Monday, 9 November 2020


It should be quite clear to all SANE AND CLEVER people that the election was STOLEN from Donald J Trump!!!! It is OBVIOUS that the DEMOCRATLIARS have not won but they LOST!!!!! FRAUD ON MASSIVE SCALE!! It's so obvious but WE WILL PROVE IT. DON'T WORRY!!!! BIG COURT CASES soon. CLICK HERE FOR THE EVIDENCE!!!!! 

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Institutional Incompetence

Institutions and organisations have a little trick when they screw up. They like to deny responsibility, blame literally everyone they can think of but themselves and then wait. Wait for enough time to pass for everyone to forget about what happened or to lose energy fighting them. They know they have enough power to do that and experience tells them it often works. People move on or give up because what else can they do, they are one person and this massive institution is, well, massive. And it happens again and again and again. Personally, it happened when I was at Cambridge and it's happening right now with the Bar Standards [sic] Board ("BSB"). 

The pandemic has thrown the world out of sync. That is undeniable. No one at the BSB, obviously, is to blame for the pandemic and the government regulations that followed. However, we will always be judged on how we respond to difficult situations. That's when we show our true colours, the principles we really hold dear and will stand up for. Our response when things go wrong will always be the true test of our character. So when uncertainty was all the rage back in March, the BSB had an opportunity to act decisively and proactively in response. They chose to stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best, somehow under the naive impression the pandemic would be over by August and we'd all be returning to mass gatherings in exam halls. Forget that we had our last classes for these exams in February. Forget that many of us were self-isolating or shielding because of our own health concerns or those of relatives. Forget how stressful this entire situation has been for young people. We were asked to put our lives on hold until at least August, if not beyond, rearrange summer plans (and I'm not talking about holidays, I'm talking about jobs that many students need to survive week to week) and attempt to sit down and revise without any idea what was going to happen. The BSB's response was, well, non-existent. It was not a good start. 

It only got worse from there. It soon became clear to even the BSB that the exams would not be in a traditional exam hall setting and that provisions for their online delivery would have to be made. Eventually, it was confirmed the exams would take place via Pearson Vue's 'OnVue' online proctoring system. The BSB described it as follows:

OnVUE uses a combination of artificial intelligence and live monitoring to ensure the exam is robustly guarded, deploying sophisticated security features such as face-matching technology, ID verification, session monitoring, browser lockdown and recordings.

Such robust security measures provide assurance to students (both past and present), the profession, and the public who will rely on the services provided by these future barristers, that the 2020 cohort of BPTC graduates will have been assessed to as high a standard as those in previous years as they will have taken the exams that they were intended to take in a secure environment. The revised arrangements are fully supported and endorsed by the BPTC providers. 

Further explanation of the system was forthcoming. The system would detect noises and had the power to terminate the examination if it felt those noises warranted it. You could not leave your seat or look away from the screen. Immediately, the concerns were obvious to everyone except the BSB. What about those who do not live alone? Those with reasonable adjustments? Health conditions? Those who need and are entitled to rest breaks? Going to the toilet? The problems were numerous and apparent to anyone who thought about it for more than 5 seconds, which begs the question exactly how long did the BSB think about it before deciding this was all necessary in the name of their much-vaunted but remarkably vague "rigour". Anyway, don't worry, because there was another option: anyone could book into a test centre where reasonable adjustments could be accommodated. 

Except, no you couldn't. Some locations did not have test centres. Some people lived too far away from their nearest centre for it to be a viable option. Others had reasonable adjustments but were shielding and/or isolating because of vulnerable relatives and could not (or understandably did not want to) go out in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Others did not have reasonable adjustments but are normal human beings who need to go to the toilet more regularly than once every 3-4 hours. Others did not have good/reliable wifi or could not ask roommates to just leave their flats or parents working from home to just not work from home. Others had the wrong laptops or had the right laptops that then became the wrong laptops. Others had reasonable adjustments and booked test centre slots only for those slots to be cancelled without warning. Others had reasonable adjustments but couldn't book test centre slots to accommodate those reasonable adjustments. Others still had reasonable adjustments but could only book test centre slots very early in the morning or very far away directly contrary to their reasonable adjustment. Others, like me, did not have reasonable adjustments because we ignore them because part of our condition means we feel like a burden and do not always stand up for what we deserve and decided not to book test centre slots because our peers with 'actual' reasonable adjustments need the slots more. The problems go on, and on, and on. Others actually had to forgo their reasonable adjustments. 

What had begun as a poorly thought out attempt to ensure 'rigour', transcended into a farce. And the problems escalated from there. Despite being told about all of this. Despite students forgoing legally guaranteed reasonable adjustments. The irony of a legal regulator forcing us to forgo those adjustments we are legally entitled to, believe me, is not lost on us. Despite the BSB apparent "commitment" to access to the Bar being clearly a principle that it was willing to ignore. It does not care about access to the Bar. It does not care about disabled students, or any students. It does not care about our concerns. It has treated us with utter contempt. It is quite clear that the BSB does not care. If anything has caused the public to lose trust and confidence in our profession it is the regulator acting in such a disgraceful, potentially unlawful manner. Despite the fact that students repeatedly highlighted concerns the exams went ahead. 

Except, no, they didn't. Not for many of us who sat in front of a blank screen only for it to be terminated because of technical issues. This was despite the fact we had religiously done system tests before our exams to ensure the system would work. The rest of us: spent hours waiting to be let into exams with locked screens and no explanation; navigated stifling conditions in test centres; weren't allowed water even if it was part of a reasonable adjustment in the middle of a heatwave; faced a choice between dehydration and needing the toilet; had proctors who were rude to us; had proctors who hung up on us when we called about issues; couldn't reschedule exams if they were terminated; peed on-screen whilst being recorded and maintaining eye contact with the camera despite following the BSB advice to "just pee before the exam"; took exams with bags, bottles and buckets of piss next to us; were lied to about available slots for rescheduling exams; all took different exams making moderation impossible. I, and my cohort, have littered twitter with our experiences. They have to be read to be believed, experienced to be truly understood. 

And now the BSB roll out their statistics about "successful" completion of the exams, using the most elastic definition of "successful" I have ever encountered. An exam is not completed "successfully" if you spent the last two hours of it severely dehydrated but scared that if you drank anything you'd have to go to the toilet and terminate. An exam is not completed "successfully" if you sat around for hours agonising over whether you would be given the test paper, receiving it when your nerves are shot and you've been uncomfortable sat at your desk for most of the day waiting. An exam is not completed "successfully" if you were forced to pee in a bucket and sit with that bucket of pee next to you. An exam is not completed "successfully" if you experienced technical difficulties that cut your time in half/deleted your answers/forced you to repeatedly restart the programme and any other myriad of issues we faced. An exam is not completed "successfully" if your reasonable adjustments were denied to you. The list goes on. This is another little trick institutions use. Statistics. Look, 89% of students completed their exams, or whatever the stat might be. Well, as Benjamin Disraeli tells us, there are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies and statistics. The BSB should know better than to roll out meaningless stats that ignore the real picture, but they do so to knowingly mislead and deceive the public. It's an utter disgrace.

At the end of it all, two things stick out like red thumbs. Ignoring all the disregard for disabled students and non-disabled students, ignoring the inhumane requirements and the potential breaches of human rights. Ignoring it all. First, if we wanted to cheat, we could have done. The photos we had to take of our rooms had blind spots. It is impossible to remotely invigilate an exam and it is truly concerning that our future regulator went to such lengths to try and ensure the integrity of the exams when their efforts could have been defeated by a tactically positioned piece of paper. It is laughable that they pursued this course of conduct instead of accepting that the solution was open-book exams. Let's not forget that as practitioners we will never be tested on our memory of various codes and regulations, but instead our understanding of them and the ease with which we can locate what we need within the practitioners' texts and/or online. Second, and most frustratingly, this is a profession where integrity and honesty is one of the required virtues. We've passed numerous hurdles to prove that we possess those virtues, that we can be trusted to be unleashed on the public. We've secured at least a first degree. We've secured membership of an inn and the obtained the necessary character references that go with that. Many of us have secured scholarships granted, in part, because we have demonstrated our integrity and suitability for the profession. In short, we are becoming barristers because we have integrity and should have been trusted to act with integrity when taking these exams. Instead, we have been treated as if we were bound to cheat and could not be trusted and the only way to ensure we did not do so was to be recorded, forced to pee on camera and forgo our reasonable adjustments. What sort of message does that send to the public? 

This was all done to maintain "rigour" and 

Such robust security measures provide assurance to students (both past and present), the profession, and the public who will rely on the services provided by these future barristers, that the 2020 cohort of BPTC graduates will have been assessed to as high a standard as those in previous years as they will have taken the exams that they were intended to take in a secure environment.

I've checked and students, the profession and the public did not need these reassurances. In fact, by insisting on these conditions students, the profession and the public are outraged at our inhumane and potentially unlawful treatment. Students, the profession and the public are not reassured by the fact that I am willing to pee in a bag on camera to take an exam. Students, the profession and the public are not reassured by the fact our regulator forced us to forgo our reasonable adjustments. Students, the profession and the public are not reassured by the utterly disgraceful way this has been handled. And, after all this, what has the BSB's response been? Apologise? Act with integrity and admit it got things wrong? Try and put it right? No. It has doubled down because those in charge lack integrity. Those in charge have abandoned their principles and demonstrated incompetence and an inability to respond to difficult circumstances. With respect, it's not good enough. The test, as I stated above, is how you respond to difficult circumstances because life is not easy. It's a test the BSB have failed on numerous occasions. It's a test, by contrast, my cohort has passed with flying colours. We've struggled through a pandemic to revise for and take exams, both the BSB assessments and those organised by our providers. We've ignored anxiety and stress. We've forgone our reasonable adjustments and tried our very best to complete these exams. We've spent our own money calling PearsonVue and the BSB to try and organise rescheduled exams. We've taken exams damp with our own piss. We've had panic attacks and carried on. We've stared at blank screens for hours to try and take these exams. We've navigated technical issues that were not our fault. We've continued to revise through this all despite not knowing if our exam will even happen. We've done everything within our power to try and take these exams to the best of our abilities despite the BSB trying to make conditions as difficult as possible and making it worse every single time they open their mouths to make an ill-advised, ignorant statement. We've come together on twitter to support our peers struggling. We've written open letters and coordinated responses. We've spoken up. And we've done all this whilst still attempting to revise for and take these damned exams.

The BSB have not apologised. They have buried their heads in the sand in the hope we will just go away, forget about the fact we were forced to revise for exams under immense stress and anxiety, forced to forgo lawfully guaranteed and required reasonable adjustments, forced to piss in bags and buckets. Because that's what institutions do. What the BSB, however, did not count on is that I, and my cohort, are entering this profession because we care deeply about justice and human rights and we've overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers before. We are a resilient bunch because becoming a barrister demands resilience. We won't allow those who are disabled to be at a disadvantaged by ignorance and incompetence on behalf of our future regulator because becoming a barrister demands a belief in equality. We won't allow our future regulator to treat us with contempt because becoming a barrister demands a desire to stand up for our principles. We won't give up because becoming a barrister demands fighting for justice and against injustice wherever it rears its ugly head. We never expected to be fighting our future regulator for basic human rights, but we are where we are.

The BSB have started a battle they cannot win, against students motivated by a desire for justice. They will not be allowed to get away with this one. 

Update: This post was updated on 19/08/2020 to include paragraph 10 beginning "And now, the BSB..."

Sunday, 19 July 2020

I like quiet

I like to be quiet. Many people would not necessarily have guessed that, because I'm 'loud-presenting'. In fact, I can be quite loud. I've never liked it about myself. But being loud always seemed to be easier than being quiet, because if you're loud the worst that people will think is that you're a bit obnoxious. And I can handle that because maybe I am a bit obnoxious. But if you're quiet, people worry that something's wrong because that's what being quiet means, right? It means something is wrong and then they won't leave you alone because they think something is wrong. Because you're quiet. And the one thing I like less than being loud is people thinking that I'm quiet and that, therefore, something is wrong. So maybe I don't like being quiet, I like being left alone and sometimes it feels like the only way to be left alone is to be the centre of attention. Hiding in plain sight, I suppose.

I saw a tweet recently trying to put a positive spin on lockdown and coronavirus. It asked what were those things from lockdown we would want to keep. I quite like the fact that people don't really touch me now. Walking is also fun. But mainly, not being expected to go anywhere or see anyone. Because I like to be quiet. I like to stay at home and read and write blog posts and scroll through Twitter. I like knowing that no one is judging me for that or worrying, "...because you seem quiet, is everything okay, you're not normally like this," except I am because that's me and it's just impossible to be quiet in a world that's so fucking loud. All the time. So I am loud because I have to be, not because I want to be but you think it's just who I am and then when I get so tired of pretending to be loud to fit in and I just shush for a bit. Because I just want to be quiet but it's not quiet if everyone is sort of worried about you, that's lots of noise and I don't like noise. I like quiet. Maybe it's because inside my head is loud enough. Maybe it's easier. Less performative. Just simpler. To be quiet. Don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.

When I lost my voice, I was quiet all the time. Obviously. And yes, it was humiliating trying to order coffee with a note on my phone. Thanks for asking. But it was also great because no one expected anything from me. I could just sit. And be quiet. No one worried that I was sad or upset or that anything was wrong. Ironically, of course, because this big thing was wrong, I couldn't fucking speak. But no one worried, because they knew that and therefore didn't have to ask what was wrong, so they just let me be quiet.  And I liked it. No one worried. I could just be. I didn't have to do anything. Which made more sense to me, I think, because, after all, we are human beings. Not human doings. Sometimes we just need to be. Quiet, yes, but also just be. And I think it's okay. It's hard, but it's okay. To be quiet.

I don't really know the point of this post. I guess it doesn't matter. Sometimes being quiet is a sign something is wrong. Sometimes, often, usually, most of the time it isn't. It's just being quiet.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Three men walk in a desert

Yesterday's Daf (Shabbat 92b) ended with  a new Mishna1 which stated:

  מַתְנִי׳ הַמּוֹצִיא כִּכָּר לִרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים — חַיָּיב. הוֹצִיאוּהוּ שְׁנַיִם — פְּטוּרִין. לֹא יָכוֹל אֶחָד לְהוֹצִיאוֹ וְהוֹצִיאוּהוּ שְׁנַיִם — חַיָּיבִין. וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן פּוֹטֵר.

  MISHNA: One who carries a large mass out to the public domain on Shabbat is liable. If two carried it out together, they are exempt because neither performed a complete prohibited labor. However, if one person is unable to carry it out alone, and therefore two people carried it out, they are liable. And Rabbi Shimon deems them exempt even in that case.

 The context is carrying an object on Shabbat, which is prohibited in Jewish Law, but it got me thinking about a common philosophical problem in criminal law:

 Consider a man, Bob, in a desert. Two people, John and Smith, want to kill Bob. John decides to poison Bob's water supply and Smith pokes a hole in his water bottle so the water trickles out. John and Smith have acted without knowing the other had also attempted to sabotage Bob's water bottle. Bob is both drinking poisoned water and then runs out of water. Eventually, he dies. It is impossible to determine which of the poisoning or dehydration was the cause of death. For the sake of argument, he drank just enough of the poisoned water to poison himself but also ran out of water such that dehydration killed him at exactly the same time that the poison took effect. It is also accepted that had either John or Smith acted alone, Bob would have died of the poisoning or dehydration alone at the same time as he died in the present scenario. Either act was sufficient to kill Bob. However, in deciding what was Bob's cause of death, it is impossible to say either the poisoning or the dehydration killed him because Bob would have died either way.

 The question is: Has either committed murder? The problem exists because, in English law at least, to be convicted of a murder you must be shown to have caused a person's death. If the person would have died without your intervention (and I mean in a temporally relevant way, obviously we are all going to die), then you are not guilty of murder. For example, if I shoot at a man who actually dies of a completely unrelated sudden heart attack that kills him instantly and, crucially, before my shooting caused a (for the sake of argument, definitely fatal) bullet wound, I have not committed murder. I may have committed attempted murder but simply put, I was not the cause of the man's death and therefore cannot be guilty of murder. So, if we cannot say whether the poisoning or the dehydration caused the death, who murdered Bob?

 Perhaps our Mishna can provide an answer. I should, before I continue, point out that I am taking this Mishna and Gemara completely in isolation. I am sure that the Rabbis have a specific opinion on and answer to precisely this sort of case. I look forward to reading it, if only because I can be almost certain that it will be far more complicated, complex, sophisticated and ultimately interesting than the extrapolation I have drawn here to answer the question, but nonetheless, let's go back to our Mishna. We learnt that if two people carried out a mass on Shabbat, they are exempt but if one person is unable to carry it out alone, and therefore two carried it out, they are liable.

The Gemara exapnds:

  זֶה יָכוֹל וְזֶה יָכוֹל — רַבִּי מֵאִיר מְחַיֵּיב, וְרַבִּי יְהוּדָה וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן פּוֹטְרִים. זֶה אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל וְזֶה אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל — רַבִּי יְהוּדָה וְרַבִּי מֵאִיר מְחַיְּיבִים וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן פּוֹטֵר. זֶה יָכוֹל וְזֶה אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל — דִּבְרֵי הַכֹּל חַיָּיב.

With regard to an action performed by two people, when this person is capable of performing it alone,and that person is capable of performing it alone, Rabbi Meir deems them liable, and Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon deem them exempt. If both this person is incapable and that person is incapable of performing the action alone, and therefore they performed it together, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir deem them liable, and Rabbi Shimon deems them exempt. If this person is capable, and that person is incapable, and they performed it together, everyone agrees that he is liable.

To apply this reasoning to our case, we need to ask: What are we dealing with here? (Dad Yomi fans will appreciate, or shake their head at, my play on Gemaric phrases) Given the terms outlined above, it is clearly a case where each person is capable of performing it alone - if Bob's water bottle had only been poisoned or had there only been a hole in his bottle, he still would have died. Thus John and Smith could have performed the action of murdering Bob alone. In such a case, Rabbi Meir deems them both liable, and Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon deem them exempt. And why?

It is based on a line from Leviticus where, in the context of committing a sin, the Torah uses the word "בַּעֲשֹׂתָהּ" which means "by performing it". "By performing it" is interpreted to mean:

 הָעוֹשֶׂה אֶת כּוּלָּהּ וְלֹא הָעוֹשֶׂה מִקְצָתָהּ. 

One who performs a transgression in its entirety is liable, and not one who performs only part of it.

The reason Rabbi Meir, who accepts this understanding of the verse, believes where two people are capable of performing the action alone but perform the action together they are liable is based on his interpretation of what the verse is applying to, and is not entirely helpful for answering the question of who murdered Bob. So we have an answer, sort of. What's perhaps most interesting, however, is the Rabbi's acceptance that "by performing it" comes to exclude performing only part of a transgression. To a lesser or greater degree, therefore, this means that you are only liable for those transgressions you complete in full.

This is most interesting when you consider the Gemara's application of it to cases where one is capable and the other incapable:

 אָמַר מָר: זֶה יָכוֹל וְזֶה אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל — דִּבְרֵי הַכֹּל חַיָּיב. הֵי מִנַּיְיהוּ מִיחַיַּיב? אָמַר רַב חִסְדָּא: זֶה שֶׁיָּכוֹל, דְּאִי זֶה שֶׁאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל — מַאי קָא עָבֵיד! אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַב הַמְנוּנָא: דְּקָא מְסַיַּיע בַּהֲדֵיהּ! אֲמַר לֵיהּ: מְסַיֵּיעַ אֵין בּוֹ מַמָּשׁ

 We learned earlier that the Master said: In a case where this person is capable, and this person is incapable, and they performed it together, everyone agrees that he is liable. The Gemara seeks to clarify: Which of them is liable? Rav Ḥisda said: The one who is capable of performing the act alone is liable, as if it was the one who is incapable of performing the act alone that was liable, what is he doing that would render him liable? His efforts are inadequate to perform the task. Rav Hamnuna said to Rav Ḥisda: He is doing quite a bit, as he is assisting him. He said to him: The assistance provided by one who assists another to perform a task that the other could have performed himself is insubstantial.

The Gemara goes on to delineate numerous examples where assistance is deemed insubstantial, in a bid to demonstrate this point. Can assistance provided by one who could not have performed the action themselves to one who could have performed it themselves, really be considered 'insubstantial'? If I'm physically incapable of boring a hole in a water bottle but I am so determined that Bob is murdered that I give my power drill which I give to Smith, am I really exempt because Smith owns his own power drill and can bore the hole? These are not points the Gemara is making, but I think they are worth pondering.

1 For those of you who are wondering what I am going on about: and

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

And Solskjaer has won it

Today is May 26th. To a United fan, even one too young to remember the season itself such as myself, that date will forever be etched on our minds as the date Solskjaer won it with virtually the last kick of the final. The game sums up everything that fans love about sport. The rollercoaster that following your favourite team can involve. Drama. Emotion. Coming back from the brink of disaster. Winning. One of the absences I have felt most keenly during lockdown is that of football, both its absence from my TV screen and the absence of travelling to watch it in person. I don't miss the two and a half hour train journey to Manchester or being cramped in an overstuffed tram whilst other fans drunkenly chant sexist songs all around me. But, and forgive me for being cliché about it, that feeling I get when Old Trafford comes into view and when I step out into the stadium and see the pitch makes it all worth it.

That season, 1998/99, was the starting point for me. I often ask my Dad whether I watched any of the games, was I a fan during that season. He can't remember. But I was addicted to watching the 'Treble' video in the years that followed. I learnt the commentary off by heart and walked around reciting it, over and over again. I recreated the goals, alone, in my garden (quite hard to do but five-year-olds have a way of imagining these things). I watched the video again. And again. And again. The worst punishment was being banned from watching the United game that weekend. I used to try and sneak downstairs and peak into the TV room when my Mum (it was always my Mum) was otherwise engaged. I remember running into my parents' room the morning after a midweek game to ask my Dad what the score had been. I remember when I was old enough to watch the first half when a game was on in the evening. Dancing around our kitchen when we beat Chelsea on penalties in 2008. All I wanted to do when I was younger was go to Old Trafford. To watch United. Just once would suffice. I do not remember when I found out my dream was coming true. But I remember that the journey was over eight hours because of traffic, my Dad nearly gave up and turned around to go home and all that stopped him was how excited he knew I was. He couldn't do that to me. I remember we played Spurs. I remember standing on my seat to see Ruud Van Nistelrooy score the only goal of the game. I remember David Beckham taking a throw-in directly in front of me. I remember loving every single second.

Nearly 20 years on from my first game, I've been a season ticket holder for the majority of that time. I've been incredibly lucky to have been to Old Trafford more times than that little kid who thought 'Sheringham' was called 'Cheerio' (I still have no idea where that came from) could ever have imagined. I have seen United legends such as Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Ronaldo and Rooney live. Great footballers such as Messi and more recently Mbappé. I was there when we beat Arsenal 8-2, and when we lost to City 6-1. I've seen us win trophies with late goals and wonder strikes. I've also seen us struggle. I've watched United in the freezing cold lose to a club from Romania that no one had ever heard of. I've shivered through a game in Ukraine barely watching because all I wanted to do was focus on staying warm. I would not trade a second of it for anything. There's just something about sport. About football. About United.

So yes, its absence is felt keenly. I am excited for when it is safe for fans to return. Football is not a matter of life or death and no, it is not more important than that, Mr Shankley. But it is important. Going to games is a shared experience that rivals any other. I have daydreams about my children coming with me. About going abroad for a game, like I have done with my Dad, and witnessing a great spectacle (beating PSG 3-1 with a last-minute penalty springs effortlessly to mind). There really is nothing quite like it. And May 26th 1999 will forever be the date that started my love affair with football. I didn't watch the game live. But I didn't have to. Not to understand what sport meant, what sport could do. We'll be back soon, arguing about VAR and offsides. Hoping that our rivals don't win any trophies. Winding our friends up when their team loses.

Until then, I'll just watch the moment United won the Treble on repeat.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

It's okay.

I don't know who needs to hear this but:

It's okay to stay inside when it's sunny and warm outside.

It's okay to eat lunch food at breakfast time.

It's okay to procrastinate.

It's okay to fail and have to try again.

It's okay to find that really popular book boring.

It's okay to okay to eat a slice of cheese and a tomato separately when you can't be bothered to make a sandwich.

It's okay to just be. And not do.

I don't know who needs to hear this but believe me, you're probably doing alright and certainly better than you think.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Tisha b'Av and lighting the sky

"Even, after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth 'you owe me'. Look at what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky."

I have a fondness for quotations. I have a particular fondness for this one. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the imagery of a lit sky, powered only by love that speaks to the romantic in me. Maybe it's the idea of a special kind of love, love that gives without question, without any expectations, without any demands, without any requests. Without wanting anything back in return. Keep that thought in mind.

Tisha B'av is the end of three weeks of mourning in the Jewish calendar. Those three weeks begins with the Fast of Tammuz when we mourn we mourn the breaching of Jerusalem's walls and the destruction of the Temple, culminating in Tisha b'Av, the ninth of Av, a fast day commemorating a number of tragedies and, specifically, the destruction of both Temples. We are taught the reason the Temples were destroyed, the reason such a tragedy befell the Jewish people is שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם - baseless hatred. The Gemara at Yoma 9b is clear. After discussing three reasons the First Temple was destroyed, the Gemara asks:

"מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם"

"...why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period." (Sefaria translates it here as 'wanton hatred', but that is the same as baseless hatred for our purposes).

The Gemara goes on to ask:

"ובמקדש ראשון לא הוה ביה שנאת חנם"

"The Gemara asks: And in the First Temple era was there really no baseless hatred?" (here, for some reason, Sefaria does translate it as 'baseless hatred')

The conclusion is that even those who were apparently close had a hatred for each other. So far, so simple. The Jewish people were hateful and both Temples were destroyed due to this grave sin. What's the point of this blog, already based on a tenuous connection and starting with a bizarre quotation?

Well, Rabbis and scholars have long debated what exactly baseless hatred is and provided a number of messages and thoughts on Tisha B'Av. I would like to share two. One that is a fairly common interpretation and one that I think is my own, though the more learnèd amongst my readership are free to correct me.

The months of the Jewish calendar, originally, were merely numbered - with the month of Nissan being the first month, representing the importance of the exodus from Egypt. Post-Babylonian exile, they were given names. Many have provided links between those names and the month itself and what happens in those months. For example, Shevat is believed to an ancient Akkadian word that is related to the word lashing and refers to 'lashings' of rain. This is, plausibly, a connection to the rain that would typically fall in the month of Shevat, a month also known in the Jewish calendar as the so-called New Year of the Trees. Rain, famously, quite important for trees. Tammuz, the month where the three weeks of mourning the destruction of the Temples begins is, either ironically or meaningfully, the name of an idol. This is possibly an allusion to and a reminder of the fact one of the reasons given in Yoma 9b for the destruction of the First Temple was idol worship. Rashi has a simpler idea, Tammuz is related to the Aramaic word for heat, Tammuz is also a summer month, normally hot. Nissan, aptly known as the month of miracles, is plausibly so-named for the numerous miracles that occurred, including the Exodus from Egypt. You get the picture. So what of Av?

Av means Father. Many sources explain the connection as a reminder that even when we, the Jewish people, sin, Hashem, our G_D, remains there, like a parent. G_D may punish us for our sins, but nonetheless, G_D remains our parent. The name of the month, therefore, serves as a reminder that no matter what we do, no matter how badly we sin and no matter how severe a punishment we deserve for that sin (and the destruction of the Temple is a high punishment, indeed), G_D remains, always, there. Just like any parent.

I have, however, a different interpretation. One that relates back to the quotation I am particularly fond of above. We are taught, as I have said, that the Temples were destroyed due to our baseless hatred. Perhaps, then, Av is not a reminder that Hashem is like a Father or Mother in that Hashem is always there. Instead, it is a reminder of what we need to do, as Jews, to bring the Temple back. Parental love is, often and normally, unconditional. You might even call it 'baseless love' if you were looking for a meaningful connection to tie this whole post together. The name of the month then is a constant and unfailing reminder to love without question, without any expectations, without any demands, without any requests. Without wanting anything back in return. Just like a parent. Perhaps that is what we need to do, as Jews, as people, to ensure the rebuilding of the Temple. It was destroyed because of baseless hatred. The path, I believe, to our redemption and its rebuilding must be paved with baseless love, the love that never, even after all this time, would say 'you owe me'. A love that lights the whole sky.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶֽיךָ, ה' אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ וֵֽאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ, שֶׁתִּבְנֶה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָשׁ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽינוּ

This post was edited on 29th July 2020, removing references to the Omer which are no longer relevant.