Elyse Goldstein, in her recent piece, “Why I’m Not Fasting on Tisha B’Av,” makes a number of thoughtful points regarding the upcoming national day of Jewish mourning.  I commend her for her principled and intentional living and would like to respond with my own take on some of her themes. She says:

I’m not fasting because the oldest symbol of that so-called “unity” — the Western Wall — is a battleground for religious pluralism, and I imagine that if the kohanim were still around, they would be on the side of the Haredim, not on the side of those women who, like me, want to be full participating Jews there with tallit, tefillin, and Torah.

I’m not fasting because I’m afraid of what it would look like for women if we actually rebuilt the Temple.

The Talmud says that the reason the Temple was destroyed – one of the major occasions we mourn on this day – is baseless hatred. And that all the while we still engage in it, a new Temple cannot be rebuilt. So I feel that as long as there is infighting, at the Kotel or anywhere else, we MUST mourn, we MUST fast, we must demonstrate that it is not OK. The Temple I envision, that I have learned about, is a Temple of unity for all, where both men and women achieve spiritual fulfillment and joy in varied yet deeply engaging ways. The Temple I pray for is the one in which there are no Haredim, no secular, no men vs. women, no feminists vs. traditionalists. If this sounds utopian and messianic it’s because that’s exactly the miracle I am praying for.

To imagine whether that Temple will include women in tefillin or not, religious equality as we imagine it, what the people “allowed” therein will be wearing or believing, is to painfully limit the Temple to our own small human boxes. This is the constraint I fast for. I mourn because I believe in the miracle of dreaming bigger than this, and because we’re not yet there. Fasting reminds me.

Elyse continues:

Eventually in our day, all Jews have the authority to be their own priests, to hold holiness in their own hands, to read their own Psalms as they ascend the stairs of their synagogue, to lead their own prayers, and even to make their own halachic decisions. I celebrate that democratization.

Democracy is rule by the people. This is a good, maybe the best, man-made system of governance ever invented. I’m a fan. But if I believe in a holy, eternal, all-knowing and all-powerful being, who is also all-loving and all-good, then I think a world of rule by Him is even better. It is for this reason that I mourn – for that loss. For that vanished clarity. For that broken connection. Rule by the people is only as good as the people. When I look around at the Jewish people and ask myself the tough question, “So how are we doing as a light unto the nation, guys?” I feel just a little bit depressed. In some ways we’re doing great. In others we’re failing. It is for this that I must fast and must mourn.

On the modern state of Israel, Elyse says:

And I’m not fasting because I believe we are already living in the third period, in the time of the sovereign nation of Israel, and though the Temple doesn’t exist anymore, Israel certainly does.

I travel to Israel at least annually. I have had a child living there almost uninterrupted for the past four years. We ourselves started our married lives there and our first three children were born there (Shaarei Tzedek: best hospital evah). But modern Israel also must be mourned. That our children have to fight for our national survival. That our enemies kill us. That the infighting is so bad there, it embarrasses me as an educator and as a fellow Jew.

There is so, so much to celebrate about Israel but Tisha B’Av is not the day to celebrate. Tisha B’Av is the day to say: it’s not good enough. We can be better. We can have peace – within and without. We can have moral governance. We can love our neighbors and they can love us. We can abolish poverty. We can. And because we haven’t yet, I fast. And I mourn.

While we are mourning the destruction of a mythical “unity” — one we never had, with the infighting of the Pharisees and Saducees, Essenes and Zealots to name a few — we are blinded to the reality of destructive narratives in both Israel and the Diaspora today.

This is not the “unity” I mourn. This is the baseless hatred of which I speak. The unity I mourn only happened once in our history: the era of King Solomon, where we did have peace, prosperity, spiritual clarity and love. The Jewish unity I mourn encompasses not hegemony or sameness but 12 tribes, different yet in love. The Jewish unity I mourn is like a family where each member is a different flower and the leaders know, wisely, how to tie a huge bow around them all and make it a bouquet.

And precisely because we don’t yet have that, precisely for the reasons that Elyse is not fasting, I am. Because I believe it can, and will be better, and I never want to forget that.