What Is Tisha B’Av?
Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av (Aug. 10-11, 2019), is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, on which we fast, deprive ourselves and pray. It is the culmination of the Three Weeks, a period of time during which we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
What Happened on 9 Av?
1313 BCE: The spies returned from the Promised Land with frightening reports, and the Israelites balked at the prospect of entering the land. G‑d decreed that they would therefore wander in the desert for 40 years.
Both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this date. The First Temple was burned by the Babylonians in 423 BCE (
) and the Second Temple fell to the Romans in 70 CE (
), unleashing a period of suffering from which our nation has never fully recovered.
The Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans in 133 CE ended in defeat: The Jews of Betar were butchered on the 9th of Av and the Temple Mount was plowed one year later on the same date.
Later on in our history, many more tragedies happened on this day, including the 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews and the 1492 banishment of all Jews from Spain.
How 9 Av Is Observed?
- eat or drink
- wear leather footwear
- bathe or wash ourselves (washing only until the knuckle when mandated by halachah)
- apply ointments or creams
- engage in marital relations or any form of intimacy
- sit on a normal-height chair until chatzot (the time when the sun has reached its apex)
- study Torah (except for the “sad” parts that deal with the destruction of the Temples, etc.)
- send gifts, or even greet one another (you may respond to greetings)
- engage in outings, trips or similar pleasurable activities
- wear fine, festive clothing
What we do:
The following rules apply to any year on which Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday—whether it originally fell on Sunday, or whether it fell on Shabbat and the fast was postponed until Saturday night.
On Shabbat, all public displays of mourning are strictly prohibited. On this day we eat, drink and rejoice as is customary—and even more so.
There are two exceptions:
If Shabbat is actually the 9th of Av, then marital relations are forbidden in Ashkenazi tradition. In all cases when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday, it is forbidden to study Torah starting with Shabbat midday (aside for those sections of Torah which are permitted to be studied on Tisha B’Av). As such, on this Shabbat we do not recite a chapter of Ethics of the Fathers, as is the custom in many communities on summertime Shabbat afternoons.
No mournful “separation meal” is conducted before the fast. Instead, shortly before sunset we partake of a sumptuous and joyous pre-fast meal. Care must be taken, however, that this meal ends before sunset.
We sit on chairs of regular height and wear normal footwear until nightfall. Only washing, eating and drinking are prohibited starting with sunset.
is recited on
night. In the evening prayers, the usual Shabbat night insertion, “Atah Chonantanu,” is included. The prayer “Vihi Noam” is omitted. Those who have not recited the evening prayers should say, before doing any activity that is forbidden on Shabbat,
“Baruch hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol”
(“Blessed is He who separates between the holy [day of Shabbat] and the mundane [weekday]”). Recite the
on Sunday night before eating.
Sometime on Saturday night (ideally right before the reading of Eicha), kindle the
candle and recite the appropriate blessing. (We do not recite the blessing of the spices.)
Immediately after the “Barchu” passage is recited in the Saturday night prayer service, remove your leather shoes and don non-leather footwear.
We sit on chairs of regular height and wear normal footwear until nightfall—omitting the blessings on the spices and candle. When 9 Av is on Sunday, if possible, the
wine or grape juice should be given to a child—younger than bar/bat mitzvah age—to drink.
Tisha B’Av evening services are held in synagogue, where the ark has been stripped of its decorative curtain and the lights dimmed. Evening prayers are followed by the chanting of
Morning prayers are held without
, since both are considered adornments. Most of the morning is occupied by the reading of Kinot, elegies marking the various tragedies that befell our people.
Work is permitted on Tisha B’Av, but discouraged. On this day, one’s focus should be on mourning and repentance. If one must work, it is preferable to begin after midday.
It is customary to give extra charity on Tisha B’Av, as on every fast day.
After midday, it is permissible to sit on chairs, and
are worn during the afternoon prayer.
In the synagogue, the ark’s curtain is restored to its place before the afternoon prayers.
Many communities have the custom to clean the house and wash the floors after midday, in anticipation of the Redemption, which we await.