LOOKING AT HISTORY THROUGH A JEWISH LENS – The War of Tish’a B’Av
Copyright ©,R. Kossover, July, 2008
Author's Note: In 2004, I delivered a lecture at the Israel Center in Jerusalem dealing with this basic topic – Looking at History through a Jewish Lens: the War of Tish’a B’Av. Below, I’m going to review some of the essential points of the lecture, and add a couple of points that drive home the essential premise. The majority of the people I spoke to at the Israel Center are emigrants like me from the United States, Canada or Europe, Ashkenazi Jews fully familiar with North American or European culture. What is written below reflects that audience.
Introduction - Looking at History through a Jewish Lens and the Birthday of the Messiah
The actual subject of this talk was “Was the Messiah Born on Tish’a B’Av? Looking at History through a Jewish Lens.”
When we Jews look at history, we tend to look at it through the lenses of those who teach the points of view of Christians. Most of us have gone to school in the Christian countries of the Diaspora. The history curricula there reflect that viewpoint. Jewish schools there rarely stray far from these because the students in those countries have to pass tests designed there. The curricula of this country have copied the curricula of gymnasia in Europe or of high schools in the United States.
The big discovery that I made in the middle 1990’s while reading through the Humash and re-connecting with Torah, was that I was not reading fairy tales, or fables meant to convey a moral, but history. You don’t believe me? You shouldn’t. Look at Parshat “Ki Tavo,” the one we read the week of 24 September, 2005. Think about the curses upon our people that Moses prophesied would come, especially towards the end. This is not a description of Jewish life for the last thousand years or so?
I want to emphasize one thing before you read further. Looking at events through the Hebrew calendar is central to what I say here. It is central to our understanding of history and therefore central to our survival. If you take nothing else from this article other than this one single point, I’ve accomplished my purpose in writing it.
To give us a small taste of what I’m talking about, let’s return to Parshat Ki Tavo. This is read every year, once a year. In the year 5699, it was studied and read on the days leading up to 2 Sept 1939, which was the Sabbath.
Let’s look at the text. This translation comes from my Artscroll edition of the Humash, pages 1081 and 1085.
First, Devarim/Deuteronomy 28:49-50.
“Hashem will carry against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, as an eagle will swoop, a nation whose language you will not understand, a brazen nation that will not be respectful to the old nor gracious to the young.”
Rambam comments on Deut. 28:49 that Vespasian and his son Titus came from Rome to conquer the Land and destroy Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The awful conditions described though verse 57 took place during the siege of Jerusalem.
A yeshiva student studying these lines in Warsaw on the night of Wednesday, 30 Aug. 1939, would have read Rambam in the Hebrew, reading the very same words you read in the paragraph above. However, had he time to follow the reading of the Torah in shul on 2 Sept., concentrating upon the text instead of the screaming of the Luftwaffe overhead, he might have had a very different comprehension of these same lines.
“Hashem will carry against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, as an eagle will swoop,………”
The eagle was the symbol of Rome, but it was also the symbol of Germany, that attacked Poland that day. We should not fail to note either, that the eagle is the symbol of the United States of America.
Let us never forget that Moses was a prophet, the one prophet with the clearest view of the future. G-d spoke to Moses as though to a friend, face to face.
So Rambam was certainly right in his analysis of this portion of the Torah in that it referred to Rome and the events that led up to the destruction of the Temple. But could it not have also been a prophecy for the recent past, as well as our own day? Prophecy layered upon prophecy?
Let’s continue at Devarim/Deuteronomy 28:62-66.
“You will be left few in number, instead of having been like the stars of heaven in abundance, for you will not have hearkened to the voice of Hashem, your G-d. And it will that just as Hashem rejoiced over you to benefit you and multiply you, so Hashem will cause them to rejoice over you to make you perish and to destroy you; and you will be torn from upon the ground to which you come to possess it. Hashem will scatter you among all the peoples, from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, and there you will work for gods of others, whom you did not know - you or your forefathers – of wood and of stone. And among those nations, you will not be tranquil, there will no rest for the soul of your foot; there Hashem will give you a trembling heart, longing of eyes, and suffering of soul. Your life will hang in the balance, and you will be frightened night and day, and you will not be sure of your livelihood.”
Do I need to stress the point that even in America, Jews are not tranquil, and have a trembling heart, longing of the eyes and suffer in their souls? Do I need to mention that from September 1939, onwards for at least 6 years, the idea of Jews’ lives "hanging in the balance" is an understatement? What about our lives here?
That was the foretaste. Now let’s dig in to the main course.
As most of us know, Tish’a B’Av is our “national disaster day”, so to speak. Tradition holds that the Sin of the Spies took place on that day, Our Temples were destroyed twice on that day, Beitar, the last stronghold of the Bar Koseba rebellion, fell also on that day. Three separate times in the last thousand years, Jews were expelled from Christian countries on that day.
In the last Christian century, there was a terrible conflict that started on Tish’a B’Av.
The interesting thing about this conflict was that those who began it, who brought it about in the pendulous summer of that year, did not think about the significance of the date to us. We did not count at all in the calculations of the Christian and Moslem diplomats who weighed the fates of their nations and plunged four empires into a conflict from which they would never emerge.
This event, unlike many of the other disasters that befell our people on Tish’a B‘Av was not at all aimed at us in particular (at least not initially). Therefore, it cannot be argued, as it can with the expulsions of Jews from Britain, France and Spain (all in different years, of course), that the acts were dated to occur on Tish’a B’Av because they would destroy the morale of the Jews targeted.
The incident that led up to this conflict was the assassination of the heir to the throne, Archduke Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, in an open vehicle traveling in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist. Austria Hungary decided that this would provide the opportunity to squelch Serbian nationalism, but the Russians did not quite agree.
An uneasy game of “follow the leader to disaster” ensued. When the battle lines were drawn, there were two “Central Powers”, Germany and Austria-Hungary on the one side, and three “Allied Powers,” Russia, Britain and France on the other, coming to the aid of the Kingdom of Serbia. This all occurred by Tish’a B’Av, 5674, August 2, 1914.
All this ties in with a very interesting Jewish tradition – the messiah will be born on Tish’a B’Av. The idea is that the day of disaster will produce for us national redemption. Does this mean that every shmendrick on a donkey traveling to the Golden Gate at the Old City has to be stopped and his Teudat Zehut (identity document) searched to see what his birthday is?
Perhaps. Christians looking for the “sign of the beast,” tend to look at the forehead of suspicious individuals, thinking that some mark or number would indicate the evil identity of the individual. I know a Catholic lady who once speculated that the birthmark on top of Mikhail Gorbachev’s head was just that. And there are a lot of Russians who feel that Gorbachev was worse than the devil.
Somehow, I don’t think that this is the case. It just doesn’t make sense. Jewish prophecies and prophetic traditions take a little more work than that.
The Nature of the War of Tish’a B’Av
Our answer will be found where I started this discourse – with the idea of looking at history through a Jewish lens. The Hevlei hamashiaH, commonly translated into English as the “birth pangs of the messiah,” began the “day that the messiah was born.” The tradition does not refer to a specific birthday, but rather is a finger pointing to a specific date in history to show a beginning point. Everything I write here is designed to recast history in that light.
One of the things this means is that we should stop regarding the catastrophic conflict that began in August 1914 – Tish’a B’Av, 5674, as the First World War. When looking at history through our Jewish lens, not that of the Christians who until now have been most of its authors, it isn’t.
The War of Tish’a B’Av, which began in 1914, was the defining conflict of the age immediately prior to the one we live in now. This conflict, as usually taught in schools, lasted four years. Not so. When you look at the War of Tish’a B’Av through a Jewish lens, focusing on what this conflict meant for our own people, a very different picture emerges.
It is a picture of one long series of conflicts lasting 76 years; one that results in the murder of one third of our population, the rise of a Jewish enterprise in Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel), and the rise and fall of an empire in Russia that retarded the development of that Jewish enterprise until its fall.
The fall of that Soviet empire marks the end of the conflict and gave way to MilHemet haMifratz (the Gulf War) – a war fought in two parts. One part began with the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and ended on Purim; the second part began the day after Purim (twelve years later) with the invasion of Iraq by the United States two years ago and continues to this day.
The War of Tish’a B’Av began with irony - a string of defensive alliances, all intended to prevent war, which worked instead to drag the major European empires into a mortal conflict from which they did not really emerge until 1990. When they finally did, they were entirely different in their apparent composition, but basically ready to be united into one empire once again. The European Union that emerged in 1992 is just that - a new empire.
When the guns of August began to boom, they sounded the death knell for Austria Hungary, the German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and many many millions of people. In addition this conflict spelled the end of the British Empire and the French Empire, though not as immediately, or as obviously.
The First Round of the War of Tish'a B'Av
Now let’s look at the consequences of the conflict that began on Tish’a B’Av 5674, focusing on the Jewish people and our calendar.
In its opening stages, thousands of Jewish soldiers fought against thousands of other Jewish soldiers. The price of Napoleon’s “emancipation” from the ghettos over a century earlier was now being paid in blood. The Covenant of Abraham was overridden by the “call to the colors” – loyalty to the “fatherland”. It was more important to demonstrate loyalty to the Kaiser, the Czar, the King, the Republic, the Flag, etc. than to G-d. We see this difficulty even today – our rabbis can’t decide whether Israelis should be more loyal to the flag or to G-d.
The conflict supposedly stopped for a time in Western Europe, allegedly settled by a treaty in Versailles that was supposed to enshrine all sorts of high-flown principles. The two lasting effects of this Treaty were firstly, to engender hatred throughout Europe against Jews who had subsumed the Covenant of Abraham to the call to the colors in their attempts to assimilate and be good Europeans. Secondly, it enabled the possibility of the resurrection of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. In reality, this conflict did not wind down in Europe for 9 years.
The Greek nationalist leader Venezilos, talked about “Greece for the Greeks”, implying that anyone who was not a Greek Orthodox Christian just didn’t belong. In 5679 (1919), the Greek army invaded Asia Minor, where many Greeks lived, and fought until it was defeated and driven out entirely. The result was that Greece was indeed for the Greeks. But the Turks paid them back in kind, expelling all of the Greeks from Asia Minor. So a major transfer of populations took place. This process ended in 5683 (1923); the first round of conflict after the Crown Prince Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo.
In Germany, Jews were accused of stabbing the war effort in the back. Similar accusations faced Jews in the new Austrian Republic, the tiny nugget of provinces surrounding Vienna. The new Polish Republic, under General Pilsudski, was anti-Semitic from the day it was declared. In fact, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, all of Eastern Europe was anti-Semitic.
Of course, in the years 5675 and 5676 (1915 and 1916), a major population transfer of another kind had already taken place in the Turkish Empire. One and a half million Armenian Christians were transferred from this side of the veil to the other. While this did not bear upon us immediately, it did eventually have its impact on us in a very major way a few years later.
The Ottoman Empire was divvied up by the French and the British, leaving a rump Anatolian state that is now the Republic of Turkey, the one born fighting the Greeks in Asia Minor. The big thing in this that mattered for us is that for the first time in eighteen centuries, a Jewish fighting force had been created that did not go down to ignominious defeat, and that the British undertook to create a Jewish national homeland in Eretz Yisrael. The possibility of a “Reishit TzmiHát G’ulaténu”, “a first flowering of our redemption” actually arose.
So the War of Tish’a B’Av quickened an already planted seed. This is an important point to file away for the moment. We’ll return to it.
The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union
The Russian regime collapsed during the first three years of the War of Tish’a B’Av. In 5677 (1917), the Czar was overthrown and a republic declared by Aleksandr Kerensky. Kerensky was overthrown in 5678 (also 1917) by a man named Vladimir Ulyanov. He is known to history as Vladimir Lenin. He died in 5685 (1924) and was eventually succeeded by a man from Gruzia, known as Georgia to English speakers, named Joseph Djugashvili. Djugashvili is known to history as Stalin – man of steel. Before we go further, three points here should be made crystal clear, points usually not fully understood by folks who come from Western Europe and the Americas. But, these are things that Russian Jews, understand very well.
First of all, Joseph Stalin had every intention of conquering the world. For the rest of his life, until he died from a stroke he suffered on Purim, 5713 (1953), this was his goal. His successors did not have the fire in the belly that he had and many of the individuals who possibly could have continued in his tradition had died in labor camps or prisons because Stalin was extremely suspicious. So, the Soviet Union rotted away from the inside under the rule of his successors until it fell.
The second point is that the Yiddish speaking Bundists, who were hostile to the Zionist enterprise, rode to temporary power with the Bolsheviks. This antipathy kept Russian Jews imprisoned in the Soviet Union for many years. The Russians we see here now are the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those who might have left there to live here in the mid twenties.
The third point is that when Stalin suffered what was to be a fatal stroke on Purim 5713, in 1953, he was on the verge of planning the mass murder of the Jews living in the Soviet Union. The day he suffered that stroke was a day of national salvation of Jews in exile in Persia 2,500 years earlier. Again, salvation was granted our people in exile – this time in the USSR.
The Years between the First Round of Fighting and the Second
For eight years from 1923 to 1931 (5683 to 5691), there was no fighting in Europe or Asia, except for the Arab rioting here. But one of the ultimate causes of the conflict, frustrated German ambition nurtured by Kaiser Wilhelm II, did not go away. The German army was commanded by most of the same generals that had commanded it under the Empire and the Germans worked out a secret deal with the Bolsheviks to train soldiers on Russian territory to evade the provisions of the Versailles treaty limiting Germany to 100,000 soldiers.
The world that existed immediately after the first round of fighting in the War of Tish’a B’Av died down in 5683 (1923) was a fantasy world with a bubble of prosperity that shook unsteadily over a reality of poverty and violence hidden just below the surface. Eventually, all bubbles burst. Early in 5690 (1929) the stock market, which had fueled the delusions of prosperity in the United States, crashed in New York.
Let’s focus on that crash for a minute, paying particular attention to the Jewish calendar. The terribly bloated stock market in New York was headed for a smash-up. Looking back with the hindsight of three quarters of a century, this cannot be denied. In fact, the market first gave serious signs of instability in September, 1928, and nearly had a crash in March 1929. A lot of the “smart” money got out after that big scare. The market could have crashed then, but it didn’t. Instead, it climbed to even dizzier heights, seducing fools out of their money. But in this climb, the majority of the shares listed on the market actually were falling. So, during the entire year of 1929, there was really a technical recession going on. That is not how the history books read, though.
Now, let’s look at when the crash actually occurred. It was during the holiday of Sukkot, 5690. Bear in mind that we Jews believe that Divine judgment is rendered on Rosh Hashanah, sealed on Yom Kippur, and executed upon Jews on Hoshana Raba at the end of the Sukkot festival. Hoshana Raba 5690 was Friday, 25 October 1929.
Sukkot, 5690 began on Shabbat, 19 October 1929. The market was open for only a half a day that day, with little clue to the disaster coming the following week. On Monday, 21 Oct., the market seriously declined. It was a scary experience. According to the book “1929,” by William Klingaman,
“’Taken as a whole’, reported the New York Times, ‘the character of the market left Wall Street both bewildered and frightened.’” Consequently, the Hoover administration released a statement saying, “‘there was no evidence of a serious business or financial situation which could be held responsible for the decline of Stock Exchange values.’”Continues Klingaman,
“[Yale University’s] Irving Fisher contemptuously dismissed the day’s break as a ‘shaking out of the lunatic fringe that attempts to speculate on margin’; the market, he implied, was well rid of such amateur speculators.”
Klingaman writes about the nest day, Tuesday, 22 October,
“Although Manhattan was buffeted by 50mph winds… the stock exchange observed a rare and blessedly peaceful day”
“On the morning of Wednesday, October 23, ... Wall Street opened the day in a haze of uncertainty. Those who confidently expected Tuesday’s half-hearted rally to continue were disappointed… By noon it was obvious that the market was heading for another sharp fall. And this time even the strongest nerves cracked.”
Klingaman continued a page later,
“Thursday, October 24…
Anticipating disorder, [New York City, Police Commissioner] Grover Whelan dispatched a squadron of police wagons to the financial district and instructed them to block the narrow entrance from Broadway to Wall Street.
On the floor of the exchange, nervous and exhausted brokers and clerks… took up their posts early. Nearly all the 1,100 members of the exchange were present, about 300 more than on a normal business day.
Matthew Josephson, who had forsaken a brief and not terribly successful career as a stockbroker to pursue writing… recalled more than forty years later. ‘I heard – and I can still hear it – the sound of running feet, the sound of fear, as people hastened to reach posts of observation before the gong rang for the opening of trading’
In the words of one Wall Street old-timer, the market opened ‘like a bolt out of hell’. Trading was already extraordinarily heavy, involving more than 1,600,000 shares in the first thirty minutes alone. Until 10:30 the market seemed uncertain, directionless. Then it plunged straight down, and no power on earth could stop it.”
Thursday, 24 October 1929, the day before Hoshana Raba 5690, is generally recorded in the history books as the start of the Great Depression. A less than astute man could see that an era was ending that day. There were many severely less than astute people who still kept their money in the market, unwilling to believe the goose that laid the golden egg through the decade previous had indeed died and was being served up with sauce.
However, a man steeped in the Jewish calendar would have realized that a Divine Judgment had been executed, even if he could not see the ultimate consequence of that Judgment. That was why the crash, bound to occur anyway, occurred when it did. It was a Divine Finger pointing out that something extremely Significant had occurred, and it was time to pay careful attention.
The Rise of the Nazi Regime
It did not take long for the illusions of prosperity that had fooled Americans to disappear worldwide. Europe’s economy fell apart as well. With the illusory bubble of prosperity gone, hunger and violence resurfaced, giving new hope to the Communists in Moscow for world revolution. Capital ceased to flow from America to Germany, making it impossible for banking in that country to continue in an orderly way. When this was no longer possible, the so-called Weimar Republic that existed in Germany at the time began to fall apart. The extremists in that country, both on the right and the left, began to gain in power.
One of the corporals in the German Imperial army, a man who had immigrated to Germany from Austria and who had won an Iron Cross in combat, tried to establish himself as something more than a starving artist. He joined an organization of disgruntled unemployed workers known as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which was abbreviated as NSDAP. His membership card was #7. He was a charismatic individual who had a way with words who soon attracted the attention of Bolshevik agents looking for something to re-spark a Communist revolution in Germany, a revolution to succeed where the previous one failed in 5680 (1919).
In addition, his group attracted the attention of bankers looking for means of controlling events in the unstable, inflation-ridden country that succeeded the German Empire. This was the Union Bank in New York with its branch in the Netherlands and its German branch, the Thyssen Bank. Its American representative in Europe was Prescott Bush. His grandson is the president of the United States. His other grandson served as governor of Florida.
Adolf Hitler’s attempted coup d’état in Bavaria in 5683 (1923) provoked nothing but laughter amongst Germany’s politicians. His Bolshevik backers were furious with him. They had plans for him to attempt his coup d’état the next day when they would have had more backing for him. But investors saw an opportunity to laugh all the way to the bank. They built him a house in the Bavarian mountains. And later, the Bolsheviks were not entirely unhappy to have someone like the Nazis, as they soon became known, for an enemy. Their violence and extremism, and willingness to combat the German Communists in street battles helped to keep membership in the Communist party up.
Hitler had a series of policies for Germany’s rebirth and redevelopment that he expounded in a book called “Mein Kampf,” which he wrote while sitting in prison. One of his policies included expelling or killing all the Jews in Germany. Asked about this, he commented that if the Turks could get away with killing a million and a half Armenians, Germany could get away with killing the Jews. The great depression gave Hitler the opportunity he sought. Over the next three years, from 1930 to 1933 (5690 to 5693), his Nazi Party increased its number of seats in the German Reichstag. In 1933 (5693), the president of the German republic asked him to become Reichskansler, or prime minister. When the German president died soon after, Hitler took the opportunity to have the offices of president and Reichskansler combined into the position of “leader” – Führer. The politicians weren’t laughing anymore.
The Jewish Resettlement of Eretz Yisrael
Now let’s return to the “Reishit TzmiHát G’ulaténu”, the “first flowering of our redemption” that began to arise here in Eretz Yisrael after the British took over. The local organizations that pushed this, the Zionist parties, tried hard to get settlers for this country from Europe, America and the Soviet Union, but there was an economic depression here in the 5680’s (1920’s).
Life was still better in Europe, bad as it was; Jews like my father were beginning to prosper in America, and the Soviet Union had become a prison for its Jews. Jewish organizations pressed ahead anyway, using the little blue pishkeh as their funding method when nothing else worked. We’re still using that little blue pishkeh or modern variants of it today.
A Hebrew University was founded on Har Tzofim (Mount Scopus), with its opening attended by the British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuels. But European Jews sniffed contemptuously at the Zionist enterprise. The following is taken from an essay written by Albert Montefiore Hyamson, then Controller of Labor for the Government of Palestine. The essay was written for the “Historians History of the World” a publication of the Encyclopedia Britannica and was entitled “Palestine Freed from Turkish Rule”. It is a good sample of what Jews generally felt about re-establishing a Jewish State at that period of our history. This was just a sentence and a half written by a man whose views were typical of the day but whose vested interest it was to defend his employer.
The impracticability, to say nothing less, of a scheme whereby a handful of farmers, shopkeepers, students and workingmen should, even if increased by such limited immigration as the economic state of the country rendered possible, be able to secure the government of a state, seven eighths of whose population were determinedly and ineradicably opposed to such a government, was brushed aside by these idealists. The absurd proposals for creating a majority of Jews in Palestine put forward by impractical Jewish men of letters, who fortunately had no influence in the Zionist Organization or otherwise in Jewish politics, created more attention and alarm than the statesmanlike proposals of that party in the organization which may be said to be inspired by the Hebrew philosopher Ahad Ha’Am (Asher Ginzberg),…
Arabs in this country rioted a number of times during this short interregnum between major conflicts. When Albert Hyamson wrote his essay on Palestine in 5685 (1925), the population was seven eighths Arab. A decade later, the proportion of Jews had more than doubled. When major fighting re-ignited in Europe in 5700 (1939), one third of the population of Eretz Yisrael was Jewish.
We are warned in Parshat Eikev, which we read on 27 August 2005 (22 Av 5765), not to view our accession to this land as the result of our own merit, and certainly not to view it as the result of our own efforts. If we fail to see the Hand of G-d in the success of the Zionist enterprise in the years before the declaration of the State in 5708 (1948), we are all fools indeed. If you review the rain records for the years leading up to 5700, you find an increased amount of rain. This filled the borot, the aquifers of the land, and allowed for cultivation of food to feed the increasing population here. This was not the doing of human beings.
We can also ask ourselves: was the animus to hate Jews that afflicted Europe and the Arab world over the last 90 years really the doing of man? Or was it the hardening of the hearts of our enemies, that we not feel too comfortable in exile and remember Jerusalem with more than just sayings on PessaH and Yom Kippur? We face this question now as well. Every time I read an ad on Janglo (a buy and sell list in Jerusalem) describing a furniture sale by Jews leaving to relocate in the United States, I get nervous. A little for me, but, mostly for them.
The War of Tish’a B’Av Re-ignites - the Evidence of Divine Intent
The War of Tish’a B’Av started up again, not in Europe, but in Asia in the year 5691 (1931). The background of this is a short summary of the growth of imperial Japan. In 5655 (1895), the Japanese had seized the island of Taiwan from China. In 5665 (1905), the Empire of Japan had successfully humiliated the Russians in battle, defeating their armies and their fleet. In reality, this war finished off the Russian Empire.
Five years after their defeat of the Russians, the Japanese seized control of the Korean peninsula. When the War of Tish’a B’Av began, they sided against Germany and seized German colonial holdings in the Pacific. But in 5691 (1931), when the rest of the world slid into economic depression, the Japanese invaded China. They saw the depression as their opportunity.
The European powers that had taken over almost all of Asia in the previous century were seriously weakened. The Japanese erected a puppet state in Manchuria. They made plans to conquer south Asia. Europe and America, broke and busy with dealing millions of unemployed people within their own borders, watched with alarm but could do next to nothing. The Japanese solution to dealing with depressed world markets was to go to war and turn them into internal markets with plenty of business
Two yeas later when Hitler took over Germany, he got Germany out of recession by building for war. He brought hope to Germany by building roads across the breadth of the country, the famous Autobahnen. He founded a car company to make vehicles cheaply for Germans to ride on these roads and enjoy them – Volkswagen – the people’s car. With dictatorship, terror and terrible corruption, Hitler also brought prosperity. I don’t know if he copied the Japanese, but arming for war was a profitable business, and it brought prosperity to Germany again.
Again, one should not dismiss the hand of G-d in all this. Why did Germany’s neighbors not act to squelch this danger to their own lands, even when Hitler began to seize other territories and openly violate the treaty of Versailles? When reading the sad history of this decade, one has to wonder where all the sense that the British and the French had fled to. One has to wonder if it were not Divine Will that this basic sense of self protection should be absent.
While the Japanese continued to conquer Chinese territory, the European continent slid back to violence. The Fascist dictator Mussolini seized portions of the Kingdom of the South Slavs, Yugoslavia, and eventually annexed Albania. A rebellion began in Spain against the secular republic there and evolved into a civil war in 5696 (1936). This civil war gave the Soviets and the Nazis a chance to test out their weapons. Six months after this civil war ended, the Germans invaded Poland.
In general, we know most of the details of this conflict. It ended in Europe shortly after La”g B’Omer, 5705 (1945). We should note that Hitler killed himself on the eve of La”g B’Omer and the bonfire that was his funeral extended into that holiday. Note how we celebrate La”g B’Omer – with bonfires in the night. Active fighting in the Pacific ended shortly before Elul, 5705. It unveiled a new terror for the world, the atom bomb.
The Third Stage of the War of Tish'a B'Av and Fall of the Soviet Union
After the fight against the Nazis ended, Stalin worked hard to get an atom bomb, and he shortly had one. His armies occupied Eastern Europe, ending whatever hope there might have been for democratic regimes to flourish there. This included eastern Germany and the northeastern quarter of Austria. His agents started a civil war in Greece, attempting to take over the entire Balkan Peninsula.
His ally, Mao Dze Dung, effectively took over the Chinese mainland in 5709 (1949). The very next year, the Communist government set up by Russia in the northern half of Korea, invaded the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. The Americans came to the aid of their ally, South Korea. When the Americans got close enough to the Chinese border in 5711 (1950), the Chinese invaded Korea, nearly driving the Americans off that peninsula entirely. In short, the War of Tish’a B’Av entered its final phase, the war against the Communists. This was the stage of the conflict that finally dictated the face of the world we live in now.
As I’ve pointed out earlier, Joseph Stalin really intended to conquer the world. What happened after the Nazis were defeated should show this intent. The United States was engaged world wide in a fight for its survival, but it could not go to open war against the Soviet Union because of fear of what the atom bombs and subsequently, nuclear bombs, could do. Those of us over the age of fifty all remember this conflict. Some of us fought in one or more of the open conflicts that broke out between 5711 (1950) and 5751 (1990) and all of us remember the constant psychological burden of terror that weighed us down.
Europe reached a balance of sorts, but for as long as Stalin lived; he kept testing the limits of that balance. In Asia, the Communists did what they could to seize land. A nationalist, Ho Chi Minh, managed to succeed in so weakening the French in Indochina that they left open control to local regimes.
Most of us are familiar with the events of the next few decades; they form the background against which our lives were lived.
The exact date to the end of the War of Tish’a B’Av cannot be defined with certainty. Reality is that wars in history tend to peter out. Sometimes there is a grand treaty, as in the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War 370 years ago in 5408 (1648). But, more often than not, treaties tend to set the stage for a new version of a conflict, because they set to writing results of a previous conflict, thereby drawing the battle lines for the next one. Sometimes wars end with the destruction of one of the combatants entirely. The destruction of Carthage 2,200 years ago is an example of this. Once Carthage was destroyed by the Romans, there was no need for a treaty. The results were obvious.
In 5749 (1989), the outward trappings of the Soviet empire began to crumble. The wall that divided Berlin fell. Communist regimes were ousted from country after country in Europe. The Russians withdrew their soldiers from Eastern Europe. Germany reunified rapidly became the leading power on that continent, set to do what it had been set to do 80 years earlier - take over Europe through its economic power.
Finally, the Soviet Union collapsed entirely in the year 5751 (1991). This was the year that a huge aliya (immigration) of Russian Jews began to this country. At this point, we may say for certain that the War of Tish’a B’Av ended. A new era had already begun with its focus on this part of the world. Wars and rumors of wars rumbled across ancient Babylon, and on Purim, 5751, the United States, now viewing itself as the world’s sole superpower, ended a campaign in Iraq known as “Desert Storm”. This was the opening of the Gulf War, which as I mentioned earlier, continues today.
The Rise of the State of Israel and Foreshadowing its Fall
This leads us finally to the rise of our own state. The history of Jews suffering in DP camps after the Germans were defeated hardly needs repeating. At least six million had died at the hands of Hitler’s SS in his death camps. A guilty world tried hard to entice these people to come to their countries. Only Eretz Yisrael remained closed.
For a few short years, much of the world that seemed to give us nothing but spit in our faces and dirt in our eyes, gave us sympathy and understanding. Miracles seemed to take place. Arab forces fled from smaller Jewish ones. By T”u B’Shvat, 5709, there was a State of Israel, the first Jewish entity here in thirteen centuries.
In the month of Sivan 5727 (1967), the Arabs gathered their forces around us and threatened attack. Our leaders, in a very rare show of courage, attacked first. As the late Ephraim Kishon wrote, "our forces solved the problem of fighting on a two front war by fighting a three front war." Our armies conquered the Sinai, liberated and reunited Jerusalem and even scaled the Heights of Golan, driving the Syrians away from their Russian supplied artillery. The Arabs in Judea and Samaria fled from before our soldiers and massed at the bridges of the Jordan River, ready to cross into being refugees again. Looking back, it becomes clear. Because we had faith in G-d, He delivered the enemy into our hands.
And then it all went wrong. A man with an eye-patch, who was a national hero at the time, handed control of the Temple Mount to the Arabs. He ordered the bridges on the Jordan blown up. The Arabs of Judea and Samaria, unable to cross the river, returned to their homes. The decisive victory was thrown away. Very few saw the loss in the victory or the consequences. I know that I certainly didn’t.
Six years later, on Yom Kippur, the enemy attacked again. Our forces, fearing to anger the United States, waited for the attack instead of attacking first. The day of the bent backed Jew, wheedling and begging before the world, has returned. In addition, the world’s contempt for him has returned also. In the War of the Day of Judgment, the man with the eye-patch, by now the Minister of Defense, tried to restrain a headstrong brutal young man from attacking and destroying the enemy across the Suez Canal. General Ariel Sharon won the day for us in a sad war that could have been a victory but wasn’t. Even that was stolen away. Sharon sold out to the United States and now vents his brutality on Jews. Nobody much talks about the fellow with the eye-patch these days.
There are those who talk endlessly about the need for our government to withdraw to defensible borders, citing all kinds of “demographics” problems. Such people do not look at the facts of history. They try to dismiss them instead. The facts of history are that demographics have worked in our favor, not the contrary. Our population has increased, and the percentage of the world’s Jews living here has increased. Israel is one of the most crowded countries on earth. Nearly fifty percent of the world’s Jews live here. Six hundred thousand of them lived here in 5708 (1948). This was about three times the amount that Albert Hyamson talked about in his essay written twenty years earlier. Six hundred thousand Jews were 5% of the world’s total in 5708. Today, percentage-wise, nearly ten times that number, live here now. These are just numbers, the dry statistics.
So much for efforts of men and their governments.
But G-d, in His wisdom, has seen fit to cause prophecy to come about in our days. The lines of Isaiah 49:20: "the children of your bereavement shall yet say in your ears, 'The place is too tight for me; make room for me that I may sit'”, appear to have come to pass. When I visited this country over thirty three years ago as a young man, the neighborhood I would eventually live in in Jerusalem was just being built. Most of it didn’t even exist. Lots of neighborhoods here are just like that. Jerusalem stretches nearly as far south as Bethlehem and nearly up to Ramallah. In other words, in order to see prophecy – all we need to do is open our eyes. It is all around us.
Faith is what we require now, not armies or arguments. Armies, arguments and even nuclear weapons, which we also possess, will do us no good without faith and courage. The beginning of that faith is to look at the world through a Jewish lens – to perform the mitzva of keeping the moadim, the dates and festivals of the Torah, and looking at the world through the calendar that we have – the one given us through G-d’s word in the Torah – not the one of our enemies.
Some have written that we received a “period of grace” after the founding of our State that would last for 40 years. During that forty years we were supposed to repent, return to the Torah and thus bring the messiah early without many of the dramatic and disastrous prophecies in the Tana”kh needing to come true. This didn’t happen. This period of grace ended in 5748 (1988). And in the last 20 years, we have seen a stunning reversal of our fortunes in this country. Every day, we argue over that reversal of our fortunes. That is not the subject of this essay.
In 5765 (2005), another event occurred that began on Tish’a B’Av. This was Hurricane Katrina. The tropical depression (TS 10) that was to develop into this storm began on Tish’a B’Av. It emerged as a major storm in the Caribbean just as the process of expelling Jews from Gush Katif was being completed. It struck as the Jewish graves there were disinterred.
The parallels between the forced homelessness of 10,000 Jews and the forced homelessness of hundreds of thousands of residents of New Orleans are scary. The reports of floating coffins in the floodwaters of New Orleans eerily reflect the dead bodies removed from Jewish Gaza the same day....
Like the Shoemaker-Levy Comet, which fell apart under Jupiter’s gravitational pull and collapsed into twenty-one separate asteroids on Tish’a B’Av in 5754 (1994), Hurricane Katrina may have also been the Finger of G-d telling us to wake up and smell the heavenly coffee.
G-d tends to show mercy and give more than one warning or sign. It doesn’t say, “signs and wonders” in Torah for nothing. However, I fear that we will soon see the strong Hand and outstretched Arm of G-d as more than a mere shadow to be guessed at.