Tisha B’Av: The 9th of Av

drawing of a girl thinking

Purpose of Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av, which lands on the ninth day of the month of Av, commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (586 B.C. and A.D. 70), as well as other tragedies in Jewish history. It has overshadowed all other fast days in Jewish tradition and is observed with solemnity and mourning. Characterized by various prohibitions, Tisha B’Av “is considered the saddest day on our calendar.”1

Origin of Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av originated in the first century A.D. as a fast day to mourn five tragedies in Jewish history, all of which were said to have occurred on that same day. As time went on, more catastrophes were added to the list. Tisha B’Av now commemorates the following: 

  1. Ten of our spies brought a bad report to Moses about the land of Israel and we refused to enter the land. As such, God forced that generation to wander forty years and die in the wilderness (Numbers 14)
  2. Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.
  3. The Roman destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70
  4. The annihilation of Bar Kokhba’s rebellion
  5. The plowing of the Temple area in Jerusalem by Roman general Turnus Rufus
  6. The massacre of the entire Jewish population of York, England in 1190 due to the Christian “blood libel”
  7. The banishment of all Jewish people from England in 1290 by King Edward 
  8. The final day for Jewish people to leave Spain after the expulsion order of 1492
  9. The beginning of the Nazis’ deportation of Jewish people from Warsaw to Treblinka in 19422

How Tisha B’Av Is Observed

Tisha B’Av is generally observed through fasting. The Mishnah sets out various additional prohibitions for the week preceding Tisha B’Av:

“During the week of Tisha B’Av, it is forbidden to cut hair and wash… On the afternoon before Tisha B’Av [when having the last meal before the fast] a person may not eat two cooked foods… nor may he eat meat, or drink wine” (Ta’anit 4).

According to rabbinic tradition, Jewish people are also not to engage in study of the Torah on Tisha B’Av. The Torah gladdens our hearts and is a source of pleasure; therefore, it is forbidden on a day of mourning.

Today, many religious Jewish people observe the holiday by fasting, and some also adhere to the additional prohibitions. 

Special Synagogue Readings for Tisha B’Av

Evening service:

  • The Book of Lamentations, one of the “five scrolls” or megillot, is read on the eve of Tisha B’Av.

Morning service:

Afternoon service:

Traditional Customs of Tisha B’Av

Hard boiled eggs and lentils are commonly eaten the afternoon before the fast. On the eve of Tisha B’Av, it is traditional to eat bagels and eggs sprinkled with or dipped in the burnt ashes of food (as a symbol of mourning for the destroyed Temple). 

Other customs include sitting on low stools or on the floor (as a sign of humility) and visiting cemeteries (as an observance of grief). Sephardim also clean and whitewash their homes.

Spiritual Application of Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av is an occasion to commemorate the tragedies that have befallen our people throughout history. Moreover, Tisha B’Av invites us to recognize the evil that humanity is capable of and our universal need for redemption, both physically and spiritually. That redemption is offered by God through Yeshua (I John 1:9).

Endnotes

1. Chaim Press, The Future Festival: Laws, Traditions and Customs of the Three Weeks and Tishah B’Av: Their Origins and Rationale (Southfield, MI: Targum Press, 1996), 68.

2. “Rejoice in Your Festivals: The Jewish Year.” Essential Judaism: a Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs & Rituals, by George Robinson, Pocket Books, 2000, pp. 131-132.