Tisha B'Av (תשעה באב or ט׳ באב, "the Ninth of Av,") is an annual fast day in Judaism, named for the ninth day (Tisha) of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar. The fast commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, which occurred about 656 years apart, but on the same date. Accordingly, the day has been called the "saddest day in Jewish history".
Tisha B'Av falls in July or August in the Gregorian calendar. When the ninth of Av falls on the Sabbath, the observance is pushed off until Sunday the tenth (although that day is still referred to as Tish`ah be-Av). According to the Mishnah (Taanit 4:6), the day commemorates five events: the destruction of the Temples, the return of the twelve scouts sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan, the razing of Jerusalem following the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the failure of Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Roman Empire.
The Tisha B'Av fast lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the eve of Tisha B'Av and ending at nightfall the next day. In addition to the prohibitions against eating or drinking, observant Jews also observe prohibitions against washing or bathing, applying creams or oils, wearing leather shoes, or having sexual relations. In addition, mourning customs similar to those applicable to the shiva period immediately following the death of a close relative are traditionally followed for at least part of the day, including sitting on low stools, refraining from work, and not greeting others.
The Book of Lamentations is traditionally read, followed by a series of liturgical lamentations called Kinnot. In Sephardic communities, it is also customary to read the Book of Job.
Destruction of the Temple
The fast commemorates the destruction of the First
and Second Temples
In connection with the fall of Jerusalem, three other fast-days were established at the same time as the Ninth Day of Av: these were the Tenth of Tevet, when the siege began; the Seventeenth of Tammuz, when the first breach was made in the wall; and the Third of Tishrei, known as the Fast of Gedaliah, the day when Gedaliah was assassinated (II Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 41:2).
From Zechariah 7:5, 8:19 it appears that after the building of the Second Temple the custom of keeping these fast-days was temporarily discontinued. Since the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Second Temple by the Romans, the four fast-days have again been observed.
The five calamities
According to the Mishnah
4:6), five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:
- The twelve scouts sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Two of the scouts, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, but the others spoke disparagingly about the land which caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the "Promised Land". For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites' lack of faith, God decreed that for all generations this date would become one of crying and misfortune for their descendants, the Jewish people. (See Numbers Ch. 13–14)
- The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah were destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE and the Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile.
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
- Bar Kokhba's revolt against Rome failed in 135 CE. Simon bar Kokhba was killed, and the city of Betar was destroyed.
- Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the razing of Jerusalem occurred the next year.
According to the Talmud in tractate Taanit, the destruction of the Second Temple began on the ninth and was finally consumed by the flames the next day on the Tenth of Av.
Over time, Tisha B'Av has come to be a Jewish day of mourning, not only for these pre-Talmudic events, but also for later tragedies. There is a custom of assigning Tisha B'Av as the date on which wars affecting Jews began or expulsions and persecutions of Jews occurred, although this dating is not always historically accurate. Regardless of the exact dates of these events, for many Jews, Tisha B'Av is the designated day of mourning for them, and these themes are reflected in liturgy composed for this day (see below).
Other calamities associated with Tisha B'Av:
- Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
- The Alhambra Decree of 1492, expelling the Jews from Spain, took effect on the 7th of Av, just two days before Tisha B'Av.
- 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.
Laws and Customs
The main prohibitions associated with fasting
Tisha B'Av is a fast day similar to Yom Kippur. While most other fasts on the Hebrew calendar only last from dawn to nightfall, the Tisha B'Av fast lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the eve of Tisha B'Av and ending at nightfall the next day. Tisha B'Av also shares four additional prohibitions with Yom Kippur:
The five main prohibitions on Tisha B'Av are:
- No eating or drinking
- No washing or bathing
- No application of creams or oils
- No wearing of leather shoes
- No sexual relations. Some refrain from any displays of physical affection
These restrictions are waived in the case of health issues. For example, those who are seriously ill may eat and drink, in contrast to Yom Kippur, when eating and drinking is allowed only in cases of life-threatening need. (On other fast days almost any medical condition may justify breaking the fast; in practice, since many cases differ, consultation with a rabbi is often necessary.) Ritual washing up to the knuckles is permitted. Washing to cleanse dirt or mud from one's body is also permitted.
Additional customs associated with mourning
Torah study is forbidden on Tisha B'av (as it is considered an enjoyable activity), except for sad texts such as the Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and chapters of the Talmud that discuss the laws of mourning.
According to the Rama it is customary to sit on low stools or on the floor, as is done during shiva from the meal immediately before the fast (seudah hamafseket) until noon. The Beit Yosef rules that the custom extends until one prays Mincha (the afternoon prayer). The custom of the Aruch HaShulchan was not to sit in one's usual seat, but did not require sitting close to the floor.
If possible, work is avoided during this period. Electric lighting may be turned off or dimmed, and kinot recited by candle-light. Some sleep on the floor or modify their normal sleeping routine, by sleeping without a pillow, for instance. People refrain from greeting each other or sending gifts on this day. Old prayerbooks and Torahs are often buried on this day.
Customs during the days preceding and following Tisha B'av
The days leading up to Tisha B'Av are known as The Nine Days. Orthodox Jews refrain from eating meat during all or part of this period, and some refrain from pleasurable activities such as going to music concerts or swimming. In the three weeks before Tisha B'Av, some Jews do not cut their hair or shave. Weddings are not held during this period.
Although the fast ends at nightfall, it is customary to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine until noon of the following day. According to tradition, the Temple burned all night and most of the day of the tenth of Av.
When Tisha B'Av begins on Saturday night, the havdalah ritual at the end of the Sabbath is truncated (using a candle but no spices), without a blessing over wine. After Tisha B'Av ends on Sunday evening, another havdalah is performed with wine (without candle or spices).
The laws of Tisha B'Av are recorded in the Shulchan Aruch (the "Code of Jewish Law") Orach Chayim 552-557.
) is read in synagogue
during the evening services
. In addition, most of the morning is spent chanting or reading Kinnot
, most bewailing the loss of the Temples and the subsequent persecutions, but many others referring to post-exile disasters. These later kinnot
were composed by various poets (often prominent rabbis) who had either suffered in the events mentioned or relate received reports. Important kinnot
were composed by Elazar ha-Kalir
and Rabbi Judah ha-Levi
. After the Holocaust
were composed by the German-born Rabbi Shimon Schwab
(in 1959, at the request of Rabbi Joseph Breuer
) and by Rabbi Solomon Halberstam
, leader of the Bobov Hasidim
In many Sephardic congregations the Book of Job is read on the morning of Tisha B'Av.
History of the observance
In the long period which is reflected in Talmudic literature the observance of the Ninth Day of Av assumed a character of constantly growing sadness and asceticism. By the end of the second century or at the beginning of the third, the celebration of the day had lost much of its gloom. Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi
was in favor of abolishing it altogether or, according to another version, of lessening its severity when the fast has been postponed from Saturday to Sunday (Talmud, Tractate Megillah 5b).
The growing strictness in the observance of mourning customs in connection with the Ninth Day of Av became pronounced in post-Talmudic times, and particularly in the darkest period of Jewish history, from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth.
Maimonides (twelfth century), in his Mishneh Torah, says that the restrictions as to the eating of meat and the drinking of wine refer only to the last meal before fasting on the Eighth Day of Av, if taken after noon, but before noon anything may be eaten (Hilchoth Ta'anith 5:8). Rabbi Moses of Coucy (thirteenth century) wrote that it is the universal custom to refrain from meat and wine during the whole day preceding the Ninth of Av (Sefer Mitzvoth ha-Gadol, Venice ed., Laws of Tishah B'Av, 249b). Rabbi Joseph Caro (sixteenth century) says some are accustomed to abstain from meat and wine from the beginning of the week in which the Ninth Day of Av falls; and still others abstain throughout the three weeks from the Seventeenth of Tammuz (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim 551).
A gradual extension of prohibitions can be traced in the abstention from marrying at this season and in other signs of mourning. So Rabbi Moses of Coucy says that some do not use the tefillin ("phylacteries") on the Ninth Day of Av, a custom which later was universally observed (it is now postponed until the afternoon). In this manner all customs originally designated as marks of unusual piety finally became the rule for all.
In light of Israel's establishment
Orthodox Jewish view
believe that until the arrival of the Jewish Messiah
, this day will continue to be observed as a fast; when the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple
come, it will become a great celebration. This notion is asserted on the basis of a passage in the Book of Zechariah
(8:19) that foretells of the transformation of four fast days into joyous holidays.
According to the Orthodox-Mizrachi establishment, combat soldiers are absolved of fasting on Tisha B'Av on the basis that it can endanger their lives. The latest of such decrees were issued during the Second Lebanon War by leading Rabbinical authorities Israel's Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger in tandem with the IDF's chief rabbi, Brigadier General Yisrael Weiss.
Religious Zionist view
Since the re-establishment of a Jewish state and the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War
, some religious Zionist
leaders have contemplated whether Tisha B'Av is still relevant. Most rabbis, however, believe that it should be observed.
Since Israel's unilateral disengagement
, initiated by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, right wing segments of the Religious Zionist
community have begun to recite kinot to commemorate the expulsion of Jewish settlers from Gush Katif
and northern Samaria
on the day after Tisha B'Av, in 2005.
Conservative and Masorti view
The law committee of the Masorti Movement
in the United States) issued a responsum on the question "In our time do we still have to fast for the whole of Tish'a b'Av, seeing that our sovereign independence has been regained? May we reduce the outward signs of mourning and permit eating after the Minchah
Service?" Two views were given:
- Rabbi Theodore Friedman wrote that: "There is already an historical precedent in Megillat Ta'anit which stipulated days on which we may not fast because of salvation wrought for Israel. In our time we have been vouchsafed a great salvation in the establishment of the State... It therefore seems to us that this great historical turning point in Israel's history should be celebrated by not completing the fast on 9th Av, but concluding it after the midday Minchah."
- Rabbi David Golinkin wrote, concluding "It is forbidden to fast only half the day on Tish'a b'Av for several reasons:
- we have demonstrated that during the period of the Second Temple they did fast on Tish'a b'Av...
- From the halakhic point of view this is not possible. Either we must fast on all four of the fasts [and Tisha b'Av] or on Tish'a b'Av alone...
- From the ideological point of view, we cannot yet say that we have reached the period of "peace". We should revert to the custom of the Ge'onim ... and fast the whole day on Tish'a b'Av and declare the other fast days to be voluntary and not compulsory."
Finally, Ismar Schorsch, former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, wrote: "If Tisha b'Av commemorated only the destruction of the two Temples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., its capacity to appeal to the modern Jew would have vanished. Though it is true that both calamities threatened the very survival of the Jewish people, Conservative Jews no longer pray for the restoration of the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem. The verbal and musical worship of the synagogue surely represents a more edifying, humane and universal form of prayer. But early on, Tisha b'Av began to absorb the memory of other national disasters.
Reform Jewish view
The Reform Jewish view takes this idea still further: "Reform Judaism has never assigned a central religious role to the ancient Temple. Therefore, mourning the destruction of the Temple in such an elaborate fashion did not seem meaningful. More recently, in Reform Judaism Tishah B'Av has been transformed into a day to remember many Jewish tragedies that have occurred throughout history."
, a leader of the Labor Zionist
movement, criticized his party's youth movement for holding campfires on Tisha B'Av in 1936. He believed that even secular Jews could find some meaning in traditional observances. In Israel, most restaurants and places of entertainment are closed on the eve of Tisha B'Av and the following day. Establishments that break the law are subject to fines. Outside of Israel, the day is not observed by most secular Jews, as opposed to Yom Kippur
, in which many secular Jews fast and go to synagogue
Classical Jewish sources maintain that the Jewish Messiah
will be born on Tisha B'Av, though many explain this idea metaphorically, as the hope for the Jewish Messiah was born on Tisha B'Av with the destruction of the Temple.