Tisha B’av, which takes place this Saturday night into Sunday (7/25/-7/26), is often referred to as “the black Fast’ in contrast to Yom Kippur, the “white Fast.’ While both last more than 24 hours and include similar restrictions, the mood of these two days is very different from one another. Tisha B’av marks the national tragedies which have darkened our history.
Yom Kippur is all about coming to terms with our sins and renewing our relationship with God, so although we fast, it is a day of joyous reunion with the Almighty. Contrasted with Tisha B’av which is both a day of fasting and mourning. For one day we become avaylim, mourners, sitting on the floor, reciting dirges, and refraining from the normal comforts of life. Commenting on these days, the Kotzker Rebbe once stated: “There are really no major fast days in the Jewish year. For on Tisha B’av who can eat? And on Yom Kippur, who needs to eat?”
Indeed, our ability to mourn the destruction of the temple and the other national tragedies that befell our people is the secret of our survival. According to legend upon witnessing Jews cry and fast for the temple, Napoleon Bonaparte once commented: “A nation that can keep mourning for 2,000 years is eternal, and will surely one day rebuild their Temple.” There are two sets of customs associated with Tisha B’Av: those of Yom Kippur which have to do with repentance and those associated with mourning and grief. What are these customs and how do they shape our understanding of this day?
The following material was culled from www.aish.com
Aspects of Mourning: The Afternoon Before Tisha B’Av
During the afternoon prior to Tisha B’Av, it is customary to eat a full meal in preparation for the fast. At the end of the afternoon, we eat the Seudah Hamaf-seket – a meal consisting only of bread, water, and a hard-boiled egg. The egg has two symbols: The round shape reminds us of a sign of the cycle of life. Also, the egg is the only food which gets harder the more it is cooked – a symbol of the Jewish people’s ability to withstand persecution.
When the afternoon prior to Tisha B’Av occurs on Shabbat, there is no Seudah Hamaf-seket with eggs. Rather, the regular Shabbat “third meal” is eaten, albeit without guests and fanfare.
Restrictions on Tisha B’Av
Upon sundown, the laws of Tisha B’Av commence – consisting of the following expressions of mourning:
1. No eating or drinking until nightfall the following evening.
- Pregnant and nursing women are also required to fast. If one suspects it could be harmful to the baby or mother, a rabbi should be consulted.
- A woman within 30 days after birth need not fast.
- Others who are old, weak, or ill should consult with a rabbi.
- Medicine may be taken on Tisha B’Av, preferably without water.
- In case of great discomfort, the mouth may be rinsed with water. Great care should be taken not to swallow anything. (MB 567:11)
2. Other prohibitions include:
- Any bathing or washing, except for removing specific dirt – e.g. gook in the eyes (Upon rising in the morning, before prayers, or after using the bathroom, one washes only the fingers.
- Anointing oneself for pleasure. (Deodorant is permitted.)
- Having marital relations.
- Wearing leather shoes. (Leather belts may be worn.)
- Learning Torah, since this is a joyful activity. It is permitted to learn texts relevant to Tisha B’Av and mourning – e.g. the Book of Lamentations, Book of Job, parts of Tractate Moed Katan, Gittin 56-58, Sanhedrin 104, Yerushalmi end of Ta’anis, and the Laws of Mourning. In-depth study should be avoided.
3. Other mourning practices include:
- Sitting no higher than a foot off the ground. After midday, one may sit on a chair. Not engaging in business or other distracting labors, unless it will result in a substantial loss.
- Refraining from greeting others or offering gifts.
- Avoiding idle chatter or leisure activities.
Prayer on Tisha B’Av
- Lights in the synagogue are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain is removed from the Ark. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice. This reminds us of the Divine Presence which departed from the HolyTemple.
- The Book of Eicha (Lamentations), Jeremiah’s poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the FirstTemple, is read both at night and during the day.
- Following both the night and day service, special “Kinot” (elegies) are recited.
- In the morning, the Torah portion of Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read, containing the prophecy regarding Israel’s future iniquity and exile. This is followed by the Haftorah from Jeremiah (8:13, 9:1-23) describing the desolation of Zion.
- In the afternoon, Exodus 32:11-14 is read. This is followed by the Haftorah from Isaiah 55-56.
- Since Tallis and Tefillin represent glory and decoration, they are not worn at Shacharit. Rather, they are worn at Mincha, as certain mourning restrictions are lifted.
- Birkat Kohanim is said only at Mincha, not at Shacharit.
- Prayers for comforting Zion and “Aneinu” are inserted into the Amidah prayer at Mincha.
- Shortly after the fast is broken, it is customary to say Kiddush Lavana.
When Tisha B’Av Falls on Shabbat
For a full treatment of this topic, see: When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat or Sunday. Here is a brief overview of the special conditions that apply:
- The fast is pushed off until Saturday night/Sunday.
- All other prohibitions of Tisha B’Av (washing, learning Torah, leather shoes, etc.) are permitted on Shabbat itself, except for marital relations. (Of course, regular Shabbat restrictions apply, such as anointing with cream and showering.)
- Seudah Shlishit has none of the restrictions of Seudah Hamaf-seket, and may include meat and wine. However, the mood should be somber, should not include invited guests, and eating must stop before sundown.
- Ma’ariv on Saturday night is delayed, so that everyone can say “Boruch Hamavdil bein kodesh li’chol,” then remove their leather shoes and come to synagogue.
- Havdallah on Saturday night is recited only over a candle, without wine or spices. On Sunday night, Havdallah is then said over wine.
- Regarding the various prohibitions, some are lifted immediately upon completion of the fast (e.g. bathing, laundry and haircuts), while others remain prohibited until the following morning (meat, wine and music).
The Saddest Time of the Year
Just as the month of Adar, in which we celebrate Purim, brings with it joy and gladness, this Sunday, July 5th, ushers in the saddest period of time in the Jewish calendar.
Beginning Sunday, with the observance of the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, we usher in a period of mourning that culminates with Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem.
The sunrise to sunset fast that is observed on the 17th of Tammuz is a result of the following five great catastrophes occurred on this date. Continue reading