By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could I trouble you to give a short synopsis of the laws of the upcoming Tisha B’Av observance?
— Cathie W.
I’ll try to give it to you in nutshell version:
For those unfamiliar, Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, is the fast day that commemorates the day upon which both the first and second Temples were destroyed causing the subsequent exiles.
Numerous other calamities took place on the same date, from the event of the spies in the desert, through the expulsion of Spanish Jewry, up until the first shot fired in World War I, which ultimately precipitated World War II and the unspeakable Holocaust. On this day, we mourn all the unfortunate events that have transpired throughout our history.
- The fast and observances begin this coming Saturday night, July 28, and continue until nightfall Sunday. (Like Yom Kippur, and unlike other fast days, we observe this fast from the night).
- Technically, the actual date of the ninth of Av falls on Shabbat; since we cannot fast or mourn on the Sabbath we delay the observance of Tisha B’Av until Sunday. This gives the day a slightly more lenient status with regards to certain people who have difficulty fasting. One should consult a rabbinical authority to ascertain to whom this may apply.
- During the entire day of Tisha B’Av, we refrain from five types of activities: eating and drinking; bathing or showering; smearing ourselves with enjoyable oils; wearing leather shoes; and marital intimacy.
- We do not recite the traditional Havdallah on Saturday night as usual, besides the mention of Havdallah in the evening Amidah service. Havdallah is, instead, recited on Sunday night at the completion of the fast. If an adult is in the category of those who need to eat on Tisha B’Av for health reasons, he or she should first recite Havdallah before eating. (In that case, if, for example, a woman needs to eat because she is, for example, within 30 days of childbirth, her husband may recite the Havdallah as usual and she can drink the grape juice or wine, unless there is a child around the age of 7-9 to drink for her).
- If a woman is nursing or pregnant, she should consult a rabbinical authority to determine how she should observe the fast or what amounts she should eat and at what intervals, after consultation with her doctor.
- We are not to sit upon a regular chair beginning Saturday night. Rather, we sit on the floor, a low chair (like that used in the house of a mourner) or upon a cushion on the floor. This holds true until mid-day Sunday (this year in Dallas, approximately 1:33 pm).
- Tallit and tefillin are not worn on Tisha B’Av morning, and also can only be put on after the time of mid-day; customarily they are put on at the afternoon service near the end of the fast.
- Customarily, Kinos (dirges) that were written as lamentations are read at night and in the morning in synagogue and can also be recited at home. (I recommend reading them in English to get the full impact.)This is in addition to the reading of the Book of Lamentations (Eichah), authored by Jeremiah the Prophet who prophesized and witnessed the destruction of the first Temple.
The Talmud says that whoever mourns the destruction of the Temple will witness the joy of its rebuilding in Messianic times. Napoleon Bonaparte, while conquering Europe, came across a synagogue where the members were sitting upon the floor and crying. Napoleon consulted his religious adviser; why are those Jews crying and mourning? Did someone important just die?
When he was told it is Tisha B’Av and they are mourning over the destruction of their Temple nearly 2,000 years ago, Napoleon exclaimed: “If it was destroyed so long ago and they still remember and mourn it, I’m sure they will one day see it rebuilt.”
May those words come true soon.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel, Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.