Tisha B’Av – A Day of Mourning and Repentance

Tisha B’Av or the Ninth of Av is a Jewish holiday commemorating a number of catastrophes in Jewish history. Tisha B’Av is the saddest date on the Jewish calendar and is observed through fasting. Many aspects of mourning are observed by the entire Jewish community – no parties, listening to any kind of music, shaving or haircuts, no eating and drinking. It is during this time of the year when we read the book of Lamentations and some elegies that talk about these tragic events. Mourning helps us overcome spiritual insufficiencies that brought about these catastrophic events.

What Happened on Tisha B’Av?

There were five tragic events that occur during the 9th of Av.

  • The Jews, during the time of Moses, accepted the denigrating report of the 10 spies. A decree was issued disallowing then from entering the Land of Israel.
  • Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple. A hundred thousand Jews during that time were killed while millions were exiled.
  • Titus led the Romans in destroying the Second Temple. Two million Jews died and a million more exiled.
  • More than 100,000 Jews were massacred when the city of Betar was captured by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
  • The Temple Mount was plowed over by Romans.

Other misfortunes which occurred on the 9th of Av are the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the World War One in 1914 and the mass deportation of many Jews from Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

How do we mourn on Tisha B’Av?

It is customary to eat a full meal in  the afternoon, a day before Tisha B’Av to prepare yourself for fasting. Seudah Hamafseket is eaten at the end of the afternoon. This meal consists of bread, hard-boiled egg and water. During Tisha B’Av, we are prohibited from eating and drinking until nightfall the following evening. Those who are permitted to eat on Tisha B’Av (for health reasons) should not indulge and should only eat enough to sustain their health.

Bathing and washing are also prohibited during Tisha B’Av. Anointing one’s self (putting on perfume, lotions and creams) is also prohibited. The use of deodorant is, however, permitted. Other prohibitions include wearing leather shoes, learning the Torah, sitting on a high chair, greeting, marital relations and leisure activities.

How do we pray on Tisha B’Av?

The book of Lamentations is read during the day. Special elegies are also recited. Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read in the morning of Tisha B’Av. This is followed with a reading from the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 8:13, 9:1-3). In the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, Exodus 32:11-14 as well as Isaiah 55-55.  The afternoon Mincha service is said early in the day. Synagogues are dimmed and candles are lit during Tisha B’Av.  Tallit and Tefillin are worn during Mincha rather than on Shacharit.  It is part of Jewish custom to say Kiddush Lavana before breaking the fast of Tisha B’Av.

What if Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat?

When Tisha B’Av falls on a Shabbat, fasting is postponed until Sunday. Except for marital relations, the other prohibitions are allowed on Shabbat. Since Seudah Shlishit has none of the restrictions of Seudah Hamafseket, the meal may include wine and meat. However, eating during this day should commence before sundown.

We do not say the Havdallah at the end of Shabbat although some recite the Havdallah over a candle only, without wine and spices. At nightfall, people say “Boruch Hamavdil bein Kodesh li’chol,” changes from Shabbat clothes and come to the synagogue.

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