Everything you need to know about the saddest Jewish day Tisha B’av
Tisha B’Av 2014
Begins in the evening of Monday, August 4 at 8:08 PM and
Ends in the evening of Tuesday, August 5 at 8:40 PM
These days are referred to as the period “within the straits” (bein hametzarim), in accordance with the verse: “All her oppressors have overtaken her within the straits” (Lamentations 1:3).
During this time, various aspects of mourning are observed by the entire nation. We minimize joy and celebration – no weddings are held, we do not listen to music, nor are there haircuts or shaving. The expressions of mourning take on greater intensity as we approach the day of Tisha B’Av.
Since the attribute of Divine judgment (“din”) is acutely felt, we avoid potentially dangerous or risky endeavors.
On Shabbat during the Three Weeks, the Haftorahs are taken from chapters in Isaiah and Jeremiah dealing with the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people.
Agonizing over these events is meant to help us conquer those spiritual deficiencies which brought about these tragic events. Through the process of “teshuva” – self-introspection and a commitment to improve – we have the power to transform tragedy into joy. In fact, the Talmud says that after the future redemption of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple, these days will be re-dedicated as days of rejoicing and festivity.
The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B’Av. As his passed a synagogue he heard the sounds of mourning and crying. “What’s this all about?” Napoleon asked. An aide explained that the Jews were in mourning the loss of their Temple. “When did this happen?” Napoleon asked. The aide replied, “About 1700 years ago.” Napoleon said, “Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long, will merit to see it rebuilt!”
Seventeenth of Tammuz
The beginning of a 3-week period of mourning is the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day commemorating the fall of Jerusalem, prior to the destruction of the Holy Temple.
On the 17th of Tammuz, no eating or drinking is permitted from the break of dawn until dusk. (Should the day coincide with Shabbat, the fast is delayed until Sunday.)
Five great catastrophes occurred in Jewish history on the 17th of Tammuz:
- Moses broke the tablets at Mount Sinai – in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
- The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, after the Kohanim could no longer obtain animals.
- Jerusalem’s walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
- Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.
- An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple – a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.
The Nine Days
The period commencing with Rosh Chodesh Av is called the “Nine Days.” During this time, a stricter level of mourning is observed, in accordance with the Talmudic dictum (Ta’anit 26): “When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy.”
During this time the additional “signs of mourning” include abstaining from meat and wine (except on Shabbat) and from doing laundry or wearing freshly laundered clothes (except on Shabbat). We also do not bathe for pleasure, though it is permitted to bathe in cool water in order to remove dirt or perspiration. For more details, see “The Three Weeks.”
Tisha B’Av – Ninth of Av
The intensity of mourning reaches a peak on Tisha B’Av, five national calamities occurred:
- During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 12 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
- The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar. (586 BCE)
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. (70 CE)
- The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. (135 CE)
- The Temple Mount was plowed under, and Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city.
Other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history coincided with the Ninth of Av, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the outbreak of World War One in 1914, and the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.
During the late afternoon prior to Tisha B’Av, it is customary to eat Seudah Hamaf-seket – a meal consisting only of bread, water and a hard-boiled egg. The food is dipped in ashes, symbolic of mourning, and eaten while seated on the ground. (The rules are slightly different when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat or Sunday.)
Sundown marks the commencement of Tisha B’Av, where no eating or drinking is permitted until nightfall the following evening. It is also forbidden to bathe or wash, wear leather shoes, or engage in marital relations. We also do not learn Torah, except for texts relevant to Tisha B’Av and mourning – e.g. the book of Lamentations and Job, and certain sections of the Talmud (including the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza).
The Book of Eicha (Lamentations), Jeremiah’s poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, is read in the synagogue as part of the evening service. Special “Kinot” (elegies) are also recited, both at night and during the day.
Other mourning practices include sitting on a low chair (after midday, a regular chair permitted; see “Laws of Shoes and Chairs”). We also minimize business and leisure activities.
Following Tisha B’Av, all normal activities may be resumed, except for the following which are delayed until midday of the 10th of Av, because the burning of the Temple continued through the 10th of Av: haircuts, washing clothes, bathing, listening to music, and eating meat and wine.
What Happened on the Ninth of Av?
On Tisha B’Av, five national calamities occurred:
- During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
- The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
- The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar – the Jews’ last stand against the Romans – was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
- The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city – renamed Aelia Capitolina – and access was forbidden to Jews.
Other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history occurred on the Ninth of Av, including:
- The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B’Av in 1492.
- World War One broke out on the eve of Tisha B’Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
- On the eve of Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
Aspects of Mourning: The Afternoon Before Tisha B’Av
During the afternoon prior to Tisha B’Av, it is customary to eat a full meal in preparation for the fast.
At the end of the afternoon, we eat the Seudah Hamaf-seket – a meal consisting only of bread, water, and a hard-boiled egg.
The egg has two symbols: The round shape reminds us of a sign of the cycle of life. Also, the egg is the only food which gets harder the more it is cooked – a symbol of the Jewish people’s ability to withstand persecution.
Food eaten at the Seudah Hamaf-seket is dipped in ashes, symbolic of mourning. The meal should preferably be eaten alone, while seated on the ground in mourner’s fashion.
When the afternoon prior to Tisha B’Av occurs on Shabbat, there is no Seudah Hamaf-seket with eggs and ashes. Rather, the regular Shabbat “third meal” is eaten, albeit without guests and fanfare.
Restrictions on Tisha B’Av
Upon sundown, the laws of Tisha B’Av commence – consisting of the following expressions of mourning:
1. No eating or drinking until nightfall the following evening.
- Pregnant and nursing women are also required to fast. If one suspects it could be harmful to the baby or mother, a rabbi should be consulted.
- A woman within 30 days after birth need not fast.
- Others who are old, weak, or ill should consult with a rabbi. (MB 554:11)
- Medicine may be taken on Tisha B’Av, preferably without water.
- In case of great discomfort, the mouth may be rinsed with water. Great care should be taken not to swallow anything. (MB 567:11)
2. Other prohibitions include:
- Any bathing or washing, except for removing specific dirt – e.g. gook in the eyes (OC 554:9, 11). (Upon rising in the morning, before prayers, or after using the bathroom, one washes only the fingers. See OC 554:10, OC 613:3, MB 554:26)
- Anointing oneself for pleasure. (Deodorant is permitted.)
- Having marital relations.
- Wearing leather shoes. (Leather belts may be worn.)(see: Laws of Shoes and Chairs)
- Learning Torah, since this is a joyful activity. It is permitted to learn texts relevant to Tisha B’Av and mourning – e.g. the Book of Lamentations, Book of Job, parts of Tractate Moed Katan, Gittin 56-58, Sanhedrin 104, Yerushalmi end of Ta’anis, and the Laws of Mourning. In-depth study should be avoided. (MB 554:4)
3. Other mourning practices include:
- Sitting no higher than a foot off the ground. After midday, one may sit on a chair. (OC 559:3)(see: Laws of Shoes and Chairs)
- Not engaging in business or other distracting labors, unless it will result in a substantial loss. (OC 554:24)
- Refraining from greeting others or offering gifts. (OC 554:20)
- Avoiding idle chatter or leisure activities.
4. Following Tisha B’Av, all normal activities may be resumed, except for the following which are delayed until midday of the 10th of Av, because the burning of the Temple continued through the 10th of Av:
- Haircuts and washing clothes. (When Tisha B’Av falls out on Thursday, these are permitted immediately following Tisha B’Av, in honor of the coming Shabbat.)
- Bathing. (When Tisha B’Av falls out on Thursday, bathing is permitted on Friday morning.)
- Eating meat and wine.
- Music and swimming.
Prayer on Tisha B’Av
- Lights in the synagogue are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain is removed from the Ark. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice. This reminds us of the Divine Presence which departed from the Holy Temple.
- The Book of Eicha (Lamentations), Jeremiah’s poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, is read both at night and during the day.
- Following both the night and day service, special “Kinot” (elegies) are recited.
- In the morning, the Torah portion of Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read, containing the prophecy regarding Israel’s future iniquity and exile. This is followed by the Haftorah from Jeremiah (8:13, 9:1-23) describing the desolation of Zion.
- In the afternoon, Exodus 32:11-14 is read. This is followed by the Haftorah from Isaiah 55-56.
- Since Tallis and Tefillin represent glory and decoration, they are not worn at Shacharit. Rather, they are worn at Mincha, as certain mourning restrictions are lifted.
- Birkat Kohanim is said only at Mincha, not at Shacharit.
- Prayers for comforting Zion and “Aneinu” are inserted into the Amidah prayer at Mincha.
- Shortly after the fast is broken, it is customary to say Kiddush Lavana.