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.