Zechariah 7:3 “…Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?”
Tisha B’Av, meaning the Ninth of Av, is Judaism’s annual day of fast in memory of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. According to Jewish belief, both temples were destroyed on the same day – 656 years apart. On the Gregorian calendar, the day falls on mid- July or early August.
According to Jewish tradition, five different events, known as the five calamities – warranting fasting, happened on the ninth of Av:
- God punished the Israelites who came out of Egypt for their lack of faith in Him, refusing Moses’ pleas and telling him they would not enter the land: “… and the Lord replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw My glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed Me and tested Me 10 times – not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated Me with contempt will ever see it,” (Numbers 14:20-23)
- The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. The Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile.
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and the people of Judea were exiled from the Holy Land.
- Bar Kokhba’s revolt against the Roman Empire in 135 AD, failed. Simon Bar Kokhba was killed and the city of Beitar was destroyed.
- Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans put a siege of Jerusalem and razed the city the following year.
Several other disasters for the Jews also attributed to this specific date are:
- 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.
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.
Customs and traditions
Tisha B’Av carries the following restrictions: Fasting – No eating or drinking is allowed for 25 hours; Grooming – No washing, bathing or lathering is allowed; the wearing of leather shoes is forbidden; any displays of physical affection or intercourse is forbidden.
According to tradition, the studying of Torah – considered enjoyable, is forbidden as well. The only books allowed are the Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and Talmud chapters pertaining to the law of mourning.
While fasting, it is customary to sit on low stools or on the floor, as is done during shiva – the seven days of mourning customary in Judaism. The period of the nine days preceding Tisha B’Av are known as The Nine Days: Orthodox Jews mark them as days of intense mourning.
According to Orthodox belief, Tisha B’Av will remain a day of mourning until the Messiah arrives, at which time it would turn into a great day of celebration, as stated in the Bible: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace,'” (Zechariah 8:19)