Tisha be-Av

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Tisha be-Av (Fast of Av)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Jewish)
Date of Observation: Between July 17 and August 14; ninth day of Av
Where Celebrated: Europe, Israel, United States, and by Jews throughout the world
Symbols and Customs: Eggs and Ashes, Wailing Wall
Colors: Because it is observed as a day of mourning, Tisha be-Av is associated with the color black. In many synagogues, the ark housing the Torah or Jewish holy book is covered with a black cloth on this day.
Related Holidays: Lag Ba-Omer


Tisha be-Av is a mourning period observed in Judaism, one of the oldest continuously observed religions in the world. Its history extends back beyond the advent of the written word. Its people trace their roots to a common ancestor, Abraham, and then back even farther to the very moment of creation.

According to Jewish belief, the law given to the Jewish people by God contained everything they needed to live a holy life, including the ability to be reinterpreted in new historical situations. Judaism, therefore, is the expression of the Jewish people, attempting to live holy (set apart) lives in accordance with the instructions given by God. Obedience to the law is central to Judaism, but there is no one central authority. Sources of divine authority are God, the Torah, interpretations of the Torah by respected teachers, and tradition. Religious observances and the study of Jewish law are conducted under the supervision of a teacher called a rabbi.

There are several sects within Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is characterized by an affirmation of the traditional Jewish faith, strict adherence to customs such as keeping the Sabbath, participation in ceremonies and rituals, and the observance of dietary regulations. Conservative Jewish congregations seek to retain many ancient traditions but without the accompanying demand for strict observance. Reform Judaism stresses modern biblical criticism and emphasizes ethical teachings more than ritualistic observance. Hasidism is a mystical sect of Judaism that teaches enthusiastic prayer as a means of communion with God. The Reconstructionist movement began early in the twentieth century in an effort to "reconstruct" Judaism, with the community rather than the synagogue as its center. Tisha be-Av

Tisha be-Av is a twenty-four-hour period of fasting, lamentation, and prayer in memory of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, two events that took place on the same day several centuries apart. The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed in 586 B . C . E . by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadrezzar, who sold many of the Jews into slavery and exiled thousands of others. When they were finally permitted to return to their land about seventy years later, the first thing they did was to build a new temple on the site of the first one. The Second Temple was in use for almost 600 years, although at one point the Greeks nearly ruined it by erecting statues of Zeus and other Greek gods in the temple and making it unholy. The Romans under Titus finally burned it down in C . E ., an even greater tragedy than the destruction of the First Temple in terms of lost life and property. The only piece of the temple that still remains standing is part of the western wall that surrounded it, also known as the WAILING WALL .

Other sad events have taken place on this day as well. In 132 C . E ., the Romans plowed over the holy places of Jerusalem and started building their own city, ending any hopes the Jews might have had of rebuilding their temple. It was also on the ninth of Av in 135 C . E . that the town of Bethar, the last stronghold of Bar Kochva and his rebels, fell to the Romans (see LAG BA-OMER). In 1492, all Spanish Jews were ordered to leave the country on Tisha be-Av; in 1670, the Jews of Vienna were expelled from the city on this day.

Tisha be-Av marks the end of a three-week period of national mourning that begins on the seventeenth of Tammuz, the day on which, about 2,000 years ago, the Roman threat to Jerusalem became so menacing that sacrifices could no longer be offered in the Holy Temple. Any kind of festivity or entertainment is forbidden during this three-week period. No new clothes may be worn, no hair cut, no music played, and no weddings held. Celebration is only permitted on the Sabbath and on days of special events-a Bar Mitzvah, for example. Many Jews visit the cemetery during these weeks to pay their respects to friends and relatives who have died.

The feeling of mourning intensifies as the three weeks pass, culminating on Tisha be-Av. No flags are flown, no parades are held, and no bands are allowed to play on this day. Most Jews spend the day quietly in prayer and fasting. The principal feature of the service held in the synagogue is the recital of the Book of Lamentations. Believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, Lamentations is really a collection of five dirges (mournful tales) on the subject of the Temple's destruction in 586 B . C . E . and the subsequent scattering of the Jewish people. The synagogue is lit only by candles, and worshippers take off their shoes and sit on the floor or on low benches. Like mourners, they do not greet one another. If Tisha be-Av falls on the Sabbath, the fast is postponed until the following day.


Eggs and Ashes

The last meal eaten before the Fast of Av includes eggs and a pinch of ashes. Eggs are served, according to one Jewish poet, because "eggs have no mouth and our grief is too strong for words." Ashes are used as a symbol of mourning. Eggs and ashes are traditionally served to Jewish mourners when they return from a funeral.

Wailing Wall

Huge crowds of Jews assemble at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem-believed to be the last remaining portion of the wall that once surrounded the Second Temple- on the 9th of Av. For many years following the Temple's destruction in 70 C . E ., Jews could not visit the Wailing Wall (sometimes called the Western Wall) because the land on which it stood was ruled by Arabs, who would not permit the Jews to go there. But this part of Jerusalem was retaken by the Israeli army in 1967. Since that time, anyone who wants to can cry or pray at the wall. Some people have left notes with special prayers to God in the cracks between the stones.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Edidin, Ben. Jewish Holidays and Festivals. 1940. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Gaster, Theodor H. Festivals of the Jewish Year. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1953. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Renberg, Dalia Hardof. The Complete Family Guide to Jewish Holidays. New York: Adama Books, 1985.


Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America www.ou.org/yerushalayim/tishabav Tisha be-Av
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Tisha be-Av

Between July 17 and August 14; Av 9
The Jewish Fast of Av is a period of fasting, lamentation, and prayer in memory of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple in 586 b.c.e., the Jews rebuilt it, but continued the fast day. Then the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans under Titus, who burned it down in 70 c.e., and a long period of exile began for the Jews.
The Fast of Av begins at sunset the previous day and lasts for more than 24 hours. The nine days from the beginning of the month of Av through Tisha be-Av mark a period of intense mourning for the various disasters and tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history.
See also Asarah be-Tevet and Three Weeks
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
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AnnivHol-2000, p. 229
BkFest-1937, p. 209
BkHolWrld-1986, Aug 4
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 197
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 446
OxYear-1999, p. 728
RelHolCal-2004, p. 53
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.