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Tisha B’Av: The Blame Game

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Leon Morris of the Skirball Center of Adult Jewish Learning, asked me to sit on a panel Tuesday, July 24, (the day of Tisha B’Av), entitled “Because of Our Sins: Do We Blame Ourselves Too Much or Not Enough.”
Prior to the Holocaust, the traditional response to Jewish tragedies was either silence (Job) or to place blame on the Jewish people (a minority of texts such as Eicha Rabbah Petichta 24 actually places blame on God). The rabbis blamed their own over emphasis on the technicalities of Jewish law over and against love of their fellow human beings. The blame game probably also contributed to what some term “Jewish guilt.” Ideally, this approach was meant as a way to empower people to allow them to feel that ultimately they were the masters of their own destiny. If they changed their ways they would be redeemed. Following the Holocaust such a position became seen by many as simply ridiculous. For what sin is deserving of the death of six million?


Nonetheless many continued to invoke the self blame game; but instead of placing blame on themselves they went and blamed other members of the Jewish community. So the Satmar Rebbe and others claimed that The Holocaust was caused by the secular Zionists and by Reform Jews. Thus, instead of looking at himself and his own community, he went and placed blame on others.
Ultimately, the lesson of Tisha B’Av is the exact opposite. If you are going to play the blame game start with yourself; otherwise its better to not say anything at all.

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posted July 18, 2007 at 10:21 pm

How about dispensing with blame entirely? People often use organized religion and belief in God as an attempt to explain the inexplicable. I would agree this is in order to gain a sense of control over the world and their own personal destinies. That, to me, is superstition, not faith. I think the lesson is that we do not have control, no matter what we do. People have free will – but we can’t control what they do. We can’t control what God does. We want to live a good life; many of us believe this is done by observing Jewish law. Once we’ve done that – or even if we try and fail – whether we’re sincere or insincere – no matter what we do, I believe what happens is not up to us. To me, that’s the essence of faith – surrender to our ultimate lack of control over life or death, and being willing to live with and embrace that uncertainty, and honor the moment regardless.

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posted July 19, 2007 at 10:06 am

It is said If one see a fault in someone else it is because that fault lies somewhere within the one observing.
There is a story about an old Rebbe who had a man come to him and confess a serious sin. The man had sex with a dead body. The Rebbe was horrified. After counseling the man the Rebbe disappeared for several months, his congregation wondering what was going on, only told he had locked himself up in prayer and fasting.
The story goes on to tell, the Rebbe knew the only reason he was so horrified and could barely deal with the man at all was because that same sin was in him somewhere and he needed to do some repenting himself.
After much prayer and fasting the Rebbe discovered where his own fault lay. He has seen the comely form of the Czarina imprinted on a coin – well she was long dead – and the Rebbe found her so attractive he had lusted after her. Hummmmmm – quite a story to bring home the point – the only reason you can see it is you got it yourself!
When ever I am temped to judge, get angry, blame – I think “holy bad reasoning Batman” – I better point that finger at myself, before putting my foot in my mouth!
It is never easy to see our own human failings.
I read somewhere the meaning of “love your fellow human as you love yourself” means just as we cover our own faults with self love so should we cover the faults of others with our love for them, And, – the meaning of humility is not to see yourself as less or degrade yourself, but to see the worth in others and to honor them. I can’t give credit to the people who said those things – because I do not remember exact names, just from Chasidic lore and Rebbies. Shalom All.

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posted July 19, 2007 at 4:05 pm


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laura t mushkat

posted July 19, 2007 at 4:16 pm

When we go to the various houses of worship and pray for the dead we do not even mention death.
Blame for a death can only be put on the cause be it a person, people- like Germans for the Holoucaust, the Catholic Church for the Inquisition and so on. If we truly think about it G-d has nothing to do with it except that S/He created us. When such things occur people place balme wherever they can. Yes, some blame G-d for deaths of inocents but often when they think about it they realize their error.
Jews think about blame as a group, so if they believe a Jew caused bad things to happen to many Jews they could possibly think at first, it is our fault. Like when you blame G-d, after thinking about it they realize the error. Unfortunatly, they do not often make as big a thing of the realization as they did when they were blamin themselve. We can tell this by the fact that we keep going. If we truly blamed ourselves for these horrors we would probubly be long gone like many other religons.

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posted July 20, 2007 at 3:00 pm

I like what Laura has posted – we Jews doing the ‘group think” when it comes to blame and what linoscript says about surrendering to our ultimate lack of control over life or death and honoring moments.
Good thoughts and so true.
All of our holy days have a group dimension especially Tisha B’Av when “blame” goes beyond pointing fingers at others which I wanted to address in my post, to looking within and within as a group.
Blame being the multilayered object it is can be addressed from many different standpoints and felt emotionally and personally or objectively and historically.
Blame when it is a group think, becomes a “group responsibility think” more than a personal, “It’s all my fault” thing.
I believe that is why as Laura states, “blaming ourselves for past horrors” does not stick and we do not disappear.
To a certain extent we Jews seem to see ourselves and our ancestors united in the present moments of our holidays. Our “we” prayers are timeless and all our generations are as one and also can be individual and personal as the need within an individual to personally connect with G-d happens. It’s a beautiful thing really and transcends just being “religious”. Shalom All

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posted July 20, 2007 at 3:19 pm

Chana –
Thank you for your beautiful words – I’m going to have to save that somewhere on my computer to remind me.

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posted July 22, 2007 at 11:44 am

The Satmar town of Kiryas Yoel in New York has a median age of 15 (the lowest of any municipality in the US with a population of over 5000), and a 5% annual growth rate (almost doubling every decade). Whatever the Satmar rebbe believes is going to be a major belief among Jews in the future.

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posted July 22, 2007 at 10:10 pm

I refuse to believe that our suffering today, or from the Holocaust, is the result of our “sins.”
Any sins that our people have committed have been more than balanced by the suffering of the Jewish nation over the past 2,000 years.
Enough is enough. THe Holocaust and the current suffering of the Jewish people is too horrible to attribute as a “punishment” to any sins we may have committed. I cannot believe G-d would do such a thing. We don’t and can’t understand why we are suffering so; not a single nation (including America) supports our right to settle in Biblical boundares in Eretz Yisroel, every nation without exception criticizes Israel for “racism” as they practice it themselves. We should only use all this to beseech G-d to redeem us from this awful, seemingly endless exile and return us to our land already.
No only beseeching, but crying, screaming, begging, whatever it takes to bring the Geula Sheleima.

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posted July 22, 2007 at 10:21 pm

Dear Hali, thank your kind words – I am glad you like my post – so I say your are welcome – my pleasure – and Shalom dear heart.

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posted July 22, 2007 at 11:41 pm

Hi Yossel – I hear your heart in your post and mine breaks.
Yet I kind of feel we are working out our Karma as a people – maybe you do not believe in the generational cause and effect thing known as “Karma”. It is an explanation of sorts. According to the concept of Karma even our individual choices affect the whole of us as a people. Karma is a concept accepted in Cabbalah (and I do not mean the red string magical stuff of the celebs.).
All people in all kinds of cultures have to a certain extent a conditioned mindset that affects how we/they interpret the current reality.
Maybe we need to break the mindset of our suffering is a deserved thing because we are Jews and start thanking HaShem for the deliverance we long for even though it is not here yet. Geula Sheleima well happen.
There has been plenty of “beseeching”. Maybe we just need to trust all that beseeching has been heard and answered and just wait in gratitude for all of us to learn our lessons in due time and celebrate being Jewish in spite of it all.
Why do so many people hate us – beats me – what can we do about it – not a darn thing – except pray for their suffering to end and somehow communicate to this suffering world – they are not alone. Will it have any effect – who knows – only time will tell.
Meanwhile lets let their hating and meanness and killing of us just roll off of us like water off of a duck, after all we’re Jewish! We amaze many by still being here, stronger than ever. We do not have to walk in the mire of their hatred. We have something to look forward to! Getting more light from HaShem and Geula Shelima!
For every negative there is a positive and the positive is stronger and brighter. If we focus to much on the negative we miss the flip slide of the coin which is a “head’s up”!
I heard a great talk by a Rabbi once on how the positive lessons we learn from “sin” turn the sins into a Mitzvah and Teshuva causes them to melt away. Shalom dear one and I hope you do not think I am too crazy : ).

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posted July 26, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Soemtimes I think God is kind of like a great big rabbi, kind of like a rabbi I remember from my childhood, who is trying to teach us lessons. When we’ve learned our lesson He will come and get us and discuss with us what He was really trying to teach us.

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