Herding Cats and the Ninth of Av


King Amadeo I of Spain, Duke of Aosta, and the only king from the House of Savoy (son of King Victor Emanuel of Italy) ruled for a mere three years.  During the tumultuous period following the Revolution of 1870, the monarchy was reinstated, although Amadeo swore to uphold the republican constitution.  Facing numerous conspiracies, Carlist uprisings, separatists in Cuba, and several assassination attempts, he abdicated the throne, proclaiming that the Spanish people were ungovernable.   His judgment, no doubt, was colored by his own experience.  But Spaniards were no less governable than other people.

The Italians, for instance, have elected 61 governments since 1945.  If the eight years of Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as Prime Minister are deducted, it means that Italians had a new government approximately every eleven months.   What skews the numbers further is the fact that while Amintore Fanfani was elected Prime Minister four separate times, with one government he led lasting 21 days.  The Belgians have gone in a different direction.  Rather than changing governments, they went with no government at all.  From June 2010 to December 2011 no agreement on how a government would be constituted resulted in the longest period in modern history for a government to be formed following a democratic election.  And, of course, Greece had two elections within six weeks, still trying to determine if it will be in or out of the Eurozone.  But what all analysts note is the fact that the single most important element to resolve tax evasion on such a wide scale that makes any long term financial arrangement next to impossible.

Not to be excluded, the Jewish people have a history of being ungovernable.  Moses, on more than one occasion, expresses exasperation at the stubbornness and rebelliousness of the people he leads.  When the modern State of Israel was founded, David Ben Gurion once said that the hardest job in the world is serving as Prime Minister of Israel since it entails being Prime Minister of one million prime ministers!  In its sixty-four year history, there has never been a majority government in Israel.  And the broad coalition that Benjamin Netanyahu has been able to put together recently is a rare departure from the fractured party system that usually characterizes Israeli politics.  It seems that governing any people is like herding cats.

Yet, as Heinrich Heine once observed, Jews are like everyone else, only moreso.  It is particularly during the three-week period between the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the fast the Ninth of Av that we reflect on the fact that, as the Talmud notes, we are our own worst enemy.  It is not the oppression of others that has resulted in misery but our baseless hatred towards each other. Political differences can be bridged.  But a visceral denial of the worthiness of another cannot.  If Jews are indeed ungovernable it is not because different opinions exist but because we deride the people who have them.

The fasting we do is no longer mourning for the destruction of the Temples but mourning the fact that we have not yet learned the lesson of the Talmud.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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