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August 1, 2017 by

How Reading the Prophets Through a Feminine Lens Illuminates Tisha B’Av

This week’s period of mourning on the Jewish calendar, and today’s day of mourning, Tisha B’Av, vary in their significance for those living in the sometimes-comfortable sometimes-challenging diaspora. Some view the holiday as an irrelevant memorial to an Ancient temple, others as a current remembrance of the roots of tragedy throughout both society in general and our ancestors and people in particular.

Lamentations is traditionally read on the Ninth of Av, and Isaiah and Jeremiah are also both read around this time in the Jewish calendar. In these texts, there is no shortage of imagery surrounding the many iterations of the weeping woman—Mother Rachel, the Mother of Zion, and the daughter of Zion. She is wearing tattered clothing. She is abandoned as a whoring woman by her fickle lovers. She is weeping as her children starve and lick the dust. She is primal in her crazed pursuit of survival. She is destroyed as she wails on a mountaintop, a black-clad banshee.

The divine mother is not a frequent image in modern day Judaism, and the divine daughter even less so. But it’s in this space of deep exile surrounding Tisha B’Av, when the people have lost all hope and identity, that we see her imagery ring out.

First, there is devastation.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the daughter of Zion as one who followed other lovers rather than the Divine God of Israel and was left alone in her fickleness. She is the shrew who practices matricide during famine, the whore who prefers trinkets to a stable home, the beggar clad in tattered robes atop a devastated mountain. Isaiah reminds her to rejoice with hope and be comforted in her misery, but first, she is violated down to her core when her temple is laid open, ravaged and devastated.

There are tears on her cheeks and she has no comfort. Her children are in captivity. Those who once sought her charms and beauty have given her the cold shoulder, she’s alone in her misery and none can comfort her from her pain. There are times that Lamentations reads like a weeping romance novel, the cries of a woman scorned and left to languish interspersed among analogies of a people with their homes destroyed, their Temple desecrated, their people murdered and their earth a wasteland. They leave behind all joy, hang their lyres up along the rivers of Babylon, and continue to weep in the image of a devastated mother.

But then comes comfort.

In the week following the Ninth of Av, the words of solace come forth. Isaiah soothes her tears and reminds her of joys to come. In Chapter 40, we read verses that understand the Divine as a comforting mother. The Divine never forsakes creation, like a shepherd who will not forsake their lambs of the flock. In Chapter 51, the urgent imagery asking the Daughter of Zion—“Ms. Zion”—to awaken, awaken, and shake off the dust of her clothing. To see that her ravaging, her defilement is over, and that she can pull herself together and pick up this nation, once and for all.

There are biblical scholars who allege parts of Isaiah were written by a woman, and while I don’t propose to bring that conversation here, I do believe that reading the prophets through a feminine lens, understanding the challenges of “Ms Zion” and the divine feminine of today has brought me to better understanding the deepest sorrows of our people—and our greatest hopes.

Sorrows coming in the form of subjugated femininity. Of young men incapable of expressing their emotions and sent to wars; of young women objectified for their bodies rather than honored for their inner strength. Of the earth defiled and ravaged for her resources without being protected and cherished, of embodied sacred acts stemming from the energies of “feminine” side being pushed away in favor of aggression, swagger, accomplishment and mind-based achievements.

The daughter of Zion weeps, and with her weeps the mothers of a nation. Every mother like Mother Rachel, every daughter like the defiled daughter of Zion, weeping for a world that’s sorely in need of it.

And maybe, just maybe, like the comforted Daughter of Zion in the latter part of Isaiah, we can comfort ourselves, too. Like a mother bird adjusting her wings to fly all her babies home safely, like the daughter of Zion shaking off her dusty rags, we too can arise. Arise, arise, shake off the dust. For the Daughter of Zion will rejoice and be happy, among the greatness of the Divine Infinite of Israel.


Rishe Groner is a writer and strategist living in Brooklyn. She is the founder of TheGene-Sis.com, a post-Hasidic embodied approach to self-transformation.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.