Tisha Be’Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av) is traditionally considered a time of mourning for the Jewish people. The Mishna in Tractate Taanit explains:
Five tragic events befell our ancestors…on Tisha Be’Av. … On Tisha Be’Av: it was decreed on our ancestors that they not enter the land of Israel (see Bamidbar chs. 13, 14), The Holy Temple was destroyed for the first and second time, the city of Beitar was conquered (this was the site of a great massacre of Jews following the destruction of the Second Temple), and the razing of Jerusalem (following the destruction of the Second Temple). Therefore when the month of Av begins, we curtail our joy. Mishna Taanit 4:6
The commemoration of Tisha Be’Av begins three weeks prior to the holiday on the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day, which was the date when the walls of Jerusalem were breached prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The haftarot read on Shabbat during this period, known as the three haftarot of rebuke, are full of admonitions and set a somber tone reminding us to prepare for mourning. Traditionally Jews do not get married during this period. The month of Av, nine days before Tisha Be’Av, it is customary to take upon ourselves many of the customs associated with mourning. The Shabbat before Tisha Be’Av is known as Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision, because the haftarah portion read on this Shabbat offers Isaiah’s prophecy of the destruction of the Temple.
The traditions of Tisha Be’Av resemble those of Yom Kippur in many ways. Five things are customarily forbidden on such days:
- Eating or drinking
- Washing or bathing
- Application of creams or oils (anointing)
- Wearing of leather shoes
- Marital relations
Prior to the onset of Tisha Be’Av it is customary to eat a seudah mafseket (a final meal) that is supposed to help usher us into the mindset of sorrow and contemplation (a traditional final meal consists of one cooked item and one non-cooked item). On the eve of Tisha Be’Av we gather as a community for the evening prayers, and the book of Eikhah (Lamentations) is chanted using a special and somber trope. It is customary to sit on the floor or on low chairs, and to lower the lights.
The day of Tisha Be’Av is meant to be spent in a self reflective manner, and things are done in a way that is out of the ordinary. Tallit and tefillin are not worn as usual the during the Shaharit (morning) service. It is traditional to study difficult texts such as the Book of Eikhah (Lamentations), the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and chapters of the Talmud that discuss the laws of mourning or the destruction of the Temple.
By the time of the Minha (the afternoon service), we begin to return to our selves. We sit on regular chairs, and finally don our tallit and tefillin (the only time during the year when they are worn at minha). We are challenged by our tradition to use the end of this day as constructive time, as a time to literally rise up from the dust. We must now begin to answer the question: how are we going to move forward from destruction and despair to joy and reconstruction?
As Rebbe Nachman of Breslev taught, “One earns joy through fasting, and so fast days come to lead us to joy.”
Shabbat Nahamu, on the Shabbat following Tisha Be’Av, the words of the haftarah (Isaiah 40) offer words of comfort from the destruction commemorated during the previous month. This Shabbat marks the beginning of the Seven Haftarot of Consolation that lead up to Rosh Hashanah.
At B’nai Jeshurun we begin Tisha Be’Av by gathering together for Ma’ariv and the reading of Eikhah. Congregants are invited to bring flashlights to the evening service, which will take place in dimmed lights. The next day there is a Shaharit service in the morning and Minha in the late afternoon.