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Tisha B’Av: A Day of Mourning

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Israel had a particularly rough history, fraught with tragedies and wrongs. Each year, there’s a special day set aside just for mourning and reflection: תשעה באב (Tish-ah be-Av), or “Tisha B’Av.” 

In this article, we’ll talk about some of these tragedies, cover the most common Tisha B’Av practices and customs, and go over the most important Tisha B’Av vocabulary. 

Let’s get started.

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1. What is Tisha B’Av?

An Image of David’s Tower and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Tisha B’Av is a day of אבל (evel), or “grieving,” for Jews, and it serves as a time to commemorate the many tragedies that Israel has experienced. In particular, Jews mourn a collection of events that are often referred to as “the five calamities.” These events all took place on or around the date of Tisha B’Av, giving this day a negative reputation. Here’s an overview of each calamity:

1 – Moses’s Twelve Spies in Canaan

In the biblical book of Numbers, it’s said that Moses sent out twelve spies (or observers) to explore the land of Canaan, God’s “Promised Land” to Israel. 

However, ten of the twelve spies gave Moses only negative reports about the land and its people (whom the spies called Nephilim). These reports led to widespread fear among the Israelites and revealed the spies’ lack of faith in God’s promise. As a result, God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years.

Two of the spies gave Moses a positive report, and those two were the only ones allowed to enter the Promised Land after those forty years. 

2 – Destruction of the First Temple

The destruction of the first temple of Israel (which was built by King Solomon) occurred in either 587 BC or 586 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon invaded Judah. This happened as a result of Judah’s then-vassal king turning his back on Babylon and backing the Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt instead. 

3 – Destruction of the Second Temple

The destruction of the second temple occurred in 70 CE at the hands of the Romans. This led to the people of Judea becoming scattered and marked the beginning of Israel’s גלות (galut), or “exile,” from the Holy Land. 

4 – Destruction of Betar

In 135 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jewish city of Betar following a strong revolt led by Bar Kokhba. This event resulted in the deaths of nearly 600,000 Jews. 

5 – Plowing of the Temple in Jerusalem

Not long after this massacre, a Roman commander named Turnus Rufus plowed over where the Temple of Jerusalem had once stood. 

While Tisha B’Av largely encompasses these five tragedies, this day is also a time to reflect on more recent ones, such as the First Crusade and the Holocaust. 

2. When is Tisha B’Av on the Gregorian Calendar?

The Jewish Month of Av

Each year, Tisha B’Av takes place on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. For your convenience, we’ve listed below this holiday’s date on the Gregorian calendar for the next ten years.

  • 2020: July 30
  • 2021: July 18
  • 2022: August 7
  • 2023: July 27
  • 2024: August 13
  • 2025: August 3
  • 2026: July 23
  • 2027: August 12
  • 2028: August 1
  • 2029: July 22

Keep in mind that this holiday actually starts on the evening before the date listed.

3. Tisha B’Av Customs & Restrictions

A Woman Sitting in Front of an Empty Plate

There’s a three-week period leading up to Tisha B’Av, during which Jews may begin the mourning process. While mourning, Jews may fast from meat and neglect to shave. Those who don’t mourn during these three weeks will usually begin their mourning during the last nine days before Tisha B’Av. 

As mentioned earlier, Tisha B’Av is a time of grieving. On this day, practicing Jews are not to engage in any type of pleasurable activity. In addition, Torah reading for Tisha B’Av is limited to the מגילת איכה (Megilat Eicha), or “Book of Lamentations,” and other sad or grievous books. 

1 – Tisha B’Av Restrictions

There are חמישה איסורים (khamisha Isurim), or “five prohibitions,” that practicing Jews must adhere to on Tisha B’Av. These Tisha B’Av rules are:

  • Fasting for twenty-five hours (especially from meat and wine)
  • No showering 
  • No intimate relations
  • No leather shoes
  • No creams or oils 

Of course, there are limited exceptions to these rules. For example, if someone has a specific medical issue, they may consult a rabbi to permit them to eat as needed. 

2 – Other Customs & Activities

On Tisha B’Av, Kinot text readings and liturgies are given in the synagogues, and many Jews also read or listen to the Book of Lamentations. Both the Kinot and Lamentations mourn the destruction of Israel and the plight of Jews throughout history. 

Because this is a day of mourning, Jews tend to abstain from many day-to-day activities, especially those that are considered pleasurable. Examples include gift-giving and leaving the home for entertainment purposes. People are expected not to laugh or smile on this day, as Tisha B’Av is often labeled “the saddest day” on the Jewish calendar and a day on which bad things are likely to happen.

3 – End of Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av officially ends that night, though generally, Jews observe the rules and fasting until around noon of the following day. 

4. Menachem Begin’s Proposal

Former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, once proposed that Tisha B’Av should become a holiday devoted to all of Israel’s tragedies. Under this proposal, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Tisha B’Av would all be observed on this one day. 

His proposal was denied, however, probably as a means of preserving the significance of each remembrance day and the religious nature of Tisha B’Av.

5. Vocabulary for Talking About Tisha B’Av in Hebrew

The Book of Lamentations

Let’s review some of the Hebrew vocabulary words and phrases from this article!

EnglishHebrewRomanizationPart of Speech + Gender
JerusalemירושליםYerushalayimProper noun, feminine
Tisha B’Avתשעה באבTish-ah be-AvNoun, masculine
FastingצוםtsomNoun, masculine
AvאבAvNoun, masculine
Destruction of Jerusalem wallsנפילת חומות ירושליםNefilat khomot Yerushalayim
Burning of the Templeשריפת בית המקדשsrifat beit ha-mikdashFeminine
Book of Lamentationsמגילת איכהMegilat EichaNoun, feminine
GrievingאבלevelNoun, masculine
Between the gatesבין המצריםbein ha-metzarimMasculine
Cloth shoesנעלי בדna’alei badNoun, feminine
No intimate relationshipאיסור תשמיש המיטהisur tashmish ha-mitahNoun, masculine
No showerאיסור רחיצהisur rechitzahNoun, masculine
KinnotקינותKinotNoun, feminine
Five prohibitionsחמישה איסוריםkhamisha IsurimMasculine
ExileגלותGalutNoun, feminine

Remember that you can find each of these words with an audio recording of its pronunciation on our Tisha B’Av vocabulary list

Final Thoughts

The significance of Tisha B’Av in Jewish society can’t be overstated. It provides an opportunity to reflect on past wrongs, mourn accordingly, and look ahead to what the future may hold. 

What are your thoughts on Tisha B’Av? Is there a holiday of mourning or remembrance in your country? Let us know in the comments; we look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

If you want to learn more about Israel and Jewish culture, HebrewPod101.com has several free resources for you, straight from our blog:

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We hope to see you around. Shalom!

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