. More religious oppression:  “Somalia: Convert From Islam Shot Dead” and “Lawyer ejected because of 'no use': monk sentenced to life” (China is getting heavy-handed in dealing with Tibetan Buddhism again).
Today’s news and commentary:
Due to the serious nature of the Nine Days, there will be no weird things until after this period of sadness has passed, though there may be updates in the other sections of my blog.

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