This Saturday nightfall marks the beginning of Tisha B’Av — a 25 hour fast period that commemorates the destruction of the first (586 BCE) and second (70 CE) temples. The fast begins at 8:23 p.m. on Saturday and ends at 8:55 p.m on Sunday.
For more on the origin of the day, I refer you to the eminently useful and intelligible Wikipedia (Tisha B’Av page), to Harpaul’s essay below on Tisha B’Av, and for more information on the observance of the day, I’ve pasted at the bottom of this post a handy list created by Rabbi Freundel of the Kesher Israel Synagogue. — Stephen
Update 7/27/2012: Rabbi Joshua Maroof of Magen David writes about Tisha B’Av.
Harpaul Kohli is a local economist, musician, and frequent attendant of Kesher Israel and TheSHUL.
Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) is one of the two big fast days in the Jewish calendar, along with Yom Kippur. But whereas Yom Kippur can be seen as a happy fast, as it represents forgiveness, purity, renewal, and new beginnings, Tisha B’Av is a sad fast, focused on mourning.
Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples. The Second Temple was destroyed (more specifically, set on fire) on Tisha B’Av itself in the year 70 CE. And 655 years earlier (though there are disagreements over whether the calendar omitted years), the First Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’Av.
But the tragedies extend beyond that. Each of the following happened on Tisha B’Av:
- The Romans defeated the Jewish Bar Kochba rebellion, and Bar Kochba died in 135 CE (100,000 Jews also died around then).
- King Edward I signed the edict expelling all Jews from England in 1290.
- The Alhambra Decree expeled all Jews from Spain (Jews had to leave Spanish territories by July 31, 1492).
- World War I began (Germany declared war on Russia in 1914).
- Himmler presented the “Final Solution” plan to the Nazi Party in 1940.
- The Nazis began deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.
In short, over more than two millennia, Tisha B’Av has been the date for the two biggest tragedies in Jewish history (the two Temples’ destruction) and many of the other great tragedies. It is for these reasons that it has been set aside as the calendar’s day of mourning above all others.
Tisha B’Av’s status has led to debates over the centuries on how to commemorate other tragedies. Namely, there is a strongly held view that the mourning for all great tragedies should be incorporated into Tisha B’Av.
Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), for example, was opposed by many; they said that as Tisha B’Av is the great day of mourning, mourning for the Holocaust should be subsumed under Tisha B’Av.
The aftermath of the Crusades led to a similar debate. Before the Crusades, Jewish life in Franco-Germany was comparatively good. Most Christians were illiterate serfs living difficult lives under the command of their lords. In contrast, Jews were traders and men of commerce; nearly all Jewish men enjoyed basic literacy. But in the Crusades, the Christian soldiers destroyed Jewish cities and killed many Jews. This conflict was seen as a war of religions; many Christians and Jews at the time saw the conflict as one representing whose God who correct, and the Jews were constantly losing, with their lives shattered by the attacks.
The debate following each Crusade was whether to commemorate these sufferings only through Tisha B’Av or to designate Crusade-specific days of commemoration. Over time, the former view mostly won out.
The manner in which the agony of the post-Crusades Jewish community was incorporated into Tisha B’Av is incisively captured by a passage from a Kinnah. Kinnot are the liturgical poems that are read as part of Tisha B’Av services after the reading of the Book of Jeremiah on Tisha B’Av eve and after the Haftarah reading in the morning, and many kinnot said to this day were added to memorialize the Crusades. One kinnah, written by Rabbi Meir of Rotenberg, contains the following passage:
And I will shed tears until they flow like a river that reaches to the
gravesites of your two most noble princes.
They are Moses and Aaron [who were] on Mount Hor.
And I will ask them if there is perhaps a new Torah,
therefore your scrolls have been burnt!
You can see the echo of the “whose God is correct?” debate, expressing “doubts” by the greatest rabbi of his time. This also shows how profound was the suffering of Jews after the Crusades. But despite this, nowadays, we do not have any tangible mourning for the Crusades except as related to Tisha B’Av. (There is the idea that Jewish suffering during the Crusades was especially bad during Sefirah, the period between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, but except for one prayer nothing concrete is done during that time on account of the Crusades.)
The subsuming of mourning for the Crusades into Tisha B’Av is not limited to the day itself. There is a fast three weeks before (one of the four minor fasts of the year), which commemorates the Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem, and the period of time between these two fasts is known as the “Three Weeks” in English and Bain Hamitsarim (“Between the Straights”) in Hebrew. It is a lead-up to Tisha B’Av, with mourning increasing as the time period progresses.
The European Jewish community added commemorations for the calamities of the Crusades by adding new restrictions and mourning practices into this three-week period. Originally, and as still practiced by most Sephardim, almost all restrictions and mourning practices are restricted to the week of Tisha B’Av (eg, not cutting hair, shaving, wearing freshly laundered clothes, not bathing for pleasure) or to the nine days before Tisha B’Av (not eating meat or drinking wine). But to commemorate the Crusades, because they ended up not commemorating them elsewhere in the calendar, the European Jews extended most of the week-of-Tisha B’av restrictions (which originally lasted only 1 to 6 days, and still do for Sephardim, who never experienced the Crusades’ persecutions) to last the entire three weeks, and also added further restrictions.
So this reinforces the status of Tisha B’Av as the fundamental day of mourning of the calendar, so central that mourning for even the worst other periods of Jewish history were subsumed into it. This year, as we observe Tisha B’Av we can reflect on how our mourning ties us together with that of persecuted Jews through the millennia, and afterwards Tisha B’Av, with our shared mourning complete, we can be further grateful for the much better fortunate lives we lead in twenty-first century America.
Laws of Tisha B’Av for 2012
Below are some laws of Tisha B’Av for this year. Note: The following laws are based on Ashkenazi tradition.
- No eating or drinking from Saturday evening until nightfall the following evening.
- Pregnant and nursing women are also required to fast. If one suspects it could be harmful to the baby or mother, a rabbi should be consulted.
- A woman within 30 days after birth need not fast.
- Others who are old, weak, or ill should consult with a rabbi. (MB 554:11)
Bathing and Washing:
- Any bathing or washing, except for removing specific dirt — e.g. gook in the eyes is prohibited.
- Upon rising in the morning, before prayers, or after using the bathroom, one washes only the fingers.
- Anointing oneself for pleasure is prohibited. (Deodorant is permitted.)
- Having marital relations is prohibited.
- Wearing leather shoes is prohibited. (Leather belts may be worn).
- Learning Torah is prohibited, since this is a joyful activity. It is permitted to learn texts relevant to Tisha B’Av and mourning — e.g. the Book of Lamentations, Book of Job, parts of Tractate Moed Katan, Gittin 56-58, Sanhedrin 104, Yerushalmi end of Ta’anis, and the Laws of Mourning. In-depth study should be avoided.
Other mourning practices include:
- Sitting no higher than a foot off the ground. After midday, one may sit on a chair.
- Not engaging in business or other distracting labors, unless refraining will result in a substantial loss.
- Refraining from greeting others or offering gifts.
- Avoiding idle chatter or leisure activities.
- Following Tisha B’Av, all normal activities may be resumed.
Prayer on Tisha B’Av:
- Lights in the synagogue are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain is removed from the Ark. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice.
- The Book of Eicha (Lamentations), Jeremiah’s poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, is read at night.
- Following both the night and day service, special “Kinot” (elegies) are recited.
- Since Tallis and Tefillin represent glory and decoration, they are not worn at Shacharit. Rather, they are worn at Mincha, as certain mourning restrictions are lifted.
- Birkat Kohanim is said only at Mincha, not at Shacharit.
- Prayers for comforting Zion and “Aneinu” are inserted into the Amidah prayer at Mincha.
- Shortly after the fast is broken, it is customary to say Kiddush Lavana.
When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat:
When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, as it does this year, the following applies:
- The fast is postponed until Sunday.
- There is no special Seuda Hamafseket before the fast.
- Tzidkas’cha is not said at Mincha.
- Pirkei Avot is not said at Mincha.
Kiddush, Shabbat Meals, Seuda Shlishit:
- Regarding a shul Kiddush, if the kiddush can be held on a different Shabbat, it is preferable to defer it. If the Kiddush cannot be held on a different Shabbat — e.g. for an aufruff (groom prior to his wedding), it is permitted.
- One may eat meat and drink wine at all the Shabbat meals. One may invite guests to the Shabbat meals.
- However, one should not invite guests for Seuda Shlishit unless he does so regularly.
- One may sing zemirot at the Shabbat meals.
- A communal Seuda Shlishit is not held in shul.
- One must stop eating and drinking before sunset, since the fast begins at this time. People should be reminded about this, as it is unlike a regular Shabbat.
- One May say Grace After Meals after sunset.
- Marital relations are forbidden on Friday night unless Friday night is Mikvah night and women do immerse on that night.
Havdalah / After Shabbat:
- Havdalah is postponed until Sunday night.
- All the prohibitions except wearing shoes and sitting on a chair commence at sunset. These two activities are permitted until nightfall.
- Non-leather shoes should be brought to Shul Friday before Shabbat. One may not prepare on Shabbat for after Shabbat so soft shoes should not be brought to shul on Shabbat. It is also forbidden to change one’s shoes before going to shul, since this is disgracing the Shabbat.
- At Ma’ariv Saturday night all should say “baruch hamavdil bein kodesh lechol,” the Chazzan removes his shoes, and then say “barchu.” The congregation should respond to “barchu” and then remove their shoes. Care must be taken not to touch one’s shoes when removing them. The Shabbat clothes are not removed until one returns home after Ma’ariv.
- It is forbidden to smell spices Saturday night, since a person must refrain from such a pleasure on Tisha B’Av.
- A blessing is recited over a Havdalah candle before the reading of Lamentations.
- It is forbidden to eat or drink anything before Havdalah after the fast.
- Only the two blessings “borei p’ri hagafen” and “hamavdil” are recited. The introductory verses are omitted, as are the blessings over the spices and candle.