The Three Weeks
Tisha B’Av occurs in the Hebrew month of Av, but in a way it begins during the preceding month ofTammuz. On the 17th of Tammuz in 70 C.E. the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, then spent the next three weeks ransacking the city until the Second Temple was burned on the ninth ofAv. In remembrance of this event Jews fast on the 17th of Tammuz and observe a time of mourning during the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. No weddings are permitted during this period.
The Nine Days
The Talmud says that “From the beginning of Av, we diminish happiness” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6). In keeping with this sentiment, the last nine days of “the three weeks” become increasingly mournful as observant Jews refrain from a number of prohibited activities. For instance, during these nine days Jews are not supposed to cut their hair or shave. This custom hearkens back to ancient times when a person showed they were in mourning by allowing their hair to grow.
During “the nine days” many Jews refrain from drinking wine, eating meat or participating in activities meant to be entertaining. Going to the movies, dancing or going out to a fancy dinner are examples of such pleasurable pastimes. According to the Talmud, Jews are not supposed to wash their clothes during this period either, because wearing clean clothes is an enjoyable experience. The purpose of all these prohibitions is to help people feel like true mourners by the time Tisha B’Av comes around on the ninth of Av.
Customs On Tisha B’Av
Tisha B’Av is a full fast day, meaning that no food or drink can be consumed from one evening to the next. Pregnant women, nursing mothers and those who are severely ill are not allowed to participate in the fast because doing so would endanger their health. Observant Jews also refrain from bathing, wearing make-up or leather shoes (both symbols of luxury) or having sexual relations. Work is permitted on Tisha B’Av.
Synagogue services on Tisha B’Av are an emotional experience. During the evening service the book of Lamentations – a somber text about the destruction of the First Temple and the siege of Jerusalem - is read aloud, punctuated by sobs and wails from the congregation. Because people are in mourning, they don’t greet each other at the synagogue and they sometimes sit on the floor instead of in seats. The following day, during the morning service, men continue to express their sorrow by refraining from wearing tefillin.
Tisha B’Av Dates for 2009-2013
In the years 2009 through 2013 Tisha B’Av falls on the following secular dates.
- July 29, 2009 - July 30, 2009
- July 19, 2010 - July 20, 2010
- August 8, 2011 - August 9, 2011
- July 27, 2012 - July 28, 2012
- July 15, 2013 - July 16, 2013