Tonight, the Jewish fast known as Tisha B’Av began. People fast for 25 hours in commemoration of a number of tragic events in Jewish history including the destruction of the first and second Temples (see link below).
The 3 weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av (known as “The 3 Weeks”) are also considered to be unlucky, especially during the final 9 days (known as “The 9 Days”) and there are many restrictions in place during this period to avoid misfortune. Mourning traditions are also upheld, for example weddings do not take place.
I've included a long list of the strictures imposed on the day beneath this post. This is to demonstrate the seriousness of Tisha B’Av, when we don't focus on luxury or our own comfort. I want to reflect on the message behind the fast, which is Sinat Chinam - baseless hatred. We're taught that the main reason for the tragedies that occurred over the centuries at this time of year is that people didn't care for each other, more than that, people were actively prejudiced against each other for no specific reason. They were selfish and disinterested in the welfare of others, happy to do down anyone different.
Has much changed?
Today I was speaking to a friend about the one time I felt that I experienced Sinat Chinam, towards a public figure I met at a conference. I told my friend that this was the first time in my life that I had a visceral, chemical reaction to another person, I felt that their energy was really toxic and I didn't want to be around them. The strength of my reaction shocked me as it seemed to come from nowhere as I had never met them before.
I am a people person and always try and approach new contacts from the transactional analysis perspective of “I'm ok, you're ok”. I can usually find something to like in most people that will allow me to find a way to communicate with them. I was brought up to treat everybody with respect and as a writer I'm predisposed to finding people interesting.
I had admired this public figure and their work for many years and had been looking forward to meeting them, at the time they were held up as an example of great kindness and charity. I found it very hard to reconcile my self-image as a loving and open person with this instant dislike. There are people you don't connect with, you don't have to be friends with everyone, but usually there is an active reason behind any negative feelings, perhaps they said or did something hurtful.
They were later discredited in a big scandal and I wondered whether the extreme distrust and hostility I'd felt came from a sensitivity to actual behavioural clues that I had somehow picked up. I contemplated the way that these chemical responses might be a defence mechanism inbuilt to protect us from dangerous relationships. This may have been a practical reason for what seemed to be the Sinat Chinam I felt towards this one person.
When I think about baseless hatred in society today, it seems to stem from two sources: inherited ideas and fear due to ignorance. If you're taught that a certain group of people are a certain way, you might take on those views without thinking. Alternatively, you might challenge them as you're exposed to different types of people as you make your own way in life. You may come across people who contradict what you've been taught and that can lead you to question those concepts.
When someone becomes a known quantity then you can either begin to find ways of identifying and connecting with them, or perhaps discover sound reasons to fear or dislike them because of their specific actions. There might be something unpleasant about an individual person but the danger comes in transposing their behaviour and actions onto everybody you perceive as similar to them in some way.
If I've had a bad experience with one person - should it place a burden of proof on their entire community to prove that they are different?
2016 is a really tough time for our world. There's conflict pretty much everywhere. It would be good to replace some of it with a bit of Ahavat Chinam - unconditional love <3 Don't hate those who haven't earned it and find ways of connecting with each other in warmth and with an open heart.
Tisha B’Av customs include:
No eating or drinking unless health issues prevent fasting;
No washing or bathing other than for essential hygiene or religious ritual;
No application of creams or oils;
No wearing of leather shoes (a symbol of wealth and comfort);
No marital relations;
No learning Torah as it's considered an enjoyable spiritual activity. You are allowed to study the sad texts such as Eichah (the Book of Lamentations);
One sits on a low stool or the floor as is customary when mourning, and some sleep without a pillow;
There is a tradition of lowering the light or using candlelight;
It is usual to abstain from regular work;
Greetings are not shared when meeting people;
Some religious items are not worn or blessed until the final hours of the fast;
Special prayers are read.