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Tisha B'Av

From Academic Kids

Tisha B'Av (תשעה באב tish‘āh bə-āḇ) means the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, which is a month in the lunar calendar used for purposes of Jewish holidays, etc.

This is a fast day, that commemorates two of the saddest days in Jewish history -- the destruction of the First Temple (originially built by King Solomon), and the destruction of the Second Temple. Those two events occurred about 556 years apart, but both in the same month, Av, and, as tradition has it, both on the ninth day.

In connection with the fall of Jerusalem three other fast-days were established at the same time as the Ninth Day of Av: these were the Tenth of Tevet, when the siege began; the Seventeenth of Tammuz, when the first breach was made in the wall; and the Third of Tishri, known as the Fast of Gedaliah, the day when Gedaliah was assassinated (II Kings, xxv. 25; Jer. xli. 2). From Zech. vii. 5, viii. 19 it appears that after the erection of the Second Temple the custom of keeping these fast-days was discontinued. Since the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Second Temple by the Romans, the four fast-days have again been observed.

Contents

The original calamities

According to the Mishnah (tractate Taanith, fourth chapter), five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:

  1. The return and sin of the Mosaic spies
  2. The destruction of the first Jewish Temple
  3. The destruction of the second Temple
  4. The strategic loss of the militia of Bar Kochba against the Romans at Betar
  5. The subsequent razing of Jerusalem one year later.

According to the Talmud, the destruction of the Second Temple actually did not occur on the ninth of Av, but it's thematically linked to the fast day. In addition, the Talmud doesn't provide specific evidence that the loss at Betar occurred on the ninth of Av.

Later calamities

According to popular, contemporary Jewish belief, a large number of events occurred on the ninth of av:

Other contemporary Jews believe that the above list is primarily folklore. At any rate, it has not become the practice to institute annual commemorations of historical disasters. Rather, they are commemorated on Tisha B'Av. Examples are the destruction of many Jewish communities in the Rhineland during the Crusades. The liturgy often makes mention of specific instances (see below).

Observances

Tisha B'Av is observed with a full day fast (a day without eating or drinking) that lasts 25 hours, beginning with sunset and ending with nightfall the subsequent day. In addition, washing and anointing are prohibited, and men and women observe the stringencies of niddah separation. Furthermore, as on Yom Kippur, no leather shoes are worn.

The scroll of Echah (Lamentations) is read in synagogue during the evening services. In addition, most of the morning is spent reading kinoth (dirges), most bewailing the loss of the Temple and the subsequent persecutions, but many others referring to post-exile disasters. These later kinnoth were composed by various poets (often prominent Rabbis) who had either suffered in the events mentioned or relate received reports. Important kinnoth were composed by Elazar ha-Kalir and Rabbi Judah ha-Levi. After the Second World War, kinnoth were composed by the Hasidic leader of the Belz Hassidim, and by the German-born Rabbi Shimon Schwab (then of Baltimore).

Other traditions

Classical Jewish sources maintain that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B'Av.

History of the observance

In the long period which is reflected in Talmudic literature the observance of the Ninth Day of Av assumed a character of constantly growing sadness and asceticism. By the end of the second century or at the beginning of the third, the celebration of the day had lost much of its gloom. Judah ha-Nasi was in favor of abolishing it altogether or, according to another version, of lessening its severity when the feast has been postponed from Saturday to Sunday (Talmud, tractate Megillah 5b).

The growing strictness in the observance of mourning customs in connection with the Ninth Day of Av became pronounced in post-Talmudic times, and particularly in the darkest period of Jewish life, from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth.

Maimonides (twelfth century), in his Mishneh Torah, says that the restrictions as to the eating of meat and the drinking of wine refer only to the last meal before fasting on the Eighth Day of Av, if taken after noon, but before noon anything may be eaten (Hilchoth Ta'anith 5:8). Rabbi Moses of Coucy (thirteenth century) wrote that it is the universal custom to refrain from meat and wine during the whole day preceding the Ninth of Av (Sefer Mitzvoth ha-Gadol, Venice ed., Laws of Tishah B'Av, 249b). Rabbi Joseph Caro (sixteenth century) says some are accustomed to abstain from meat and wine from the beginning of the week in which the Ninth Day of Av falls; and still others abstain throughout the three weeks from the Seventeenth of Tammuz (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim 551).

A gradual extension of prohibitions can be traced in the abstention from marrying at this season and in other signs of mourning. So Rabbi Moses of Coucy says that some do not use the phylacteries (tefillin) on the Ninth Day of Av, a custom which later was universally observed (it is now postponed until the afternoon). In this manner all customs originally designated as marks of unusual piety finally became the rule for all.

Modern views

In the 20th century, with the re-establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, many religious Zionists opined that the commemoration of Tisha B'Av would have to be modified, and possibly overturned.

An responsa literature on this subject developed among religious Zionists, notably rabbis within Modern Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism. Haredi Judaism (including Hasidic Judaism) and most of Modern Orthodoxy, while on the whole supporting the establishment of the State, have not seen it as a reason to abandon mourning over the destruction of the Temples and the other calamities, at least until the arrival of the Messiah, when it will be a day of celebration.

The law committee of the Masorti Movement (Conservative Judaism in the State of Israel) issued responsa on the question "In our time do we still have to fast for the whole of Tish'a b'Av, seeing that our sovereign independence has been regained? May we reduce the outward signs of mourning and permit eating after the Minchah Service?" Two responsa were given:

  • Rabbi Theodore Friedman wrote a responsa, concluding thar "There is already an historical precedent in Megillat Ta'anit which stipulated days on which we may not fast because of salvation wrought for Israel. In our time we have been vouchsafed a great salvation in the establishment of the State... It therefore seems to us that this great historical turning point in Israel's history should be celebrated by not completing the fast on 9th Av, but concluding it after the midday Minchah."
  • Rabbi David Golinkin wrote a responsa, concluding "It is forbidden to fast only half the day on Tish'a b'Av for several reasons:
    • we have demonstrated that during the period of the Second Temple they did fast on Tish'a b'Av...
    • From the halakhic point of view this is not possible. Either we must fast on all four of the fasts [and Tisha b'Av] or on Tish'a b'Av alone...
    • From the ideological point of view, we cannot yet say that we have reached the period of "peace" We should revert to the custom of the Ge'onim ... and fast the whole day on Tish'a b'Av and declare the other fast days to be voluntary and not compulsory."

According to traditional Judaism, when legal authorities have validated more than one possible position, a congregation must follow the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d'atra [local halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p'sak [decision].

See also

References

  • Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970 - Volume III Ed. David Golinkin, The Rabbinical Assembly, Jerusalem, 1997
  • Responsa relating to this topic in the above volume include Marriage during the Sefirah 1949; Restraint on Marriages During the Omer Days 1952; A Dvar Torah Suggested by Lab Baomer 1962; Weddings During the Three Weeks 1964; Weddings During the Three Weeks 1968;
  • Seder Tisha B’Av – Readings (http://www.adath-shalom.ca/tisha_bav_readings.htm).

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