Shia Islam and Judaism share a yearly day of mourning and fasting for a very tragic, sad, historical religious event that happened more than 13 centuries ago.
For the Shia it was the slaughter and the tragic martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn, and most members of his family, who were massacred by their enemies in a battle in 680 CE.
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For Jews it was the destruction of the holy Jerusalem Temple; first in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, and then again by the Romans in 70 CE. Both Temples were destroyed on the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av.
As Jews approach Tisha b”Av (the 9th of Av August 7 this year) it is important to remember that destruction need not lead to despair and surrender. Each day should be a day of hope and faith in our future. Jewish survival is in itself a miracle as even a German chaplain knew.
The king of Prussia, Frederick the Great, in a discussion with his court chaplain once said, “Give me proof of the inspiration of the Bible.”
The chaplain replied, “Your majesty, I can answer your request in a single word.” Frederick looked at the chaplain with some amazement and asked, “What magic word carries such strong proof?”
The chaplain answered, “Israel, your majesty.”
Indeed, the continued existence of the Jewish people in spite of centuries of persecution, is the best proof of the Bible’s inspiration, and of the existence of the God who promised to preserve the Jews, return them to their homeland, and bring them to a time of great national blessing in the last days.
This retelling of the well known dialogue between Frederick and his court chaplain, comes not from a Jewish source, but from a Christian minister: Dr. James Boice.
Jews also believe that the survival of the Jewish People is a real miracle. The Jews are the only nation. religion or people in the western world today; who still celebrate the same holiday (Passover), use the same language (Hebrew), and pray to the same God, as their ancestors did more than 3,000 years ago.
Although their language and religion has continued to grow and change, its evolution, identity and continuity has never been broken. In the whole world, only the Chinese and the Hindus can boast of a similar continuity. But the Chinese and the Hindus have never been exiled from their land and then returned, not once but twice. Nor have the Chinese and the Hindus lived most of their history as a small minority, resting assimilation into the majority. Jewish history and survival is truly and amazingly unique.
The recent revival of Jewish life in Poland is one example of the miraculous ongoing survival of the People of Israel. Since the end of Communist rule in 1989, thousands of Poles have discovered a previously hidden Jewish ancestry, and decided to return to that identity. In Warsaw today, there are two Progressive Reform Congregations and one Orthodox Synagogue; all of them filled with Poles who found that in some mysterious way, they have a Jewish soul that yearns to come back to the Jewish people.
Of course, those who participate in a large scale miracle have difficulty in seeing it as a miracle. People are human; they always have their faults and weaknesses. Even during the Exodus from Egypt, the greatest miracle in Jewish history, Jews were complaining to Moses about food (Exodus 16: 2-4), drink (15:24, & 17:2-3), danger (14:11-12). and his leadership (14:10-12).
Yet 120 generations of Jews would look back to this event as the greatest of all human miracles.