Darkness & Destruction: The Dark Knight Rises in Av

July 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm, by

Americans saw the release of The Dark Knight Rises last Friday, the first day of the dark Hebrew month of Av.

The Mishnah tells us that we lessen our joy when Av enters the scene (Ta’anit 4:6), and the Aurora shooting coinciding with this new month just points to another dark moment when Av has witnessed tragedy.

The Bible records the destruction of the the First Temple in Jerusalem 586 BCE around the ninth day of Av. The earliest of rabbis record the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE also around the ninth of Av. The Babylonian Talmud teaches that the destruction of the First Temple was caused by murder (among other sins), and the Second Temple was caused by sin’at chinnam (“baseless hatred,” or, more literally, “free hatred”–like the opposite of peace-loving “free love”) (Yoma 9b).

Sin’at chinnam and subhuman instinct stood behind many other tragic moments of world history that took place on Tish’ah Be’Av (“the 9th of Av“). These events include the beginning of the First Crusade in 1096, the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the breakout of World War I in 1914.

And just as the Temples’ destructions did not take place on Tish’ah Be’Av itself, the beginning of Av has witnessed other tragedies from this same period. In fact, while some focus solely on the 9 days leading up to Tish’ah Be’Av, others focus on the Three Weeks between the fast of Shiv’ah Asar BeTammuz (the 17th of the Hebrew month Tammuz, when Jews witnessed the first breach of the walls surrounding Jerusalem).

While the Three Weeks begin and close with a fast day (Shiv’ah Asar BeTammuz and Tish’ah Be’Av), these days alone do not mark all Jewish tragedies. In fact, Asarah BeTevet and Tzom Gedalyah are also associated with calamities leading up to the destruction of the Temples, and they are both several months away from Av

Now weighed down further with the baggage of the Aurora shooting, The Dark Knight Rises–a movie that entered the USA simultaneously with the month of Av–forces its audience into a dark period of blurred tragedies undeniably close to the original Tish’ah Be’Av.


Bane (played by Tom Hardy), the most active of the film’s antagonists, constantly seeks new ways to bring terror, insecurity and hatred to the people of Gotham. Together with the League of Shadows, Bane works towards striking fear everywhere he can–airplanes, the stock exchange, the offices of private corporations, the football stadium, the bridges out of town, and more.

These villains are without mercy and without reason. They are sin’at chinnam incarnate.

Exactly when or how long the dark reign of the League of Shadows lasts is unclear. Unable to take the tragic news anymore, Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) breaks the TV screen that is his only outlet to the outside world at and beyond the 80th day of the siege on Gotham.

After prisoners have broken loose and begun to rule the city anew, some of Gotham’s least evil faces stand on trial. But no matter who stands before the judge (Scarecrow, played by Cillian Murphy), the accused is sentenced to one of two options: Death or Exile.

In a Jerusalem under siege, these two life sentences were the only options as well. Lose your quality of life through exile, or just die. But there is little difference.

In Christopher Nolan‘s latest Batman film, we see the sentenced to exile literally falling through the cracks of the icy cold wilderness beyond the city–presumably never to be seen again. And, when Scarecrow senses that Commissioner Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) has chosen death over exile, Scarecrow rules Gordon’s sentence: “Death by Exile.”

Whether exile leads to spiritual death or physical death, I was moved watching this film as Av begins to take shape. Far more than any other film I’ve seen, The Dark Knight Rises exposes the true incoherency of destructive evil and sin’at chinnam. That we rarely know with whom “the Cat” (a.k.a. Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway) aligns, whether Bane can treat any of his partners in crime with decency, and which fellow football enthusiast  holds the trigger that can blow up the whole city–all of this points back to the moment of one Jew killing another Jew in the ultimate act of the distrusting kinship that stands behind Tzom Gedalyah (recalling the Jewish killing of the Jewish governor Gedalyah). 

The Dark Knight Rises is a film about many of the same themes as Tish’ah Be’Av and other Jewish fast days: destruction, despair, distrust, disillusionment. The strength of the film is not its plot so much as it is the emotional roller coaster we ride when we follow the chaos that rules Gotham City.

Perhaps the appeal of The Dark Knight Rises is its utter lack of peace and order. Americans are privileged to live in a relatively tame country as far as crime goes, and so it is revolting when one person’s insanity comes at the expense of the lives of so many others.

The Dark Knight Rises demonstrates what absolute fear just might look like. Amidst the other calamities of Av and memories of destruction and despair, may those who lost loved ones in the Aurora shooting never again know such fear. May they further find comfort when it is once again easy to believe that American images of such great sin’at chinnam almost exclusively come in the form of fictional action films and comic books, in religious mythology, and in history that is often too hard to remember.

For very, very good reasons.

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1 Comments So Far

  1. Jonah, saw your posting on Sheva and followed the link. Very interesting, especially on Tisha b’Av after hearing Echa twice and studying kinot. I will forward your posting and link. Another movie I will not watch.

    Lorri, July 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm #
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