Photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi / FLASH90
Tisha Be Av is a day of rabbinical fasting and the culmination of the three weeks of mourning that begins on Tammuz 17. It is the most severe of the four fasts for the destruction of the two Temples and for the catastrophes that befell the Jewish people over the generations, especially around Tisha Be Av.
At the time of the Second Temple, if one wanted to fast the Fast of Gedaliah, the Ten Tevet or the 17 Tammuz – which at the time three days of rabbinical fast commemorating the stages of the destruction of the First Temple – one had to take fasting the next day at the end of the Mincha prayer because they were not a public duty as they are today. However, the fast of Tisha B’Av has been observed as a religious obligation, due to its special status as a day when terrible things happened.
Unlike other rabbinical fasts, which last from dawn to night, Tisha Be Av lasts from dusk to night the next day and its observance includes the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur: do not eat or drink, do not bathe, do not not lubricate themselves, leather shoes, and no intimate relationships. Additionally, this day of fasting includes mourning customs such as sitting on the ground and avoiding learning Torah.
This year’s fast begins on Shabbat, approximately 45 minutes before dark, depending on your location. The Book of Lamentations is read in public and throughout the day people later read lamentations for the destruction of the Temple and many other disasters.
We believe that this terrible day will eventually be purified of its dark significance, as the prophet Zechariah (8:19) promised us: “Thus said the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month in the fifth month (Av ), the fast of the seventh month (Tishri) and the fast of the tenth month (Tevet) will become occasions of joy and gladness, of merry feasts for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity.
The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4) mentions five calamities that took place on 17 Tammuz and five on 9 Av.
On 17 Tammuz, the tablets were broken by Moses because of the golden calf; the daily offering was canceled by the Romans and was never sacrificed again; the walls of Jerusalem were broken; Apostemos publicly burned a Torah scroll; and king Menasheh placed an idol in the sanctuary.
On 9th Av. God decreed that the Israelites who were born in Egypt would all die in the wilderness and would not enter Eretz Yisrael; the Temple was destroyed the first time, in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and the second time, by the Romans; Beitar has been captured; and Jerusalem was plowed, a sign that it would never be rebuilt.
Therefore, when the month of Av begins, expressions of joy are toned down.
Later in our history, terrible catastrophes attached to the month of Av in general, and the 9 in particular:
- The First Crusade began on 24 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 9 Av 5050.
- The Jews were expelled from France on 10 Av 5066.
- The Jews were expelled from Spain on 7 Av 5252.
- Germany entered the world war on 9, 5674 BC, causing the mass uprooting of European Jewish communities.
- On 9 Av 5701, the Nazi Party approved the “Final Solution”, resulting in the Holocaust and the murder of a third of the world’s Jewish population.
- On 9 Av began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the death camps.
- On 10 Av 5754, Iranian agents bombed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring 300.
- On 10 Av 5765, Ariel Sharon’s government uprooted thousands of Jews from the Gaza Strip.