SUNDAY POST: Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av, an annual fast day in Judaism, is named for the ninth day (Tisha) of the fifth month of Av in the Hebrew calendar.

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day set aside by God for suffering.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BC.  The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land.  But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. God is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

More disastrous events which occurred on Tisha B’Av:

  • The First Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av.  It was built by King Solomon and was the most important place in ancient Judaism. It was demolished when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
  • The Second Temple was rebuilt on the site of the First Temple and was completed in 516 B.C.  Sadly, the Second Temple was also destroyed. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was being destroyed the same day as the First.

The destruction of the two Temples took place on the same day – the ninth of Av – about 656 years apart. These two events were so tragic that the ancient rabbis declared the anniversary of the Temples’ destruction a day of mourning. This is the origination of Tisha B’Av.

  • When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader,Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 135 AD as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av. One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, Israel’s holiest site.
  • 1095 AD, on Tisha B’Av of that year was the date Pope Urban II called the first Crusade, which resulted in the killing of more than ten thousand Jews, and the obliteration of Jewish communities in Germany.
  • The edict of King Edward I which expelling the Jews of England from the country was signed on the ninth of Av in 1290.  Their property was confiscated and killings of Jews occurred. *
  • In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. There were forced conversions, family separations, pogroms, and much loss of property. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? The 9th of Av. *
  • World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av. Over 400 pogroms immediately following the war in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.All but one-third of world Jewry would perish.
  • On Tisha B’Av 1941, Hermann Göring ordered SS general Reinhard Heydrich to make all the necessary preparations for the Final Solution.
  • Tisha B’Av 1942 saw the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp begin.
  • On Tisha B’Av 2004, at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama was catapulted from relative obscurity to national fame, after giving a speech which electrified the convention. He would go on to become the most avid anti Israel president in American history.

Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

Zechariah 7:3 “…Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?”

The Alhambra Decree, issued March 31, 1492, ordered all Jews to leave Spain by the end of July 1492.  July 31, 1492 was Tisha B’Av. The Edict of Expulsion from England was issued on July 18, 1290. Note that if you use a Jewish calendar converter to check this, it will probably show these dates as a few days before the 9th of Av. These expulsions occurred before the Gregorian calendar reform, which altered the way the secular calendar works, and converters don’t take this into account, which causes the discrepancy.

Tisha B’Av is the culmination of a three week period of increasing mourning, beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed.

During this three week period, weddings and other parties are not permitted, and people refrain from cutting their hair. From the first to the ninth of Av, it is customary to refrain from eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Shabbat) and from wearing new clothing.

The day, which is marked by a traditional fast, will see dozens of prayer services, each conducted according to the observers’ various Jewish traditions.

In synagogue, the book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black.

Tisha B’Av is never observed on Shabbat. If the 9th of Av falls on a Saturday, the fast is postponed until the 10th of Av.

List of Dates

Tisha B’Av will occur on the following days of the secular calendar:

  • Jewish Year 5776: sunset August 13, 2016 – nightfall August 14, 2016
  • Jewish Year 5777: sunset July 31, 2017 – nightfall August 1, 2017
  • Jewish Year 5778: sunset July 21, 2018 – nightfall July 22, 2018
  • Jewish Year 5779: sunset August 10, 2019 – nightfall August 11, 2019

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