Tisha b’Av is the day when those of the Jewish faith remember and
commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen them, throughout history, on the 9th day of the month of Av in the Jewish Lunar Calendar. This year it takes place on the 28th of July. It is a very sad day in the Jewish calendar. As is customary in Jewish tradition, fasting denotes a sign of mourning and as such Jews fast on this day.
Prior to Tisha B’Av, a three week period of mourning commences. This is because the city walls began to be breached in Jerusalem, three weeks before the Jewish holy temple was destroyed. Jews commemorate this by decreasing their joy during this time. The last nine days before Tisha B’Av are of greater sadness, with Jews not eating meat or drinking wine, refraining from pleasurable bathing and from wearing new clothes. Parties and weddings are banned until after Tisha B’Av.
So what tragedies befell the Jewish nation on this day?
As it says in the Jewish book, the Mishnah, ‘Five misfortunes befell our fathers … on the ninth of Av. …On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up. -Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6.
The temples being destroyed are of such great significance because it was said that God’s presence dwelled within the temple. Once destroyed, Jews lost that direct connection. Furthermore, the destruction of the Second Temple meant that they were finally dispersed around the world and Jerusalem ceased to be a Jewish capital again until the foundation of the state of Israel. Even now, the temples have not been rebuilt as Jews are awaiting the Messiah to come.
As well this, throughout the years many other historical tragedies have occurred:
- Jews were expelled from Spain on this day in 1492 and from England in 1290.
- The Crusades were declared on 9th Av which during which many Jews died.
- World War One broke out on this day, in 1914 which paved the way for World WarII and the Holocaust.
- Lastly, on 9th Av, in 1942, a mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka concentration camp began, resulting in the killing of many Jews.
What are the practises do Jewish people follow on Tisha B Av?
The practises that Jews follow are very similar to that of other holy fast days. Eating and drinking is banned for 25 hours as well as washing, shaving, bathing or wearing cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, engaging in sexual relations and studying Torah. These are all believed to bring joy and therefore are not allowed during this time of mourning. Some also refrain from idle chatter, focusing their full attention on spirituality and God. Work is not permitted except if one has to work for financial purposes. It is the custom of many to sit on low stools as this is a sign of mourning, however if you have to work this can be difficult.
Do Jews have to go to synagogue on Tisha B’Av?
Jews are meant to go to synagogue the night of Tisha B’Av. All Jewish days begin at sunset and therefore some will go to the synagogue to hear the book of Lamentations read and mourning prayers recited, while others will read them at home. The Book of Lamentations is a very sad book written about the destruction of the temple and dispersal of the Jewish nation.
Do all Jews observe this fast?
No. It is generally only observed by Orthodox factions of Judaism, although of course it depends very much on the individual.
How can I help my Jewish friends or colleagues when they are fasting at work?
Fasting in the heat of summer is always difficult. If a Jew becomes ill during a fast they are allowed to break it and water can be given. However, most Jews are used to fasting and therefore eating around them will not be a problem. Remember that Tisha B’Av is a sad time for Jews.
Also in July: