Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of Av in the Hebrew calendar, is a sundown-to-sundown fast, a day of mourning marking the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, the subsequent exile from the Land of Israel, as well as other historical calamities that befell the Jewish People on the same date. This year the fast began at 7:43 p.m. Saturday in Jerusalem and will end on Sunday at 8:09 p.m.
Among the calamities that occurred on this day was the weeping of the Children of Israel in the desert upon hearing the negative report on the prospects of conquering the Land of Israel brought back by the spies, except for Joshua and Caleb, sent by Moses to Canaan – the punishment was remaining in the desert for 40 years; the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and Romans, respectively (the Midrash notes that this was not a coincidence, that G-d told the Jews in the desert: “You wept for nothing on this day, but I will give you a reason to weep for many generations”); the failure of the Bar Kokhba uprising in the second century; the deadline by which all of Spanish Jewry was to be expelled from the country in 1492; the beginning of World War I in 1917; and in our times, the tragedy of Gush Katif –in fact, the end of legal Jewish residence in Gush Katif – in 2005.
Jewish tradition treats Tisha B’Av as one of the most severe of fast days, in that it entails stringencies of behavior akin to those observed by mourners. Among these, It is forbidden to eat, drink, wear leather shoes, bathe and use cosmetic oils or lotions It is the custom not to greet one another on the eve of the fast. In fact, the rabbis enacted a prohibition of the study of Torah on Tisha B’Av, except as related to mourning, as such learning is considered too joyful an activity for this day of distress over the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty.
This year, Tisha B’Av begins with the end of the Sabbath (Shabbat), although the date itself was on the Sabbath . The Sabbath preceding Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Hazon due to the first word in the haftorah reading from Isaiah in which he chastises the Jews for their behavior towards one another, sins that eventually led to the Temple’s destruction. The last meal before the fast is a regular Sabbath meal, called “seuda shlishit”, rather than the usual one of a simple dish eaten when the fast takes place in the middle of the week. The custom of dipping a hard boiled egg in ashes at that meal is also not done on the Sabbath, a day on which mourning is forbidden. At the end of the Sabbath, Jews return to the synagogue for the evening prayer.
The service is followed by the reading of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the destruction of the First Temple. Congregants sit on low stools or on the floor, having removed shoes made of leather and dimmed the lights in the synagogue. The five-chapter book is chanted to a special, sad dirge-like melody, used for part of the Shabbat Hazon haftorah as well.
An elegy mourning the destruction of communities in Gush Katif, northern Gaza and northern Samaria, is being adopted by more and more synagogues as part of the Tisha B’Av liturgy, in addition to the ones traditionally recited after reading Eicha at night and in the morning.. The elegies recall the destuction of Holy Temples and other tragedies, such as the Romans’ cruel execution of 10 Torah scholars.
At the end of the service, a candle is lit as it is every Saturday night at the close of the Sabbath, but the Havdalah prayer over wine is only said the next day.
It is told that Napoleon was walking on the night of Tisha B’Av and entered a synagogue, only to see this spectacle. He asked for an explanation and was told that the Jews are mourning the destruction of their Temple. Thinking it must have been a recent event, he asked when the calamity occurred. Upon being told that it had happened some 1800 years earlier, he declared – correctly – that a people that mourns its exile for 1800 years will one day return to its land.
According to the Talmud, and in the words of the Prophets who exhorted the Jews to repent, the First Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people did not keep the most basic tenets of Judaism and continued to woship idols, shed innocent blood and behave immorally.
The Second Temple, however, say theTalmudic sages, was destroyed because of baseless hatred between one Jew and another. Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, wrote that unconditional love of Israel and its people, can rebuild it and the nation as a whole.
As on every Tisha B’Av since the liberation of the Western Wall in 1967, tens of thousands of Jews are expected to frequent the Wall, praying for the rebuilding of the Temple that stood just behind it. Though pleasure trips and joyous get-togethers are forbidden on Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed – Rabbi of Har Bracha in the Shomron, head of Yeshivat Shavei Shomron, and prolific author of halakhic [Jewish Legal] works – has written,
“It is clear that one need not refrain from going to the Western Wall [on Tisha B’Av] for fear of meeting friends and being happy. My father and teacher [Rabbi Zalman Melamed] has said that there is no greater rectification for Tisha B’Av than to go to the Wall, the remnant of the destruction, and to pray for the Holy Temple to be speedily rebuilt in our days. On the contrary: The fact that many people go there enhances the power of the prayer, and increases Divine honor.”
Rabbi Melamed the son added that when one meets friends there, “he should not greet them, but is permitted to grasp their hands with love and pray with them for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.”
A Sampling of Jerusalem Events:
In keeping with an old Jerusalem custom, a march around the Old City walls sponsored by the Women In Green organization is scheduled for after the reading of Eicha..
In Ramot, Jerusalem, an area where demographic changes are taking place, the Community Center (above the library) is hosting a panel discussion on religious-secular relations featuring a hareidi spokesman Betzalel Cohen who is a graduate of the Mandel Educational Leadership program, Israel prize-winning archaeologist Professor Amichai Mazar, and Attorney Zev Landner of the community council.
Megalim, the City of David, is having a tour of the archaeological findings of ancient Jerusalem, which will include the reading of Eicha, starting at 9:15 P.M. (tour at 10:00 p.m) in Area G.
Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, 29 Pierre Koenig St., will have a day of learning from 10a.m.-5p.m. in memory of Marla Bennett, Ben Blutstein, Sara Duker and Matt Eisenfeld, students murdered in terrorist attacks
The Dati Leumi Synaguge on 22 Chai Taib, Har Nof, Jerusalem, will have lectures from 9:30 a.m. to 1p.m. for women only.
Health tips for fasting:
Magen David Adom has released recommendations for fasting, in order to help the public get through the day safely. MDA paramedics often treat dozens of people for dehydration on major fast days; they will be present this year at the Western Wall (Kotel) to assist the many worshipers there in case of need.
The elderly or ill: Those who are elderly or ill should discuss fasting with a doctor. Those suffering from a variety of illnesses, including but not limited to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer, must take their medicine as usual during the fast.
During the fast: Those fasting are advised to remain in cool, shaded areas. They should be on alert for signs of dehydration, and should dial 101 for emergency help if they experience signs of dehydration such as extreme weakness, chest pain, sudden heavy sweating, or difficulty breathing.
Ending the fast: Breaking the fast is best done by drinking liquids accompanied by a small snack, such as a piece of cake or a slice of bread with cheese. After one hour, a light meal can be eaten.
Source: Arutz Sheva