Last night, for the first time ever, I attended a Tishah B’Av study session – a joint venture between my own Temple Shaaray Tefila and Or Olam – The East 55th Street Synagogue, a neighboring Conservative congregation. Bookended by the singing of Hashiveinu, the hour-long gathering included beautiful chantings from Lamentations in both Hebrew and English, as well as a reading of Flavius Josephus’ eyewitness account of Jerusalem following its destruction by the Romans. The evening was rounded out by small group discussions in which we attempted to unravel the Talmudic tale of Kamza and Bar Kamza – a traditional reading for Tishah B’Av – and articulate possible connections between the story and this solemn fast day.
And so it was that I was especially interested to read Rabbi Yair Robinson’s explanation of why he doesn’t observe Tishah B’Av. Like Rabbi Robinson, I don’t want the return of Temple sacrifice, nor do I “want to be associated with those folks, who are interested in an undemocratic Israel and an unegalitarian Judaism.” As a Reform Jew, I understand, too, that “some rituals, [having] served their purpose…now should fall away.”
And yet, I keep thinking about Reform Judaism’s fairly recent embrace of the mikvah, the ritual bath. Although the vast majority of Reform Jews don’t use the mikvah at all, let alone to fulfill the laws of taharat ha-mishpachah (family purity), some of us have, in fact, reclaimed and reshaped the ritual as a Jewishly meaningful way to mark significant transitions and milestones in our lives. (My own mikvah experience, shortly after my divorce became final more than a decade ago, remains among my most powerful and memorable, but that’s a story for another post.)
Just as Reform Jews reshaped the mikvah for modern-day meaning and use, so too can we reclaim Tishah B’Av, as Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser has suggested in his interpretation, as “a day for mourning the catastrophe of our broken world.” Sadly, we still have much to mourn, and doing so will not only complement Reform Judaism’s longtime and steadfast commitment to social justice, but also will strengthen our resolve to tackle yet again the significant work that awaits us – individually and collectively – as God’s partners on the 10th of Av.
JanetheWriter is the executive writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. Additional writings can be seen on her blog, JanetheWriter Writes.