Friday, July 27, 2012

9 days as a Vegetarian - Reflections on the first nine days of Av


For the last week or so, Morningstar farms products and Cholula hot sauce have been my best friends.  No, I have not converted from being a carnivore (I'm way too weak!), rather I was observing the practices associated with the first nine days of the Jewish month of Av.  Here is a description from the new Rabbinical Assembly publication, The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews:


The days between Rosh Ḥodesh Av and the Ninth of Av are called the Nine Days and are called the Nine Days and are characterized by the rabbinic dictum: “When Av begins, our joy is diminished” (M Ta·anit 4:6). Except on Shabbat, it is customary to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during this nine-day period (SA Oraḥ Ḥayyim 551:9, where several variants of this custom are listed). The reason for both prohibitions is simply that meat and wine are commonly associated in our tradition with joy and celebration. 


These nine days were a great challenge for me as I am used to eating meat at least a couple times during the week.  I had to be inventive, and I came up with many different ways to cook fake meat and also pasta.  The reason why we refrain from meat is because meat and wine are symbols of joy in Judaism.  On Purim, we are commanded to have meat and wine at our Purim seudot (festive meals), and I look at Av as kind of an anti-Adar, the month that Purim falls in which is known by its catch phrase, "Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B'Simcha - When the month of Adar arrives we should increase our joy."  But I had some other feelings not eating meat related to the Temple.  Our holy Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, was one of the bloodiest places imaginable because of the amount of animal sacrifice that took place as part of worship.  Animal sacrifice (meat) was how we showed expressed ourselves to the divine.  On the ninth of Av, we commemorate the destruction of the second Temple which occurred in 70 C.E.  With the loss of the Temple came the loss of the very soul of the Jewish people - we lost our physical expression to God.  Of course, we have moved on from our Temple.  Now we worship God through Avodah sheBalev, the service of the heart, in other words, our prayers, our tefillot.  The very L'htipallel, to pray, actually means to judge oneself.  During our prayers, we turn inward, meditating on various the various themes of our journeys as a people and our own spiritual journeys as individuals.

I imagine that animal sacrifice must have invoked the same feelings.  One would bring a live animal to the Temple to be sacrificed, but you did not just leave the animal there, you were a part of the process.  After the sacrifice, you would eat the meat as a sort of meal with God.  The sharing of a meal with someone implies connection; it is hard to break bread with someone who you do not want to be in relationship with.  Losing the Temple meant losing that daily physical relationship with our creator.  Refraining from eating meat and drinking wine emphasizes what we have lost with the destruction of our Temple thousands of years ago.

I wish I could do this every week, refrain from eating meat until Shabbatot and holidays, the times of greatest connection with God, but I fear I will fall back into my normal practice.  However, I am glad I got to experience the feelings of refraining from meat at least this week.  I look forward to my glass of wine and my meat filled Shabbat dinner tonight as I prepare for the 25 hour fast on Saturday night.    Shabbat Shalom and have a meaningful fast.