Tishah B'Av History and Customs
Tishah B'Av, observed on the 9th (tishah) of the Hebrew month of Av, is a day of mourning the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem. In contrast to traditional streams of Judaism, liberal Judaism never has assigned a central religious role to the ancient Temple. Therefore, mourning the destruction of the Temple may not be particularly meaningful to liberal Jews. In modern times, Jews understand Tisha B'Av as a day to remember many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history.
Traditionally, Tishah B'Av is the darkest of all days, a time set aside for fasting and mourning the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem. As on Yom Kippur, the fast extends from sundown until the following sundown. In the synagogue, the Book of Lamentations is chanted, as are kinot, which are dirges written during the Middle Ages. Sitting on low stools, a custom associated with mourning the dead, Jews read sections of the books of Jeremiah and Job, as well as passages from the Bible and the Talmud that deal with the Temples' destruction in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E.
Many traditional Jews begin a period of semi-mourning three weeks before Tishah B’Av on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz. It was supposedly on this day in 586 B.C.E. that the Babylonians first made an incursion into the Temple in Jerusalem. Beginning on this date, traditional Jews refrain from holding weddings, festive celebrations, or cutting their hair. The mourning intensifies on the first of Av with no meat or wine consumed, no new clothing purchased, and no shaving allowed. On the evening before Tishah B’Av, a 24-hour fast begins, and in synagogue services, the Book of Lamentations is chanted.
For most liberal Jews, Tishah B'Av has faded in importance as a ritual observance, as the rebuilding of a central Temple in Jerusalem has lost its priority and significance in modern times. Although historians dispute the fact that both Temples were destroyed on this day, Tishah B’Av has become a symbol of Jewish suffering and loss. Over the centuries, other tragic events have come to be commemorated on this day, including the brutal massacres of the Crusades, the Jewish expulsion from Spain, and the Holocaust. Today, Tishah B’Av stands as a day to reflect on the suffering that still occurs in our world.