Of the many non-commanded biblical feast and fast days commemorated in Judaism, Tisha b’Av is the most somber.
Literally translated as the ninth day of Av, which is the fourth month in the Jewish calendar, Tisha b’Av is the only holy day to fall in the northern hemisphere’s summer. It is a day of mourning, fasting and remembering the many tragedies experienced in Jewish history, including a few that are mentioned in the Bible.
The first Biblical reference to the ninth day of the fourth month is in the book of 2 Kings. Chapter 25 details the horrors of the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II. Following a lengthy siege on the capital, the city walls were breached, the Temple erected by King Solomon was plundered, ransacked and set ablaze. Officials and priests were killed as well as countless other Jews. Many thousands who escaped the genocide were taken captive by the Babylonians, bringing an end to the Davidic Empire and beginning the first exile out of the Promised Land.
An earlier incident traditionally assigned to the ninth day of Av, but not corroborated in the Bible, is the day after the 12 spies returned from their reconnaissance mission and the Israelites cried that they would rather return to Egypt than face the Canaanites. The tragedy found in Numbers 14, is that God swore that none of the people who saw his glory and the miraculous signs in Egypt and the desert would see the land that he had promised their ancestors.
A later event also allocated to the ninth of Av is the destruction of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans in the year 70. The place of worship had been erected under the instruction of Cyrus the Great as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In Luke 21, Yeshua foretold the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem but did not give a specific date.
Tradition says that the Bar Kochba rebels were slaughtered by the Romans in the Battle of Betar in the year 133 CE. Adding to the horrors of the time, the Temple Mount was also destroyed and the date assigned to this tragedy is the ninth of Av.
Another legend notes that in it was on Tisha b’Av in 1290 AD that the Jews were expelled from England. Two centuries later, in 1492, the Jews were kicked out of Spain and that date too was supposedly the ninth of Av. In addition, Judaism traditionally holds to the belief that in 1914, on the ninth of Av, World War I began, which in turn led to the Holocaust and World War II.
It is for this reason that Tisha b’Av is regarded as a day of calamity and worthy of commemoration by those who adhere to Judaism. For those who follow the practice strictly, they mark the date from three weeks before. They mourn the destruction of the first Temple, the physical exile and spiritual displacement that ensued, which they believe will continue until the Third Temple is built, welcoming in the long-awaited Messiah for the first time.
There are restrictions on eating (no meat or poultry only fish) and no drinking of wine except for rituals for the Sabbath and a circumcision.
Those less fervent in their custom have restrictions for the nine days leading up to Tisha b’Av. Clothing must not be freshly cleaned and this includes no buying, sewing, knitting of weaving new clothing. Swimming in the sea or in pools is not allowed, neither is one to do renovations or modifications to their home. One is not even allowed to plant trees that will produce shade in the future. The rules include personal hygiene. No nails are to be clipped nor hair to be cut in the days leading up to the fast. In short, there are no celebrations during this time.
On the day of the fast, all food and the drinking of all liquid is forbidden as is any intimate relations. No bathing or makeup is allowed and no wearing of leather shoes. There are evening services and the book of Lamentations is read. The custom is that everyone hearing the reading must sit on the floor and show that they are in mourning.
Tisha b’Av falls on Aug. 1 this year. The Fast will be observed in Israel from sunset Monday evening until sundown on Tuesday.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”
1 Peter 2:4-6
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:19 – 26.