Today is December 13, 2019 -
by Hazzan Michael Krausman
Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the ninth of the month of Av, is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. On this day, we mourn the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples of Jerusalem – the first Temple being destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the second by the Romans in 70 C.E. Tisha B’Av also commemorates other calamities, including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the expulsion of the Jews of England by King Edward I in 1290 and the outbreak of World War I.
Tisha B’Av is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning known as Bein Ha Meitzarim (between the sorrows), which commences with the breach of the walls of the Holy City, commemorated on the 17th of Tamuz. During this solemn three-week period, it is traditional to refrain from weddings and other sources of merriment, cutting one’s hair, and for the last nine days, refraining from eating meat.
The observance of Tisha B’Av is similar to that of Yom Kippur. We fast from sundown on the eve of Tisha B’Av until sunset the following day. When the 9th day of the month of Av falls on Shabbat (as is the case this year), we postpone the observance of Tisha B’Av until the conclusion of the sabbath. It is traditional to refrain from bathing, wearing leather shoes, shaving, using cosmetics, marital relations and even from studying Torah.
On Tisha B’Av we all feel as though we are “sitting shiva” – a profound state of mourning. Thus, it is customary not to exchange casual greetings, to wear simple clothing and to avoid any form of enjoyment. In this melancholy mood, we gather at the Synagogue, sit on the floor, dim the lights and chant the lachrymose book of Eicha (Lamentations) according to a haunting, ancient cantillation melody. So profound is our sadness that in the place of the musical chanting of the evening prayers, they are simply read in a still, small voice.
On the morning of Tisha B’Av, we return to the synagogue to pray and to chant a collection of heart- wrenching dirges known as Kinot. Strikingly disturbing images such as of mothers observing, in horror, the murder of their children, fill these ancient poems. Because of our state of mourning, we do not don Tallit and Tefillin in the morning but save them for the afternoon service, when the intensity of our sadness is somewhat diminished.
The practices of Tisha B’Av as a national day of mourning and commemoration remind us of the importance of not only giving lip service to our past, but actually attempting to understand and empathize with the experiences of our ancestors. By observing Tisha B’Av we not only show solidarity with the entire Jewish community of our time but with Jewish communities throughout history.