There has always been an element of protest in Jewish religiosity. We can picture ancient biblical prophets like Nathan or Amos or Jeremiah ranting at someone or no one or everyone about even small injustices inflicted upon seemingly unimportant people. We can imagine their grim visage on such occasions, illuminated paths of sweat scoring dusty faces, hair held akimbo over penetrating eyes.
How did these ancient men cultivate moral acuity? Where lies the origin of a social conscience?
Wasn’t it the ancient Jewish prophet Amos who said that one slight act of justice made on behalf of the weak, one reckoning in the poor’s preference perhaps performed in a half-morning’s time, was better religion than half a year of pious temple-going psalmody? Better to right a wrong than sway in the holy of holies.
Bittul ha-tamid is the Jewish practice of ceasing liturgical worship in order to emphasize and publicize a wrong. It was mostly performed in the Middle Ages, often as an act of protest, sometimes as a complaint about a wealthy man’s treatment of a poor man.
It’s an ingenious idea, and one that could be exported to other religions and practiced today.
The sign on the church/mosque/temple door reads, ‘We are not holding services today’
‘Why?’ asks the jangled assembly?The reply could describe any one of several committed wrongs, and some of these wrongs might have been performed by the very religious institutions that temporarily shut their doors to commerce.
Could religious institutions carry out bittul ha-tamid for long-ago injustices performed by those very religious bodies? If so, what would be a suitable length of time to discontinue services in order to call attention to those wrongs?
Is there somewhere a calculus to gage the degree and duration of harm caused and then recommend a length of time for bittul ha-tamid? Are any wrongs so egregiously offensive that religions might shut their doors for an entire century in order to advertise and atone for those wrongs? What about the thousands of people over a thousand years, or perhaps millions of people, who were psychologically or physically harmed by religions?
It would be morally powerful to someday see devout Jews, conscientious Christians, honorable Muslims, each walking to holy sites, each carrying signs to set up at holy sites, each sign saying the same thing:
C L O S E D F O R B I T T U L H A – T A M I D
1 0 0 0 Y E A R S O F I N J U R Y & H A R M
N E X T O P E N I N G N E X T C E N T U R Y
Image ‘Sorry WE’RE CLOSED’ by FraserElliot, Flickr