The temple is in exile, and this may be why midwives are scarce, birth takes place in the realm of the sick, and healers know better how to cut open the womb than to deliver a baby from it. Many labor without delivering: the gate opens too slowly. The heart rate plunges, the emergency unfolds, the exit from the womb comes with a breach in the wall. One-third of all births are Caesarean births. We have lost the keys to the temple.
We have lost the sounds of the temple, the murmuring of the rituals and the voices of prayer. Women become pregnant and they tell no one, for fear they will have to tell that there was a miscarriage. They feel joy and do not speak. They are sick, they vomit, they do not explain. They go to work, they care for others. There are no stories of birth on television, only stories of doctors who bravely catch babies as they emerge from somewhere. The temple is silent. Who will open up this silence?
Her essay speaks to me in powerful ways, for reasons which are probably obvious. Beyond that, I admire her radical revisioning of what it might mean -- especially for women -- to be in mourning for the temple we have lost.
And Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, teacher of my teachers, offers Prayers for the Ninth of Av. He notes that during the afternoon mincha service, when tradition holds that the transformation begins to be possible, we add a special prayer for Jerusalem to the amidah (central standing prayer.) He offers a new prayer in place of the traditional one. In English, his prayer begins:
Comfort, Yah our God,
all who mourn your sacred house,
who grieve the holy wholeness it contained.
Comfort especially those who live most closely
in the shadow of its memory,
amidst the shattered sacredness of Your Holy
City, the city of many names and owners;
Capital of the state of Israel,
the beginnings of our redemption,
Al Quds, the apple of the eye of Palestine...
I appreciate that his prayer acknowledges Jerusalem's dual identity. If peace is ever to come to the Middle East, we will all need to acknowledge that "our" holy city is also "their" holy city, and that we and they need to find a way to honor her through living side by side. Anyway, whether or not you'll be praying a formal mincha amidah tomorrow, I recommend Reb Zalman's prayer, which you can read in Hebrew and in English at his blog post.
And finally -- if you're not in a place where you can listen to the chanting of Eicha/Lamentations on Tisha b'Av, you can hear the whole poem sung in Hebrew according to the haunting melody used only on Tisha b'Av here at VirtualCantor.com or here at Len Fellman's website. Len has also set Simon Zucker's "Lamentation on the Holocaust" to Eicha trope -- a beautiful example of setting an English-language text to fit the carrier-wave of classical cantillation.