The Fast that Recalls a Disastrous War

In the Jewish calendar, the 10th of the month of Tevet, "Asarah B'Tevet," is the anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Babylonian troops, 2500+ years ago.

Because of that , for thousands of years it has been a traditional daytime Jewish fast day - when Jews refrained from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. The fast commemorates the start of a disastrous war and the suffering that arose from it.

In the last century, among many Jews it has fallen into disuse, and many do not even know of its ancient history. But now it is poignantly appropriate to the situation of American Jews.

Both Jews who have continued to observe that day and those who have set it aside might renew its energy with a special concern for resolving the US-Iraq conflict through peaceful means instead of war.

The Prophet Jeremiah hoped to prevent that ancient war by calling for deep internal spiritual and political reforms within the Kingdom of Judah — for instance, by calling for all slaves to be liberated, and perhaps calling also on the community to carry out other aspects of the Jubilee: equally redistributing the land and allowing the earth to rest and renew itself for an entire year.

After initially agreeing to free their slaves, the Judean elite changed their minds. Jeremiah made clear: If you will not free your slaves, you will all become slaves to Babylon. If you will not share the land, then you will lose the land. If you will not let the land rest joyfully, it will rest by virtue of your exile.

So the war came. The Israelite king imprisoned Jeremiah as a traitor. But his warnings came true.

The result was that the great Babylonian Empire shattered a small people, but sowed the seeds of its own destruction.

The small Jewish community not only survived, but was renewed. The Prophets were recognized as a crucial part of Jewish wisdom.

In the present moment, when the present US government is calling for an "American century" of unchecked power, this seems like a powerful teaching, and an important moment to remember.

In this situation, the Jewish community should be warning the American government and people that not only are American lives, Israeli lives, and Iraqi lives being put at risk, but our own internal reforms are being shattered, our needs are being forfeited. Our schools, our health care, our environment, our Social Security — are all paying in real dollars lost in order to pay the cost of this war.

Just as Jeremiah strove to prevent the Babylonian attack, we should — for both ethical and self-interest reasons — be trying to end this war.

Those who choose to do the Asarah B'Tevet fast might combine it with a teach-in using local experts on the Torah of war and peace, the implications of war for Big Oil (which funds both terrorist bands and major corporate interests), and the role of Big Oil in the planetary danger of global scorching and the social danger of weakening democracy.

They might also choose to "fast" from gasoline on that day or the next, and to hold a prayer-and-teaching service for calling a communal fast in time of impending calamity — a Taanit Tzibbur al-Ha-Tzarah, refocused for this moment.
Rabbi Waskow is Director of The Shalom Center < > , author of Godwrestling — Round 2, and co-author of A TIME FOR EVERY PURPOSE UNDER HEAVEN: THE JEWISH LIFE-SPIRAL AS A SPIRITUAL PATH.

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: