Tisha b’Av is a day of national mourning and repentance, on which we recall the destruction of the first and second Temples. Many tragic events have happened on Tisha b’Av throughout Jewish history. The following is, sadly, only a partial list:
- The Spies gave a negative report about the land of Israel, The spies returned from the Promised Land with frightening reports, and the Israelite’s balked at the prospect of entering the land. G‑d decreed that they would therefore wander in the desert for 40 years and ultimately perish in the Wilderness, introducing the entire concept of “Galut” (exile) into the Jewish experience (1313 BCE)
- The 1st Temple was destroyed – approximately 100,000 Jews were slaughtered, and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
- The 2nd Temple was destroyed – approximately 2,000,000 Jews died, and another 1,000,000 were exiled, unleashing a period of suffering from which our nation has never fully recovered. (70 CE) This year is 1953 years since the destruction of the second Temple (5781)
- The Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans ended in defeat: The Jews of Beitar were butchered. (133 CE)
- The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city – renamed Aelia Capitolina – and access was forbidden to Jews. (134 CE)
- The fortress city of Beitar – the Jews’ last stand against the Romans – was captured & destroyed. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered (135 CE)
- King Edward I, signed an edict that the Jews must be expelled from England (1290)
- The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of approximately 200,000 Jews from Spain (1492)
- WWI broke out when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust (1914)
- The mass deportation of Jews began from the Warsaw Ghetto en route to the infamous Nazi death camp Treblinka (1942)
As part of our mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel, we fast and abstain from pleasurable activities on the night and day of the 9th of Av, starting at sunset, Saturday, July 17, at 9:10 pm, and concluding Sunday, July 18, at 9:54 pm.
This year, the fast day of Tisha b’Av (9th of Av) falls on Sunday, with Erev Tisha b’Av falling on Shabbat. All the laws of mourning are suspended on Shabbat, and Shabbat is joyously celebrated as usual until sunset.
Please note that the following Halachot and Customs are specifically for this year 5781/2021 and apply only to Sepharadim. (Ashkenazim differ and are more stringent on various customs).
- On Shabbat, one may be lenient and learn Torah even after midday until sunset.
- According to Halacha, marital relations are permitted.
- It is permissible to eat meat and drink wine and have a lavish meal, even for Seudah shlishit. However, one must stop eating before sunset (9:10 pm).
- At sunset, the five prohibitions and other laws of the day start immediately, except for wearing shoes, in honour of Shabbat. One does not remove them until after motzai Shabbat. Similarly, one does not sit on the floor until motzai Shabbat.
- At Nightfall (10:13 pm), both men and women say – Baruch Hamavdil ben Kodeh L’chol, (Havdalah is not said until the conclusion of the fast). Remove leather shoes and change from Shabbat clothing to weekday clothing that is not freshly laundered (previously worn).
Specifically, we don’t:
- Eat or drink. All adults – even pregnant and nursing women – fast on this day. One who is ill, or a pregnant or nursing woman who feels excessive weakness, should consult with their rabbi. An ill person who is not fasting should refrain from eating delicacies and eat only what is necessary for their physical well-being. Someone who is sick but not in danger, who needs to take pills, may take them if they have an unpleasant taste, if liquid is required to swallow, one may drink a bitter liquid, and should try and drink less than a cheek full. Someone who cannot fast or needs to break the fast should make Havdalah on beer if possible, or take a sip and give it to a child to drink, without reciting the blessing on b’esamim – spices (and if said during the day, one does not recite the blessing on a candle either).
- Bathe or wash oneself – “even to insert a finger in cold water.”
- One who becomes soiled may rinse the affected area with cold water.
- Upon awakening in the morning or after using the washroom throughout the day, it is permitted to wash one’s fingers only until the knuckles.
- When preparing food – for children or the post-fast meal – one may wash the food, even though their hands will get wet. However, one should refrain from washing the dishes used on Shabbat.
- Apply ointment, lotions, creams or perfume. However, it is permissible to put a liquid scent (deodorant) to remove an unpleasant odour, as well as applying insect repellent on one’s body.
- Wear leather footwear or footwear that contains any leather (even if it is only a leather sole).
- Engage in marital relations or any form of intimacy, laws of ‘harchakot‘ (separation), apply like during the Niddah period).
- Study Torah because “the commandments of G‑d are upright, causing the heart to rejoice” (Psalms 19:9). However, it is permitted and encouraged, to study sections of the Torah that discuss the laws of mourning, the destruction of the Temples, and the tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout our history.
- Send gifts. One should greet others in a subdued manner.
- The widespread custom is to refrain from working, all night and all day, to not dismiss the mourning from one’s mind. However, some opinions allow working after midday – (1:18 pm), although it is said that no blessing will come from that work. It is also permissible to work to prevent loss.
- Sit on a normal-height chair until midday (1:18 pm).
- In the Amidah, by the blessing of Shema Koleinu, we insert Anenu Avinu (for those that are fasting).
- After the Amidah, the Chazzan says the blessing of Boreh me’orai ha’esh on a candle. If one could not attend synagogue or likewise, women at home should make the blessing on a candle themselves.
- There are various customs regarding Talit and Tefilin on Tisha B’av. The widespread custom is not to put on Tallit and Te’filin for Shacharit. Some have the custom to put them on before Shacharit at home (Ben ish Chai). We customarily put on Tallit and Tefillin at Mincha.
- In Mincha in the Amidah, in the blessing of ‘Tishkon,’ we add Nachem (as well as Anenu – if one is fasting).
- At the conclusion of the fast (9:54 pm), all prohibitions terminate, including washing clothes and taking a haircut. However, the custom is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine until the end of the 10th of Av).
- One makes Havdalah over a cup of wine, starting directly from Hagefen and Hamavdil, omitting the blessings on spices and candle. For the cup of Havdalah, one may drink the wine.
By carefully observing the laws and customs instituted by our Chachamim (Sages), we can feel the impact of our loss.
May this be the final Tisha b’Av we sit on the floor and merit seeing the coming of Mashiach and the building of the Third Temple speedily in our days.
Wishing you all a meaningful and uplifting fast.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay