Tisha B’Av: Meaning, Customs, Rituals, Activities & Restrictions
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What Is Tisha B’Av?
Tisha B’av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Roman destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
Since then, numerous other tragedies have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av. Accordingly, Jews observe this day as a national fast day and a day of mourning. In Jewish law, many pleasurable activities are forbidden, and many of the restrictions generally observed by a mourner are followed.
The Book of Lamentations, or Megillat Eicha, is read at night, and kinot, a series of mournful poems, are recited throughout the night and day. Many of the kinot mourn tragedies other than the destruction of the Temples, such as the Crusades and the Holocaust. We go in-depth about kinot here.
Many find it hard to connect to tragedies in history that seem far removed. Still others find it hard to know how to channel their grief into something constructive. To find answers to these and other questions about Tisha B’Av, start watching here.
What Does Tisha B’Av Mean?
Tisha B’Av means “the ninth of Av” in Hebrew (“Av” is the name of a Hebrew month), referring to the date of this fast day, and the date of some of the tragedies it commemorates.
Tisha B’Av Laws & Restrictions
Because of its status as a period of intense mourning, there are many laws and restrictions applied to the ninth of Av. Many of these restrictions are the same as those that are applied on Yom Kippur. However, Yom Kippur places restrictions on physicality as a sign of atonement and extreme focus on God, whereas Tisha B’Av restrictions are acts of mourning.
As with Yom Kippur, many Tisha B’Av prohibitions extend for the entirety of the “day” as defined by Jewish law, from sundown on the eighth of Av to one hour after sundown on the ninth of Av.
Working on Tisha B'Av
Like most major Jewish holidays, it is not permitted to work on Tisha B'Av. Once the fast begins, work should be avoided.
Food and drink
Tisha B’Av is a fast day on which all eating and drinking is prohibited. As part of the fast day, one should not brush one’s teeth, and should consult a doctor and Rabbi before the fast about taking prescribed medication. (Do not discontinue prescribed medication without a doctor’s approval!)
Other Tisha B’Av prohibitions restrict bathing, applying ointments, oils, creams, or perfumes, and washing of the hands above the knuckle. It is also forbidden to cut or shave one’s hair, or trim one’s nails on the ninth day of Av.
Another Tisha B’Av Law is that Intimacy is prohibited for the entire day.
Wearing leather shoes
Leather footwear is forbidden on Tisha B’Av. Shoes made of cloth, canvas, rubber, or plastic may be worn instead.
Sitting in chairs
The Jewish mourning custom of sitting on the floor or on low stools while sitting Shiva is observed on Tisha B’Av. Chairs and couches of a normal height are not typically used until midday on the ninth of Av.
It is traditional not to greet others on the ninth of Av, to preserve the somber atmosphere of the day. Like the custom to sit on the floor, some observe this tradition until midday.
On Tisha B'Av, it is forbidden to study Torah since this is considered an enjoyable activity. However, upsetting texts such as the Book of Lamentations, and portions of Jeremiah are permitted. It is also permissible to study chapters of the Talmud that discuss the laws of mourning.
Air travel is avoided on Tisha B’Av.
Tisha B’Av Customs
The seudah hamafseket, or preparatory meal, is eaten right before the fast. In addition to foods that provide nutrition before the fast, a hard boiled egg and a piece of bread dipped into ashes are eaten while sitting on the floor.
It is customary to modify normal sleeping arrangements to be slightly less comfortable on Tisha B'Av night.
When Is Tisha B’Av?
The fast of Tisha B’Av takes place on the ninth day of the month of Av. If the ninth of Av falls on a Saturday/Shabbat, then Tisha B'Av is held on the tenth day of Av. Tisha B'av starts at the time of sunset, and lasts until after sunset the following day.
The Tisha B’Av dates on the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars are:
- Sat, 17 July 2021 at sundown (9th of Av, 5781)
- Sat, 06 August 2022 at sundown (10th of Av, 5782)
- Wed, 26 July 2023 at sundown (9th of Av, 5783)
- Mon, 12 August 2024 at sundown (9th of Av, 5784)
- Sat, 02 August 2025 at sundown (9th of Av, 5785)
- Wed, 22 July 2026 at sundown (9th of Av, 5786)
Tisha B'Av History
According to the Mishnah (Ta'anit 4:6), we fast on the ninth of Av because of five calamities that took place on that day. The earliest of these is the first source of Tisha B’Av in the Bible.
The Ninth of Av in the Bible
Before the Israelites entered the land of Israel, they sent spies to scout out the land. When the spies brought back a negative report, the Israelites cried on the ninth of Av, demonstrating a lack of faith in God. This generation was punished and forbidden to enter the land.
God decreed that, as the Israelites had wept for false purposes on the ninth of Av, this day would become a day of weeping for true misfortune forever (Numbers 13–14).
What Happened on Tisha B'av?
The other calamities that took place on Tisha B’Av throughout history are:
- The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, which the Talmud tells us began to burn on the ninth of Av and continued through the tenth. For this reason, some observe mourning practices until midday on the tenth of Av.
- The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans and resulted in the Jewish exile from the Holy Land and the scattering of Judea.
- The Romans killed more than 500,000 Jews on July 8th, 135 CE, or the 9th of Av, 3892, during the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt.
- Turnus Rufus, Roman commander who crushed the Bar Kokhba revolt, further demolished the site of the Temple and its surrounding area.
What else does Tisha B’Av commemorate?
There are several other historical events that are also linked to the tragic day of 9 Av.
- The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, and from Spain in 1492.
- The outbreak of World War I in 1914, which caused the upheaval of many Jewish communities and started the groundwork for World War II.
- The Final Solution by Heinrich Himmler was approved on the ninth of Av in 1941, leading to the Holocaust, which killed one third of the world's Jewish population.
- The mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka in 1942.
Tisha B’Av Activities, Rituals & Observance
After the meal, once the fast begins, kinot are read with dimmed lighting. Tefillin is not put on for morning services (Shacharit) on Tisha B'Av. Both Tzitzit and Tefillin are put on with blessings at afternoon services (Mincha). Kinot are also read during the morning service.
Kinot are songs and poems of lamentation and mourning, many of which were composed during tragic periods of Jewish history. Early kinot date from the time of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Kinot have been written to commemorate tragic events such as pogroms, massacres, expulsions, and persecutions experienced by the Jewish people throughout history. More recent kinot have been written in elegy to the Holocaust.
During the afternoon service, a special passage called Nachem is inserted in the Shmoneh Esrei prayers. “Nachem” means comfort, and the prayer begs God to console the suffering mourners of Zion and Jerusalem following its brutal destruction by the enemies of Israel.
Kinot are notoriously hard to understand; our Kinot 101 Guide will help you to connect more deeply to the ritual of reciting kinot, and to connect to Tisha B’Av in general.
Shabbat Nachamu 2020
The Shabbat after Tisha B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comforting. We read the Haftarah from the Book of Isaiah, which speaks of comforting the Jewish people for all their suffering. This is the first of the seven Haftarot that express the theme of redemption, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Guide To Megillat Eicha
Lamentations or, in Hebrew, Megillat Eicha, was written by Jeremiah the Prophet after the destruction of the first Temple (Beit Hamikdash). The Hebrew word “Eicha” means “How?”. Jeremiah begins by asking “How does Jerusalem, a city once full of people, now find itself without anyone?” Click below for Rabbi David Fohrman’s interpretive reflection on the text of Lamentations.