Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi /FLASH90
Jews at the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av, August 9, 2008.

Tisha B’Av is a rabbinic fast day and the culmination of the three weeks of mourning that start on the 17th of Tammuz. It is the most severe of the four fasts for the destruction of the two Temples and for catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people over the generations, especially around Tisha B’Av.

During the time of the second Temple, if one wished to fast on the Fast of Gedaliah, the Tenth of Tevet, or the 17th of Tammuz – which back then three rabbinical fast days commemorating stages in the destruction of the First Temple – one had to take on fasting the following day at the conclusion of the Mincha prayer because they were not a public duty as they are today. However, the fast of Tisha B’Av was observed as a religious obligation, because of its special status as a day when terrible things have happened.

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In contrast to the other rabbinic fasts, which last from dawn to dark, Tisha B’Av lasts from dusk to the next day’s dark and its observance includes the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur: no eating and drinking, no bathing, no lubrication, no leather shoes, and no intimate relations. In addition, this day of fasting includes mourning customs such as sitting on the floor and avoiding Torah learning.

The fast this year begins on Shabbat, roughly 45 minutes before dark—depending on one’s location. The Book of Lamentations is read in public and throughout the day people read later lamentations for the destruction of the Temple and many other disasters.

Young Jews on Tisha B’Av, August 9, 2008. / Olivier Fitoussi /FLASH90

We believe that eventually this terrible day will be cleansed of its dark meaning, as we were promised by the prophet Zechariah (8:19): “Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), the fast of the fifth month (Av), the fast of the seventh month (Tishrei), and the fast of the tenth month (Tevet) shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity.”

The Mishna (Ta’anit 4) mentions five calamities that took place on the 17th of Tammuz and five on the 9th of Av.

On Tammuz 17 the tablets were broken by Moses because of the golden calf; the daily offering was nullified by the Romans and was never sacrificed again; the walls of Jerusalem were breached; Apostemos publicly burned a Torah scroll; and King Menasheh placed an idol in the Sanctuary.

On Av 9 God decreed that the Israelites who had been born in Egypt would all die in the wilderness and not enter Eretz Yisrael; the Temple was destroyed the first time, in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and the second time, by the Romans; Beitar was captured; and Jerusalem was plowed, as a sign that it would never be rebuilt.

Therefore, when the month of Av begins, one tones down the expressions of joy.

Jewish women at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av, August 2, 2006. / Michal Fattal /Flash90

Later in our history, terrible disasters attached themselves to the month of Av in general, and the 9th in particular:

  • The First Crusade began on the 24th of Av, 4856. In that first month alone, 10,000 Jews were killed and countless Jewish communities were destroyed in France and Germany.
  • The Jews were expelled from England on Av 9, 5050.
  • The Jews were expelled from France on Av 10, 5066.
  • The Jews were expelled from Spain on Av 7, 5252.
  • Germany entered World War on Av 9, 5674, causing the mass uprooting of European Jewish communities.
  • On Av 9, 5701, the Nazi Party approved the “Final Solution,” resulting in the Holocaust and the murder of a third of the world’s Jews population.
  • On Av 9, began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps.
  • On Av 10, 5754, Iranian agents bombed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring 300.
  • On Av 10, 5765 the Ariel Sharon government uprooted thousands of Jews from the Gaza Strip.
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