View an excellent overview video: “Crash Course on Tisha B'Av”
What Happened on the Ninth of Av?
On Tisha B'Av, five national calamities occurred:
- During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
- The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
- The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar – the Jews' last stand against the Romans – was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
- The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city – renamed Aelia Capitolina – and access was forbidden to Jews.
Other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history occurred on the Ninth of Av, including:
- The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B'Av in 1492.
- World War One broke out on the eve of Tisha B'Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
- On the eve of Tisha B'Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
Aspects of Mourning: The Afternoon Before Tisha B'Av
During the afternoon prior to Tisha B'Av, it is customary to eat a full meal in preparation for the fast.
At the end of the afternoon, we eat the Seudah Hamaf-seket – a meal consisting only of bread, water, and a hard-boiled egg.
The egg has two symbols: The round shape reminds us of a sign of the cycle of life. Also, the egg is the only food which gets harder the more it is cooked – a symbol of the Jewish people's ability to withstand persecution.
Food eaten at the Seudah Hamaf-seket is dipped in ashes, symbolic of mourning. The meal should preferably be eaten alone, while seated on the ground in mourner's fashion.
When the afternoon prior to Tisha B'Av occurs on Shabbat, there is no Seudah Hamaf-seket with eggs and ashes. Rather, the regular Shabbat "third meal" is eaten, albeit without guests and fanfare.
Restrictions on Tisha B'Av
Upon sundown, the laws of Tisha B'Av commence – consisting of the following expressions of mourning:
1. No eating or drinking until nightfall the following evening.
- Pregnant and nursing women are also required to fast. If one suspects it could be harmful to the baby or mother, a rabbi should be consulted.
- A woman within 30 days after birth need not fast.
- Others who are old, weak, or ill should consult with a rabbi. (MB 554:11)
- Medicine may be taken on Tisha B'Av, preferably without water.
- In case of great discomfort, the mouth may be rinsed with water. Great care should be taken not to swallow anything. (MB 567:11)
2. Other prohibitions include:
- Any bathing or washing, except for removing specific dirt – e.g. gook in the eyes (OC 554:9, 11). (Upon rising in the morning, before prayers, or after using the bathroom, one washes only the fingers. See OC 554:10, OC 613:3, MB 554:26)
- Anointing oneself for pleasure. (Deodorant is permitted.)
- Having marital relations.
- Wearing leather shoes. (Leather belts may be worn.)(see: Laws of Shoes and Chairs)
- Learning Torah, since this is a joyful activity. It is permitted to learn texts relevant to Tisha B'Av and mourning – e.g. the Book of Lamentations, Book of Job, parts of Tractate Moed Katan, Gittin 56-58, Sanhedrin 104, Yerushalmi end of Ta'anis, and the Laws of Mourning. In-depth study should be avoided. (MB 554:4)
3. Other mourning practices include:
- Sitting no higher than a foot off the ground. After midday, one may sit on a chair. (OC 559:3)(see: Laws of Shoes and Chairs)
- Not engaging in business or other distracting labors, unless it will result in a substantial loss. (OC 554:24)
- Refraining from greeting others or offering gifts. (OC 554:20)
- Avoiding idle chatter or leisure activities.
4. Following Tisha B'Av, all normal activities may be resumed, except for the following which are delayed until midday of the 10th of Av, because the burning of the Temple continued through the 10th of Av:
- Haircuts and washing clothes. (When Tisha B'Av falls out on Thursday, these are permitted immediately following Tisha B'Av, in honor of the coming Shabbat.)
- Bathing. (When Tisha B'Av falls out on Thursday, bathing is permitted on Friday morning.)
- Eating meat and wine.
- Music and swimming.
Prayer on Tisha B'Av
- Lights in the synagogue are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain is removed from the Ark. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice. This reminds us of the Divine Presence which departed from the Holy Temple.
- The Book of Eicha (Lamentations), Jeremiah's poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, is read both at night and during the day.
- Following both the night and day service, special "Kinot" (elegies) are recited.
- In the morning, the Torah portion of Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read, containing the prophecy regarding Israel's future iniquity and exile. This is followed by the Haftorah from Jeremiah (8:13, 9:1-23) describing the desolation of Zion.
- In the afternoon, Exodus 32:11-14 is read. This is followed by the Haftorah from Isaiah 55-56.
- Since Tallis and Tefillin represent glory and decoration, they are not worn at Shacharit. Rather, they are worn at Mincha, as certain mourning restrictions are lifted.
- Birkat Kohanim is said only at Mincha, not at Shacharit.
- Prayers for comforting Zion and "Aneinu" are inserted into the Amidah prayer at Mincha.
- Shortly after the fast is broken, it is customary to say Kiddush Lavana.
When Tisha B'Av Falls on Shabbat
For a full treatment of this topic, see: When Tisha B'Av falls on Shabbat or Sunday. Here is a brief overview of the special conditions that apply:
- The fast is pushed off until Saturday night/Sunday.
- All other prohibitions of Tisha B'Av (washing, learning Torah, leather shoes, etc.) are permitted on Shabbat itself, except for marital relations. (Of course, regular Shabbat restrictions apply, such as anointing with cream and showering.)
- Seudah Shlishit has none of the restrictions of Seudah Hamaf-seket, and may include meat and wine. However, the mood should be somber, should not include invited guests, and eating must stop before sundown.
- Ma'ariv on Saturday night is delayed, so that everyone can say "Boruch Hamavdil bein kodesh li'chol," then remove their leather shoes and come to synagogue.
- Havdallah on Saturday night is recited only over a candle, without wine or spices. On Sunday night, Havdallah is then said over wine.
- Regarding the various prohibitions, some are lifted immediately upon completion of the fast (e.g. bathing, laundry and haircuts), while others remain prohibited until the following morning (meat, wine and music).
with thanks to Rabbi Moshe Lazerus