Jewish Holiday: Tisha B’Av


Tisha B’Av (the Ninth day of the Hebrew month Av) is the second most severe fast day of the Jewish calendar (behind Yom Kippur). It marks the culmination of a three-week period mourning the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, known as “ bein ha-metzarim” (literally, “between the straits”) or more colloquially known as the “Three Weeks”.

The period begins with another fast day, the 17th of Tammuz, when the second Temple walls of Jerusalem were breached in 70 CE. On Tisha B’Av both the first and second Temples were burned to the ground. This year Tisha B’Av begins on the evening of July 17th. The 17th of Tammuz begins before sunrise on June 27th.

Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks period has become a national time of mourning for the Jewish people, commemorating a host of tragedies that have befallen us throughout the generations. Restaurants and theaters are closed in modern day Israel on Tisha

Practices and Customs

Jewish tradition dictates that acts of mourning and abstinence become more severe as Tisha B’Av approaches. On Tisha B’Av itself we follow the same strictures as Yom Kippur: in addition to refraining from eating and drinking, bathing, anointing oneself, wearing leather shoes and marital relations are prohibited.

There are additional traditions to sit low to the ground just like a mourner does, not to greet people, and -- because Torah study is always considered joyful, one is enjoined to only learn material that is connected to the tragic events of the day or other somber material.

Talit and Tefilin are not worn until the afternoon of Tisha B’Av since these are symbols of Israel’s glory, and it is considered unseemly to wear them at the peak of this day of collective mourning. At night it is customary to read the Biblical book Lamentations which laments the destruction of the first temple. Also, it is customary to add liturgical poems called kinot which commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem as well as many other calamities that the Jewish people have endured.

From the 17th of Tammuz until Tisha B’Av, customs vary over what prohibitions one follows. Many people do not shave or get haircuts or listen to live music from the 17th of Tammuz. Additionally, many refrain from having weddings during this period. With the advent of the month of Av, the mourning practices intensify.

Many refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, wearing freshly laundered or new clothing, and from engaging in any joyous activity. Some begin the more severe restrictions only during the week during which Tisha B’Av falls.

Relating to Tisha B'Av Today

Clearly the destruction of the Temple was a calamity to the Jews of that time. However, after close to 2000 years of life without the Temple it is difficult to relate to the tragedy of its loss and its impact on us. The following passage from the Talmud provides an explanation for why both Temples were destroyed.