Literally, the “ninth day” in the Jewish month of Av, which starts at sundown on the eighth day and concludes at sundown on the ninth day of Av. This is the day when the intensity of the entire three week mourning period reaches its peak. Tisha B’Av begins at sundown, Saturday, August 10 and concludes at sundown, Sunday, August 11th.
According to our sages, many tragic events occurred to our ancestors on this day:
- The sin of the spies caused Hashem (G-d) to decree that the Children of Israel who left Egypt would not be permitted to enter the land of Israel;
- 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.
- One year after the fall of Betar, the Temple area was plowed.
- In 1492, King Ferdinand of Spain issued the expulsion decree, setting Tisha B’Av as the final date by which not a single Jew would be allowed to walk on Spanish soil.
- World War I – which began the downward slide to the Holocaust – began on Tisha B’av.
The prohibitions on Tisha B’Av itself are similar to those of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). In addition to not eating or drinking, we are not allowed to wash, anoint oneself or wear leather shoes. In a prohibition more stringent than on Yom Kippur, we are only allowed to study certain portions of the Torah, Five Books of Moses, and Talmud, regarded as the basis for all codes of Jewish law, on Tisha B’Av.
The observance of Tisha B’Av begins with the Seudah HaMafseket, the last meal before the fast commences.
NOTE: 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 to avoid having a Zimmun (quorum for public blessing) at Birchat HaMazon. Zimmun indicates permanence, habit and durability. We avoid the Zimmun because we’d prefer not to make this mournful meal a recurring experience. It is customary to eat this meal seated on the floor or a low stool.
- Until Mincha 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 (phylacteries) and recite those Tefillot (prayers) that were omitted at Shacharit. “There are three prayers recited every day, Shacharit (the morning service), Mincha (the afternoon service), and Maariv (the evening service).
- 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.
- At the evening Ma’ariv prayer service, the entire congregation sits on the floor and recites the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) where the prophet Jeremiah weeps the destruction, and we weep with him.
- The morning of Tisha B’Av is the saddest part of the day. We recite Kinot, dirges or elegies traditionally recited by Jews on Tisha B’Av to mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history. When reciting Kinot, men do not don Tefillin at Shacharit (morning prayer), because Tefillin are called “Pe-ar,” “Glory,” and this is definitely not a day of glory for the Jewish People.
- Our sages teach that whoever mourns over Jerusalem will merit the future vision of her joy. As it is written in Isaiah (Chapter 66, verse 10), “rejoice greatly with her, all who mourn her.”
Shiva Asar B’Tammuz
Five disasters occurred on Shivah Asar B’Tammuz
- Moshe (Moses) descended from Mount Sinai, discovered the people worshipping the golden calf, and broke the luchot (The Tablets of Stone);
- During the siege of Jerusalem before the destruction of the first Temple the daily offering, was suspended because the Kohanim (The High Priests), who had fortified themselves inside the Temple, could not get any more sheep for the sacrifice.
- In the year 70, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the second Temple;
- Apustumus the wicked burned a Torah Scroll; and
- The Romans set up an idol in the courtyard of the Temple.
The Three Weeks
This period of time is known as Bein HaM’Tzarim, “between the straits”, because it says in Eicha (Chapter 1, verse 3): “and her pursuers overtook her between the straits”, referring to the calamitous events that befell the Jewish people between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. (Some of the prohibitions and customs we observe during this period are mentioned here. For specific questions contact a Rabbi.)
- Visiting cinemas, theaters, concert halls or any other place where there is public entertainment is strictly prohibited.
- With the exception of socks and undergarments, new clothes should not be purchased.
- Haircuts are forbidden. According to some authorities, men who shave daily for business reasons may shave during this period.
The Nine Day
The intensity of the three week mourning period increases with the onset of Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av. So, in addition to those items mentioned below, during the days between Rosh Chodesh and Tisha B’Av, we are prohibited from:
- Building or performing alterations in one’s home, unless the work is important repair work. This prohibition includes painting, wall papering and other forms of home decorations.
- Eating meat or drinking wine, except on Shabbat.
- Giving clothing to or getting clothing back from the cleaners or doing laundry. Children’s clothing, especially babies and infants, may be cleaned during this period. Also, this restriction doesn’t apply to clothing worn directly against the body which requires frequent changing.
- Weaving, knitting and needle craft work, with the exception of repairing torn clothing, is prohibited during this period.
- Swimming and bathing for pleasure is prohibited. Taking a bath or shower for hygiene purposes is permitted. Children in camp may go swimming during the instructional swim period. Visiting a Mikveh (is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism to achieve ritual purity) when necessary is permitted.
- The Shabbat before Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon (Sabbath of Vision) because the Haftorah (Holy Text) that morning begins with the word Chazon.
If we look Isaiah’s vision, from which the Shabbat before the Ninth of Av receives its name, we can see that reconstructing the Temple and reinstating its service cannot suffice. The Prophet laments, “Of what use are your many sacrifices to Me?
G_d say, “I am sated with the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle; and the blood of bulls and sheep and he-goats I do not want. When you come to appear before Me, who requested this of you, to trample My courts?” Your devotion in the Temple’s service is unwanted! God doesn’t want the sacrifices or the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the Pilgrimage Festivals. It’s all insincere lip-service that is even offensive, “Your New Moons and your appointed seasons My soul hates, they are a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing [them].” The Temple was perceived superficially, without any sincere expression of awe of God and His service; quite the opposite, it covered-up for and concealed every type of abomination. Under these circumstances it is clear why God brought about the destruction of the Temple―because there was simply no reason to leave it as it was.
So, any rectified vision of the Temple cannot remain merely on the superficial level. Our new vision must not only reproduce the structure of the Temple and its service; taking-off on the wings of our imagination to see the priests performing their service, with the Levites (the Tribe serving the Kohanim (The Priests) at their posts, and the Israelites at their stations. We are obliged to perceive the Temple’s inner dimension. The vision that is shown us on Shabbat Chazon is a vision of the Temple’s essence, so much so that the Divine Presence appears in it, and within each and every Jewish individual, as the verse states, “And I shall dwell amongst them.”
Original publication with some addendums by Orthodox Union; ou.org