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Tisha B’Av FAQ

Everything you always wanted to know about the holiday

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WHAT IS TISHA B’AV?

It’s the day, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, on which a series of Jewish tragedies took place, notably the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the destruction of the Second Temple 656 years later, in 70 CE.

WHEN IS TISHA B’AV?

Tisha B’Av 2012 begins at sundown on Saturday, July 28, ending on sundown Sunday, July 29.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

We Jews should’ve known this day was no good when, on it, Moses’s spies came from the Promised Land with reports of a terrible place littered with walled fortresses and roamed by angry giants. Moses ordered his doubting emissaries killed, but the curse of Tisha B’Av lived on: the First Temple was destroyed on this day in 586 BCE. The Second Temple suffered the same fate exactly 656 years later, in 70 CE. Sixty-five years after that, in 135 CE, the Bar Kokhba revolt failed, its leader was killed, and its flagship city, Betar, was destroyed. Then, one year later, Jerusalem itself was burned, the Temple area plowed, and the fate of the Jews sealed for millennia. As if further insult was needed, in 1492, King Ferdinand of Spain signed the Alhambra Decree, setting Tisha B’Av as the deadline for all of Spain’s Jews to leave for good.

Coming at the end of the Three Weeks of mourning, which began with the 17th of Tammuz, Tisha B’Av signifies the conclusion of the period known as Bein Hameitzarim, or between the straits, a time of reflection and abstinence from pleasure.

ANY BAD GUYS?

In abundance: All of Moses’s cowardly and faithless spies, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, who said that the land was good; Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian, besieger of Jerusalem and destroyer of the First Temple; Titus, Rome’s fearful officer who set flames to the Second Temple; and, last but not least, Ferdinand “The Catholic” of Aragon.

WHAT DO WE EAT?

Nothing. But unlike Yom Kippur, most rabbis tend to be a bit more lenient about fasting, making exceptions not only for those whose lives are seriously at risk but also for the ill and the generally unwell.

ANY DOS AND DON’TS?

Don’ts, mainly. Anything that gives us pleasure is prohibited, which rules out, among other things, bathing, wearing leather shoes, and carnal pursuits. If you thought maybe you’d replace the day’s heavy petting with Torah study—think again. Reading our Book of Books is considered a supreme joy and is therefore forbidden on Tisha B’Av. So is laying tefillin, as phylacteries are referred to as pe’er, or glory, and this is a decidedly inglorious day for the Jews.

ANYTHING GOOD TO READ?

We’re compensated for the day’s prohibitions with two splendid literary masterpieces: the Book of Eicha (Lamentations), which is read in the evening, and the Kinnot, poems of lamentation, in the morning. Taken together, these two are a powerful lesson in mourning. Eicha, while lyrically describing the ruin of Jerusalem, also speaks of a hopeful future, a time when the children of God, chastised, will learn their lessons and return to their former glory. The Kinnot, a vast and changing collection of works written through the centuries, strikes very much the same tone. The most famous author to work in the form was Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, who forever changed the genre’s focus from weeping over the tragedies of the past to looking expectantly at a brighter future. Be sad, these texts tell us, but not for long.

ANYTHING ELSE TO DO?

• Secretly rejoice with this uplifting story of one good thing that happened on Tisha B’Av, for a change

• Get in the groove with “Eicha,” the hip-hop song.

• Or, for the more traditional, listen to the book-on-tape in Hebrew.

• Ponder author A.B. Yehoshua’s own Tisha B’Av meditation on Judaism.

• Start planning for breaking the fast.

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Shalom Freedman says:

This short description of Tisha B’Av omits a whole host of major tragedies which occured on or around this day. The destruction of the Rhineland communities during the Crusades, the Chelmniecki massacres in the Ukraine, the beginning of deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto are among these.
It errors in saying that religious Jews do not put on Tefillin on this day. Tefillin are not put on in the Morning Prayer and instead put on in the afternoon Prayer.
Tisha B’Av symbolized for generations not only the destruction of the Temples but the condition of Jewish Exile.
The ingathering of Exiles, and the establishment of the Jewish state raise questions as to the proper status of and observance of the Day.
In Israel today religious Jews observe the day by fasting and other prohibitions. But the general community honors the day by closing down places of entertainment and public festivity.

Steven Online says:

Also the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1046CE? (not sure of exact year but correct century).

Zvi Rabbie says:

July 18 1290 CE. King Edward I of England orders all Jews (then numbering around 16,000) to leave England by November 1 (All Saints Day); on the Hebrew calendar this is Tisha B’Av, a day that commemorates many calamities.

Ira Wolff says:

I don’t think the article is correct in saying that “Moses ordered his doubting emissaries killed.” They were killed not by Moshe but in a plague resulting from G-d’s wrath at their lack of trust(Numbers Chapter 14, verse 36). If anything, Moshe had tried to save their lives along with the rest of the Jewish people (Numbers Chapter 14, verse 19).

Jacob says:

Looks like Tsha b’av is the original Friday the 13.

Having gone through Israeli education, I just realized that the true meaning of Tisha B’av was suppressed in my school in Tel Aviv or my synagogue in Petah Tikva. My family never discussed it. Reading this article and the comments on Tisha B’av tells me that we Jews still haven’t learned the “never again” lesson of Tisha B’av. We are still vulnerable to whoever wants to harm us. We Jews are not proud people. We are apologetic for our survival. People who have contributed so much to humanity should be able to shift emphasis and start contributing more to the survival of Israel.

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Tisha B’Av FAQ

Everything you always wanted to know about the holiday

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