Tisha B’Av is an annual fast day in Judaism, on which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in the Siege of Jerusalem (597 BC), and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem.
Tisha B’Av marks the end of the three weeks between dire straits and is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and it is thus believed to be a day which is destined for tragedy. Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the Gregorian calendar.
The observance of the day includes five prohibitions, most notable of which is a 25-hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem is read in the synagogue, followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and Jerusalem. As the day has become associated with remembrance of other major calamities which have befallen the Jewish people, some kinnot also recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, expulsions from England, from Spain, and elsewhere, massacres in numerous medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades, and the Holocaust.
According to the Mishnah five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the “Promised Land”. For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land. The midrash quotes God as saying about this event, “You cried before me pointlessly, I will fix for you [this day as a day of] crying for the generations”, alluding to the future misfortunes which occurred on the same date.
The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, and the population of the Kingdom of Judah was sent into the Babylonian exile. According to the Bible, the First Temple’s destruction began on the 7th of Av (2 Kings 25:8) and continued until the 10th (Jeremiah 52:12). According to the Talmud, the actual destruction of the Temple began on the Ninth of Av, and it continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.
The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Jude and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land.
The Romans subsequently crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 500,000 Jewish civilians (approximately 580,000) on August 4, 135 CE.
Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE.The First Crusade officially commenced on August 15, 1096 (Av 24, AM 4856), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 (Av 9, AM 5050).
The Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 (Av 10, AM 5066).
The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 (Av 7, AM 5252).
Germany entered World War I on August 1–2, 1914 (Av 9–10, AM 5674), which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.
On August 2, 1941 (Av 9, AM 5701), SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.” As a result, the Holocaust began during which almost one third of the world’s Jewish population perished.
On July 23, 1942 (Av 9, AM 5702), began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
The AMIA bombing, of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killed 85 and injured 300 on July 18, 1994 (10 Av, AM 5754).
While the Holocaust spanned a number of years, most religious communities use Tisha B’Av to mourn its 6,000,000 Jewish victims, in addition to or instead of the secular Holocaust Memorial Days. On Tisha B’Av, communities which otherwise do not modify the traditional prayer liturgy have added the recitation of special kinnot related to the Holocaust.
How to Celebrate
- No eating or drinking
- No washing or bathing
- No application of creams or oils
- No wearing of (leather) shoes
- No marital (sexual) relations