Publications

Tisha b'Av - A Brief Overview

Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Month of Av)

A Brief Overview

Origins and Significance

Tisha B'Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of national mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which coincidentally have occurred on the ninth of Av. The month of Av usually occurs during July/August.

Tisha B'Av is the culmination of a three week period of increasing mourning, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed. During this three week period, weddings and other parties are not permitted, and people refrain from cutting their hair. From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Shabbat) and from wearing new clothing.

Tisha B'Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).

            Although primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider the many other tragedies which occurred on this day and throughout Jewish history.

  • The sin of the spies caused the Almighty to decree that the Children of Israel who left Egypt would not be permitted to enter the land of Israel. This occurred on the ninth of Av.
  • The first Temple was destroyed;
  • The second Temple was destroyed;
  • Betar, the last fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 135, fell, sealing the fate of the Jewish people.
  • The city of Jerusalem was ploughed up by the Romans.
  • In 1492, King Ferdinand of Spain issued the expulsion decree, setting Tisha B'Av as the final date which decreed the expulsion of all Jews from the country unless they converted to Christianity.  
  • World War I – which began the downward slide to the Holocaust – began on Tisha B’av.

Why the Temples Were Destroyed - And the Purpose of the Fast

             The Talmud in Tractate Yomah explains that the First Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people had violated the three cardinal sins - forbidden sexual relations, murder, and idolatry. After they had repented (done teshuvah), the Jewish people returned from exile to Jerusalem to rebuild the Second Temple.

            The Talmud Yoma 9b lists "Sinat Chinam - baseless hatred - as the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple. According to Rashi, "Sinat Chinam - Gratuitous Hatred" is hatred directed towards individuals who have not committed any action for which it would be justifiable to hate them.

            The Jerusalem Talmud in the Tractate Yoma 1:1, says "Every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, should consider itself as if the Temple was destroyed in its days.

            It is clear that we have not yet repented for the terrible sin of baseless hatred otherwise the Temple would have been rebuilt.

            The purpose of the fast of the 9th of Av, as with every Jewish fast, is for us to spend the day examining our behavior. More specifically we have to look at what we might be doing to delay its rebuilding - and what we need to do in order to hasten it.

Some Source Texts

 ...Should I weep in the fifth month [Av], separating myself, as I have done these so many years? - Zechariah 7:3

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month ...came Nebuzaradan ... and he burnt the house of the L-RD... - II Kings 25:8-9

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month... came Nebuzaradan ... and he burnt the house of the L-RD... - Jeremiah 52:12-13

“How are these dates to be reconciled? On the seventh the heathens entered the Temple and ate therein and desecrated it throughout the seventh and eighth and towards dusk of the ninth they set fire to it and it continued to burn the whole of that day. ... How will the Rabbis then [explain the choice of the 9th as the date]? The beginning of any misfortune [when the fire was set] is of greater moment”. - Talmud Ta'anit 29a

Observances on the Eve and Day of Tisha B'Av

 The restrictions on Tisha B'Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur, i.e. to refrain from: eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; engaging in sexual relations.

People who are ill need not fast on this day.

 Work in the ordinary sense of the word [rather than the Shabbat sense] is also restricted.

 Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed: people refrain from levity, idle conversation, and sit on low stools.

 

  • The observance of Tisha B'Av begins with the donning of non-leather shoes (as is the law/custom for mourners) and the Seudah HaMafseket, the last meal before the fast commences. (During years when the fast starts on Saturday night we do not have a seuda HaMafseket.)

Unlike the elaborate feast we have before Yom Kippur, this meal is typically one course, usually consisting of a hard-boiled egg and some bread. Also, this meal is generally not eaten with others. It is customary to eat this meal seated on the floor or a low stool.

  • At the evening Ma'ariv service, the entire congregation sits on the floor, as is the custom for mourners and recites the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) where the prophet Jeremiah weeps the destruction, and we weep with him.
  • It is forbidden to greet friends or acquaintances on Tisha B'Av. However, if greeted first, one should answer, but in a low tone in order not to arouse resentment.
  • The morning of Tisha B'Av is the saddest part of the day. We recite Kinot (elegies of the day) , and men do not don Tefillin at Shacharit, because Tefillin are called "Pe’ar," "Glory," and this is definitely not a day of glory for the Jewish People.
  • Until Mincha (afternoon service) on Tisha B'Av one should try to avoid sitting on a chair or bench. Instead, the custom is to stand or sit on the floor, just like a mourner during the Shiva (traditional seven days of mourning a loved one).
  • Beginning at Mincha sitting on chairs is permitted, and we reduce the intensity of the grief that has pervaded us so far. Also, men put on Tefillin and recite those Tefillot that were omitted at Shacharit.

Observances for the Temple’s Destruction Year Round

Our Rabbis taught in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 60B:

 “ When the Temple was destroyed for the second time, large numbers in Israel became ascetics, binding themselves neither to eat meat nor to drink wine."

 R. Joshua got into conversation with them and said to them: "My children, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine?" They replied: "Shall we eat flesh which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that this altar is in abeyance? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the altar, but now no longer?"

He said to them: If that is so, we should not eat bread either, because the meal offerings have ceased. They said: [That is so, and] we can manage with fruit.

"We should not eat fruit either, because there is no longer an offering of first fruits." "Then we can manage with other fruits."

"But, we should not drink water, because there is no longer any ceremony of the pouring of water." To this they could find no answer, so he said to them: "My children, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow has fallen. To mourn too much is also impossible, because we do not impose on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure, as it is written, 'You are cursed with a curse, yet you rob me [of the tithe], even this whole nation.'

The Sages therefore have ordained the following: A man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare. (How much should this be? R. Joseph says, A cubit square; to which R. Chisda adds that it must be by the door.) A man can prepare a full-course banquet, but he should leave out an item or two. (What should this be? R. Papa says: The hors d'oeuvre of salted fish.) A woman can put on all her ornaments, but leave off one or two. (What should this be? Rav said: [Not to remove] the hair on the temple.) For so it says, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I remember thee not, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." What is meant by 'my chief joy'? R. Isaac said: This is symbolized by the burnt ashes which we place on the head of a bridegroom. R. Papa asked Abaye: Where should they be placed? [He replied]: Just where the phylactery is worn, as it says, "To appoint unto them  that mourn in Zion, to give then a garland [pe'er] for ashes [epher]."

 Whoever mourns for Zion will be privileged to behold her joy, as it says, "Rejoice with Jerusalem . . ."

 

Tu b'Av

 "There were no holidays as joyous for the Jewish People as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur …" (– Mishna Taanit)
"Tu B'Av" - The Fifteenth of Av
On the Fifteenth of Av, we observe the partial holiday of "Tu B'Av" - The Fifteenth of Av celebrating many happy events which occurred at various times over the history of the Jewish People. Some of these events were associated with the Temple; in the present temporary absence of the Temple, the degree of observance is (temporarily) somewhat diminished. A partial listing follows:

Why Tu B'Av?

The Talmud gives six possible reasons why Tu B'av was made a holiday:
•    Marriage between different tribes of Israel was permitted that day. In the desert, a ban on inter-tribal marriage insured that land would not pass out of the hands of the tribe it originally belonged to. [See Numbers 36]
•    Intermarriage with the tribe of Benjamin was once again permitted after the Pilegesh B'giva civil war. [See Judges 21] (R. Yosef in the name of R. Nachman)
•    The generation that left Egypt ceased to die in the wilderness. Consequently, Moses returned to his previous high level of prophecy. (Rabba bar bar Channa in the name of R. Yochanan)
•    King Hosea permitted residents of the Northern Kingdom to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, once again. (Ulla)
•    The dead of the great fallen city of Betar were granted burial by the Roman government.
•    Starting on the fifteenth of Av the sharp heat of the sun begins to wane. Wood cut after that date was thus unfit for use on the Altar -- it was feared to be wormy.

Last updated on: 12/17/2017
Join our email list