Five misfortunes befell our fathers ... on the ninth of Av. ...On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers should not enter the [Promised] Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Bethar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up.
-Mishnah Ta'anit 4:6
Tishah B’Av is considered to be the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. The ninth of Av ommemorates five tragic events, but most prominently the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.
Historically, the five events are:
The Israelites panicked when hearing the report of twelve spies sent by Moses to report on the land of Canaan. As punishment, they were kept out of the promised land for a generation.
Solomon’s temple was destroyed.
The second temple was destroyed, causing an exodus of the Jewish people that ended only with the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The Bar Kokhba’s revolt against Rome failed in 135 C.E., resulting in the death of many important sages.
One year later, Jerusalem was leveled and recreated as a pagan city from which Jews were barred.
A number of tragedies fell on this date in modern times as well. In 1492, Spain’s King Ferdinand set the 9th of Av as the date of expulsion for the Jews from his country and, more recently, World War 1 began on Tisha B’av.
The day is actually the culmination of a three-week mourning period beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, in remembrance of the first breach in Jerusalem’s walls during the attack on the first temple. As with most Jewish periods of mourning, weddings are not permitted and people refrain from cutting their hair. The day itself is a fast day and those who are observant refrain from washing, studying, working, and from having idle conversation. The book of Lamentations is read in synagogues, many of which drape their arks in black cloth.
Since Reform Judaism has not, historically, considered the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem to be one of its goals, this holiday is not consistently observed in Reform temples. Some Reform scholars see Israel’s creation as the reclaiming of Jerusalem and therefore do not see a need to mourn any longer; some consider it a more collective day of mourning for all Jewish suffering over time.
Ways to Observe:
- Study and discuss the Book of Lamentations
- Write your own modern-day “Lamentations” about Jerusalem.
- Hold a study session on the destruction of the temple.
For more information, please see WRJ’s More Jewish Holidays: A Study Guide.