Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) is a day of national mourning and is considered to be the saddest day of the year for the Jewish people. This day is associated with great tragedy for the nation of Israel since the beginning when they first came out of Egypt and were thrust into the world as a new nation. According to Jewish tradition there are five calamities that occurred on this date of the 9th of Av*:
- The first generation of Israelites (over the age of 20) who came out of Egypt was denied the right to enter into the Promised Land because they believed the bad report of the ten spies instead of following Caleb and Joshua in faith and obeying God (Num. 14:26-32).
- Both the First and Second Temples (approximately 586 BC and 70 AD respectively) were destroyed on this day (these two destructions combine Numbers 2 & Numbers 3).
- It is recorded in the Bible that it was during this month of Av that the First Temple was destroyed (2 Kings 25:8-9; Jeremiah 52:12-13). It is believed that the Babylonians started burning the Temple on the 9th of Av and it continued to burn on the 10th of Av but the 9th day is the day that is remembered for its destruction since this is when the burning began.
- The city of Betar, a leading city for Torah study of the Jewish people during the Second Temple period, was overtaken and destroyed by the Romans.
- It is also believed that Jerusalem was “plowed over” and destroyed on this day by the Romans. The city of Jerusalem was renamed Aelea Capitonlina and the Jewish homeland, Judah and Samaria, were renamed Palestine after the “Philistines,” the enemies of the Jews. These tragedies were in keeping with the prophecies of the Bible:
Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, “Thus the LORD of hosts has said, “Zion will be plowed as a field, And Jerusalem will become ruins, And the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest.” – Jeremiah 26:18
Jewish Customs on the 9th of Av
As a result of the tragedies mentioned above, especially the destruction of both Temples, the Jewish people have been in constant mourning for the past 2000 years. Tisha B’Av is probably the lowest day spiritually for the Jewish people. Mourning is practiced by a day of complete fast, from sundown on the eighth of Av until sundown on the ninth of Av. This year Tisha B’Av begins on the evening of Monday, July 31 and finishes as the sunsets on Tuesday, August 1.
The fast of Tisha B’Av is a complete fast, meaning no eating or drinking for the period of approximately 24 hours. There is no washing (except for necessary washing), no wearing of lotions or perfumes, no wearing of leather shoes, and no marital relations. There is an abstaining from the normal pleasures of life to remember the tragedy of the past in a day of mourning.
A simple meal is eaten before the fast begins, which traditionally consists of pita and a hard-boiled egg with a bit of ash sprinkled on top of it. The ash symbolizes the Temple which was burned down to ashes. This meal is different from the usual Jewish meal setting. It is to be eaten alone and not with others so as to not have the privilege of saying the “Birakat Hamazon” (blessing on the food) together at the end of the meal.
The Synagogue Order of Service
The religious Jewish ceremony of Tisha B’Av is the conclusion of the “Three Weeks” of general mourning (to read more about this subject, click this link: The Three Weeks). Tisha B’Av is observed and remembered mostly in the synagogue. After the sun has set religious Jews will pray the evening “Maariv” prayers, which they typically do every evening. However, on the evening of Tisha B’Av, there is a change in the order of the evening prayers and in the atmosphere in the synagogue.
The lights are dimmed in the synagogue and everyone sits on the floor or on a low bench to humble oneself. It is a time of mourning. During the evening service, the book of Lamentations is read to remember the destruction of the Temple. The book of Lamentations is exactly as its title describes; the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. The book of Lamentations is read in its entirety at the synagogue, however, instead of ending the reading on the last verse, which recalls the anger of the LORD, the reading ends with a rereading of the second to last verse to give us hope:
Restore us to You, O LORD, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of days of old – Lamentations 5:21
This verse is read aloud by everyone in the synagogue and then reread by the official reader. This is followed by a reading of various lamentation prayers. After this everyone leaves the synagogue without greeting one another as an act of mourning.
The following day, the day of Tisha B’Av, is continued in the synagogue with the reading of many lamentation prayers and a detailed account of the many tragedies incurred by the Jewish people over the past two millennia. Towards the end of the day of Tisha B’Av, the mourning turns to hope as a blessing is recited to the LORD who “consoles Zion and builds Jerusalem.”
Concluding the Fast
At the conclusion of the fast of Tisha B’Av, it is tradition to eat a dairy meal, meaning no meat. No meat is supposed to be eaten until the afternoon of the tenth of Av. Even though Tisha B’Av is not an official national holiday in Israel, many businesses are closed in Israel and most people stay at home to observe a time of mourning.
A Response to Tisha B’Av
The Jewish people have suffered much throughout history as a people and a nation. It is good to mourn with those who mourn (Matt. 5:4), however, it is also an opportunity for all who have the hope of Yeshua the Messiah to pray for the Jewish people during this time. When Yeshua was on the earth He spoke often about the Temple and it made it clear to both his disciples (Matt. 24:1-2) and to others (Matt. 12:1-8) that the Temple was not to be their only focus of worship. Yeshua spoke of Himself as something greater than the Temple (Matt. 12:6) and He taught the Samaritan woman that beyond the mountain or the place of the Temple, the Father desires those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24).
Let us pray for the eyes of the Jewish people to see their Messiah and to have comfort in this day of mourning through the knowledge of God’s Salvation!
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*Many of the details found in this article are taken from a book written by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Practical Judaism, Modan Publishing House, Israel, 1997.
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