Tisha B’Av and The Nine Days (July or August)
“Tisha B’Av” literally means “the Ninth of Av.” (‘Tisha’ = nine; ‘B’ = in; ‘Av’ is one of the months of the Jewish calendar.) The Ninth day of the month of Av is the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – the Temple that most people today have heard of from Biblical times. Tisha B’Av is therefore one of the most mournful days on the Jewish calendar. “The Nine Days,” are the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av. They also have a very mournful quality.
Actually, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed twice on the ninth of Av: by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE, and by the Romans in 70 CE. (Jews do not generally measure the years in terms of “BC” and “AD.” When we refer to the Western counting of years we use the terms “Before the Common Era,” abbreviated as “BCE, ” and “Common Era,” abbreviated as “CE.”) In the year 586 BCE, on the ninth of Av, the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple in Jerusalem . Eventually it was rebuilt, but after another 500 years, in the year 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, again on the ninth of Av.
The loss of the Temple in Jerusalem had a tremendous impact on the Jewish People. In addition to the large loss of life that accompanied the destructions, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, so much of Judaism itself had to be recreated. The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish practice. After it was destroyed, new forms of practice had to be found. The Jewish People also was physically exiled after each Temple destruction, and saw themselves to be spiritually in exile as well. Any time something terrible happened to the Jewish people, the tragedy was thought of as an extension of that state of exile. Every terrible event that happened to us therefore became part of the story of the ninth of Av.
In the Talmud (a large compendium of Rabbinic teaching from about 1800 years ago), a story is told that the Temple was destroyed because there was too much needless hatred (sinat hinam) in the world. One of the themes of Tisha B’Av therefore is the need to recognize and uproot the needless hatred that exists within ourselves and in the world. We use this day to remind ourselves how real evil and tragedy can be in the world.
The Nine Days leading up to the Ninth of Av are days of sadness. Some Jews will avoid getting haircuts, eating meat or drinking wine. Tisha B’Av itself is a day of fasting, beginning at dusk the evening before and continuing 25 hours until darkness at the end of the day. In addition to avoiding food and drink, traditional Jews avoid unnecessary washing, wearing leather and sexual activity. (Anyone who for medical reasons cannot fast is required by Jewish law not to fast. If someone cannot fast entirely they might chose to eat more simply and only as much as necessary.) A service is generally held in the evening when the Book of Lamentations, a very mournful book of the Bible, is read. Services are then held again the next day. Tisha B’Av is not a Sabbath, so work is permitted, although activities should be in keeping with the mournful mood of the day. Judaism ultimately is a life-affirming tradition, however. We are not to dwell on sadness. The end of the holiday bids us to focus on consolation, and moves us into a much more joyous season. The meal at which the fast is broken is the beginning of a season of consolation and joy.