What is Tisha B’Av

Reprinted with permission from My Jewish Learning

Large Fallen Stones near the Western Wall

Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (which coincides with July and/or August), is the major day of communal mourning in the Jewish Calendar. Although many disasters are said to have befallen the Jews on this day, the major commemoration is of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively. Fasting is central to this day. Although the exact date of the destruction of each of the Temples, the ancient centers of Jewish life and practice, is unknown, tradition dates the events to Tisha B’Av. The rabbis of the Talmudic age claimed that God ordained this day as a day of disaster, as punishment for the lack of faith shown by the Israelites during their desert wanderings after the exodus from Egypt. Over the course of the centuries, multiple tragedies have clustered around this day, from the expulsions of the Jews from England and Spain to more localized disasters. Tisha B’Av is thus observed as a day of communal mourning, expressed by fasting and abstaining from pleasurable activities and diversions. A literature of dirges for this day of mourning has been created, beginning with the biblical Book of Lamentations on the destruction of the First Temple.

A three-week period of low-level mourning leads up to the holiday of Tisha B’Av; the three weeks commemorate the final siege of Jerusalem that led to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It is traditional to refrain from public celebrations, such as weddings, and to refrain from shaving, as is done during personal mourning. The last nine days of these weeks culminating in Tisha B’Av are a deeper period of mourning. It is appropriate to avoid eating meat; some who did not previously take on certain aspects of mourning, such as refraining from shaving, will assume these signs of mourning during these nine days. Tisha B’Av is a day of intense mourning, similar to Yom Kippur in many respects. It is a day of fasting, and a day to refrain from washing, sexual activity, using perfume and ointments, and wearing leather. The Book of Lamentations, Megillat Eicha, and other dirges, kinot, are read in the synagogue. Visits to places of mourning, such as cemeteries, reflect the mood of the day, which continues even at the break fast meal at the conclusion of Tisha B’Av, when neither meat nor wines are consumed.

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