A Day of Mourning? I Don’t Think So.

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Today is a day on the Jewish calendar that I have never liked, and as I’ve grown in my confidence as a free-thinking Jew, I’ve decided not to observe it. Still, many people revere Tisha b’Av, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, and go through all the rituals of its presence.

Dried rose on old vintage wood plates

They fast for 25 hours, from sundown to sundown. They refrain from showering or wearing leather, they sit on the floor at the synagogue to listen to the wail of Lamentations, and they pray, long and hard, for a time when the world is a more peaceful place.

That is a notion I can get behind.

But the day itself is based on the destruction of two Temples in Jerusalem in ancient times. Many Jews also say that this is the day on which many calamities throughout the ages befell my people, and so we must mourn on this day every year until the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem one day in the future.

There are many things flawed with this logic. For one, how can modern people relate to a center of worship that they never knew or witnessed or experience? And then, had we been there in ancient times, the reality is that most of us would not have been granted access to the Temple service anyway, since mostly the service was carried out by the High Priests, or Kohanim.

Here’s the funny thing. I am considered a Kohain in my synagogue. In more rigid circles, though, I am merely a bat Kohain, daughter of a Kohain. You know, women don’t count.

Which got me thinking: in all rigid forms of religion – be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam, or Eastern religions, too – women are not granted access to the highest positions in ritual worship. There are no female priests in the Catholic Church, no female Imams in any mosque I know of. So right there, half the population is cut off from the fullest leadership of ritual observance.

And that’s today.

When we add in a time and a place thousands of years in the past, it becomes even harder to relate.

Jerusalem, Israel - July 16, 2015: Prayer at Western Wall on Tisha B'Av - annual fast day in Judaism, commemorates anniversary of destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, Israel – July 16, 2015: Prayer at Western Wall on Tisha B’Av – annual fast day in Judaism, commemorates anniversary of destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

I give a lot of credit to all the people I know who are observing this day right now – who are toiling in hunger and thirst, who are twiddling their thumbs, glancing at the clock to see how many hours are left in this indomitable fast.

Not me.

I don’t believe religion is meant to make us feel bad. In fact, I believe the complete opposite: that religion is there to strengthen us, to build us up, to give purpose and meaning to our lives.

When it becomes to distant, obscure or unreachable, it ceases to work.

Religion for me is my community coming together to recite the familiar lilt of the prayers, to kiss the holy text, to sit down for a meal together over familiar foods that have meaning in each bite.

Religion is something that gives order to my days, weeks, months and years. Religion answers the question why, when I can’t find an answer myself.

I don’t believe in a religion that makes me feel about who I am or how I was born (female) or anything else.

I remember many years ago when I was in my first marriage, my best friend and her partner came to our Passover table. And my very religious ex whispered to me before they arrived that they could not pour wine for us, because they were not Jewish, and it was not allowed.

Pouring red wine into glasses in the vineyard, tonedSo the thinking went in ancient times, if a Gentile poured wine for me, and we drank together, we might grow fond of one another and intermarry. And then the traditions would die out.

I cringed when he told me that. My best friend can absolutely pour wine for me. How special that she joined me at the Passover table to dissect the text and read the story of our delivery out of slavery in Egypt! How special that she took the time to observe a tradition that was not hers, but was open enough to share it with us.

No way would I draw that line of separation. It’s just not who I am nor how I believe.

What I believe, from the fullest part of my heart, is that all good people are more similar than we are different. That the rituals we choose in our lineages of tradition bear resemblance to one another and it is there that we can come together and explore how my tradition and your tradition have common ground.

Not difference.

Pour the wine. I can handle the outcome!

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