So I’m pretty sure Tisha B’Av is the yoga of Jewish holidays. But before I tell you why, I first have to acknowledge that there’s debate in Jewish circles about the compatibility of yoga and Judaism. I’ve heard arguments that elements of yoga border on idolatry, and I’ve heard other knowledgeable Jews maintain that yoga is a form of exercise, not a religion.
I’m one of those Jews who attends yoga classes for the body work, not as a spiritual endeavor, but I do happen to like the closing line that most yoga teachers say as we take our last breaths on the mat: The light within me honors the light within you.
To some people, “The light within me honors the light within you,” sounds like new age mutterings or hippy-dippy baloney, but I think that line sounds Jewish.
Recognizing the existence of a soul within each person and the Godliness of that soul happens to be a Jewish thing to do, and it’s Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, that reminds me of the importance of relearning that lesson year after year.
For those in need of a brief refresher or a first-time explanation, Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) is the final day of a three-week mourning period on the Jewish calendar commemorating several disasters in Jewish history, most notably the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. Even the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and the beginning of World War I, happened on the ninth of Av. Jews do not get married during the three weeks and other customs surrounding the laws of mourning are observed as well, ending with a full-day fast on Tisha B’Av, which begins this year on the evening of July 25.
According to the Talmud, the destruction of the Second Temple came about because of baseless hatred among Jews. As a result, we are a scattered people. Not only are we separated physically, but the heart of our nation has never healed. Jews are not united. Not even close.
Members of one denomination seem to feel entitled to look down on the next, and it goes in all directions. It was only a few weeks ago when Israel’s minister of religious services said that he did not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish. (It should be noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected the remarks and said they do not reflect the position of the government.) That type of looking down on less observant Jews can even go to the extreme of spitting at women not dressed modestly enough, or in some instances, hurling rocks.
I’ve also heard and read harsh judgment, hateful speech, and misunderstanding about Orthodox Jews from liberal or secular Jews who paint all observant Jews with a broad brush and refuse to see the reality that these “groups” are made up of individuals.
Then there’s the comments from Conservative Jews who “can’t stand Reform services.” The infighting goes on and on.
Can you imagine a Jewish community focused on similarities more than differences? At the very least, we could learn to stop fearing each other. Then perhaps we could go the next step to learn from each other. An end to “baseless hatred” could start with the recognition that each soul on Earth has a mission and a purpose, and it’s not up to the rest of us to decide whether other peoples’ actions are helping or hurting their missions.
I know this is all sounding a bit Kumbaya, but I do speak from the positive experience of learning from all kinds of Jews and benefitting from a variety of voices of wisdom. I have spent the last two decades studying in some capacity with Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Orthodox men and women—rabbis and lay people alike. What I’ve learned from each teacher is impossible to articulate in one blog post, but I’m confident that my Jewish identity is more dynamic for the variety of Jewish influences I’ve invited into my life.
I admit that my desire (and my husband’s) to move fluidly within contradictory Jewish circles can make things difficult for our family to fit into any particular community. Sometimes my older two kids want to know what label they should use if people ask what kind of Jews we are. It’s an impossible question to answer, but at this point my husband and I think that’s all right.
Our lives are enriched by all the communities we’re a part of, even if we are not a complete match for any of them. What kind of Jews are we in this household? We strive to be the kind that recognize the value of every soul we meet—Jewish or not, similar to us or not. I don’t see a need for a label, and what good have these labels done anyway?
Let it be that my kids learn to answer, “We’re Jewish.” Let them recognize and honor the Godliness (“the light”) of every living being and let them live to see the Jewish people unified again. And if this were the end of a yoga class, I might say Namaste, but at this point Amen sounds about right.