Tisha B'Av 101

A basic guide to the restrictions, customs and historical significance of the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.


What is Tisha B'Av?

Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) is the culmination of three weeks of mourning - beginning with the 17th of Tammuz - in which the Jewish people commemorate the breach of the walls of Jerusalem during the era of the First Temple, which ended with the Temple's destruction in 587 BCE.

It is considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and takes place on the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem (the second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE). According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah comes and the third Temple is built, Tisha B'Av will no longer be a day of mourning, but one of the most joyous days of the year.

What do you do on Tisha B'Av?

Tisha B'Av is a fast day, and unlike other fast days in the Jewish calendar (excluding Yom Kippur) that start at dawn, it begins and sundown on the eighth of the Jewish month of Av and ends at dusk after the ninth. This year (2011), the fast began on the evening of August 8, 2011 and will end on August 9, 2011 at night. The exact times at which the fast began and will end are location-dependent.

Are there religious laws governing Tisha B'Av?

Many of the rules followed on Tisha B'Av are similar to Yom Kippur, however, while on Yom Kippur we are instructed to uphold these traditions because of our elevated spiritual level, on Tisha B'Av, these regulations are symbolic of one who is in mourning.

The restrictions for Tisha B'Av include no food or drink, no leather shoes, no sex, no anointing (this is interpreted in many ways, though this can include lotions, cosmetics, perfume or even deodorant), no studying Torah, no bathing and no washing (one may only wash one's hands partially - the fingers until the knuckles, excluding the palm). There are also restrictions on working, and it is considered a bad omen to conduct business deals during the fast.

The nature of the day also dictates Jews' behavior, with many refraining from greeting each other and smiling. One may not sit more than a foot off the ground until midday, and many will remove a pillow or sleep in a less plush bed, the discomfort reminding them of the Temples lost.

What is read on Tisha B'Av?

The book of Eicha (Lamentations) is read, a book written by the prophet Yermiyahu that mourns the destruction of the Temple. Kinnot (dirges and mournful elegies) are read as well.

May this be a meaningful and reflective fast for all observing the day.