Haaretz's food columnist cooks lunch with the doyenne of Jewish cooking, and discusses food history and Jewish tradition
Tisha B’AvJuly-August Illustration: Masha Manapov
What is Tisha B’Av?
Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for multiple tragedies in Jewish history. The catastrophes believed to have happened on the ninth ("Tisha" in Hebrew) day of the Jewish month of Av include the destruction of both the first and second Temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively, and the Roman massacre of the Jews of Betar in 132, which effectively ended the Bar Kochba rebellion.
Throughout the centuries, other persecutions have been accrued to the day, including the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and from England in 1290. In 1942, the Germans chose Tisha B’Av to begin the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.
However, Jewish tradition has it that one day, Tisha B'Av will become a day of rejoicing. A midrash (Midrash Eicha Rabba 1:51) states that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av, and one prophecy (Zechariah 8:19) says Tisha B’Av will someday be celebratory: “The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts.”
When is Tisha B’Av?
As its name indicates, Tisha B’Av is commemorated on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av (usually falling in August). As with all Jewish holidays, it begins and ends at sundown.
Tisha B'av 2015 - July 25 to 26
Tisha B'av 2016 - August 13 to 14
Tisha B'av 2017 - July 31 to August 1
Tisha B'av 2018 - July 21 to 22
Tisha B'av 2019 - August 10 to 11
How do we observe Tisha B’Av?
Tisha B’Av is day of mourning observed by abstaining from food and drink from sundown to after sunset the next day.
It is customary to sit on low chairs or on the floor, as in a house of mourning. Other mourning customs include wearing old garments and abstaining from sexual relations, the use of perfumes, and wearing leather shoes. Bathing for pleasure is also forbidden, and only the minimal amount of washing for hygiene is allowed. There are also restrictions on working, and it is considered a bad omen to conduct business deals during the fast. Jews refrain from greeting each other or sending gifts on this day. It is customary to sit on low stools or on the floor until midday, and many will remove a pillow or sleep in a less plush bed, the discomfort reminding them of the Temples lost. Studying Torah and Talmud is limited only to those parts suitable for a nation in mourning.
On the night of Tisha B’Av, the somber Book of Eicha (Lamentations), which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, is read in synagogues by low light or candlelight. This is followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges mourning the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem. Some kinnot also recall other events associated with Tisha B’Av, such as massacres of whole communities during the Crusades and the Holocaust.
In Israel, most businesses close early the eve of Tisha B’Av and programming on television and radio is somber and subdued.
What do we eat on Tisha B’Av?
As Tisha B’Av itself is a fast day, we don’t eat on the day itself. However, there is special mourning fare for the last meal before the fast of Tisha B’Av. Many communities serve dishes with round ingredients, symbolizing the circle of life: lentils and eggs in Sephardi and Mizrahi communities, bagels in the Ashkenazi ones.
Are there religious laws governing Tisha B'Av?
Tisha B’Av is believed to have been established during the 70 years of the Babylonian exile as one of four days commemorating the destruction of the Temple and the loss of sovereignty. The earliest reference to these four days of fasting is found in the Book of Zechariah, written during these first years of return to Israel.
The historical significance of Tisha B’Av is discussed in the Mishna (Ta'anit 4:6) although there was some debate during Second Temple times as to whether the fast should still be observed when the Temple had been rebuilt. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the fast became firmly established in the national psyche. The Talmud (Ta’anit 26b) discusses the precise laws of mourning, starting with “reducing our joy” from the beginning of the month of Av.
Tisha B'Av Reading
Jerusalem was not destroyed because of baseless hatred, but rather because of the zeal of Jewish fundamentalists.
It is seemingly incomprehensible: two separate resistance organizations existed in the Warsaw Ghetto. One combining all the socialist movements there, Zionist and anti-Zionist; the other led by members of Betar, the Revisionist youth organization.
When personal devastation overlaps with ancient Jewish devastation, the author finds himself mediating about loss.
The ninth of Av marks the destruction of the Second Temple.
Jews are going through a period of mourning, and naturally many of the rituals have to do with food.
Rabbi Yohanan, son of Nuri, said: 'I had complained about Rabbi Akiva and he was punished with a flogging. Yet I know that he loved me all the more each time he was beaten, as it is written, "Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee. Reprove a wise man, and he will love thee."'
What would the Pixar movie’s characters – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – say about this solemn day?
For Tisha B'Av, a jeremiad by Dan Almagor from more than a quarter century ago.
The Prophet Zechariah, for one, seems to think we should be celebrating the construction of the Second Temple, not mourning the loss of the first. But that was then.