Tisha B'Av: Mourning the destruction of Jerusalem's Holy Temples

The solemn fast of the 9th of Av is the day of mourning for the loss of the Temples, but also a day of anticipating Redemption.

Contact Editor
Rochel Sylvetsky, | updated: 10:15

Man prays at the Kotel (Western Wall)
Man prays at the Kotel (Western Wall)
Uri Lenz/Flash 90

The Fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av), the day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, begins on Saturday night this year at the end of the Sabbath and lasts until Sunday night.

Although this year the 9th falls on the Sabbath itself, Jewish law precludes mourning on the weekly day of rest and so the fast is moved forward, while the Sabbath is celebrated with customary joy until sunset, dusk serving as an intermediate period when it is forbidden to eat as well as evince signs of mourning. (Click here for start and end of fast in your location and here for a halakhic primer for the fast). This year there is no "mourning meal" of an egg dipped in ashes as is eaten prior to the fast when it falls on a weekday.

Almost 2000 years have passed since the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E and even more since the Babylonians, as recounted in the Bible, destroyed the First Temple (there is some dispute about whether the year was 586 B.C.E. or 425 B.C.E.), but Jews the world over will dim the lights in the synagogue once the Sabbath is over, sit on low stools or the floor, remove their leather shoes and mournfully recite the Book of Lamentations (Eicha) written by the Prophet Jeremiah who witnessed the first destruction.

Some congregations repeat Eicha in the morning, and all recite, for several hours, the many liturgical elegies (kinot) that bewail the loss of the Temples and other painful tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout history.

Tens of thousands will come to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, an outer supporting wall of the Temple Compound and the only vestige of its splendor - for our Sages taught that the Divine Presence never left the Wall - with police on high alert throughout. All, as custom and halakha require, do not greet each other on the fast, refrain from studying Torah except for certain selections, sit on low chairs until noon, refrain from bathing, leather footwear, cosmetics and intimate relations – all this a culmination of Three Weeks of keeping various customs that symbolize mourning and even more stringent ones during the nine days leading to the fast.

It is told that the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was walking down a street one night and saw a darkened synagogue lit by several candles and people lamenting while sitting on the floor. Wondering what terrible catastrophe could have befallen them, he asked and was told they were mourning the destruction of their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He was sure this was a recent tragedy and upon hearing that it had occurred almost two millennia earlier, is said to have remarked: "A people who mourns their Temple for thousands of years will also live to see it rebuilt."

If I forget you Jerusalem
May I forget my right hand
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
If I ever don't think of you
If I don't raise up Jerusalem above my highest joy ( Psalms137)

The Ninth of Av is a date marked by tragedy in Jewish history. On this day:

  • The Jews in the desert wept in fear after hearing the report of the spies, and G-d decreed, as recounted in Numbers 13-14, that they would not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel until that entire generation had died out. Our sages say that G-d's words were a prophecy: "You cried for nothing, and I will give you a reason to cry for generations to come."
  • Beitar, the last fortress to hold out during the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 135 C.E., fell to the Romans and over 100,000 Jews were slain.
  • A year later, the Temple area was plowed over, marking the last milestone of national Jewish presence in the Promised Land until the modern era.
  • The cruel expulsion of the Jews of Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492 achieved its goal.
  • World War I erupted in 1914, causing untold suffering to the Jews of Europe and Palestine and setting the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
  • Mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp began, in 1942.
  • There is a more recent tragedy. The Jews of Gush Katif spent their last legal day in their homes in Tisha B'Av of 2005, and were expelled three days later. The "Disengagement" the forced expulsion of more than 9,000 Jews from their homes in northern Samaria and the Jewish Gaza region, was carried out by a government, headed by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his deputy Ehud Olmert, who sent in soldiers and police, many of them dressed in black uniforms and riot gear, followed by bulldozers that destroyed the Jewish homes.

Twenty synagogues, however, were handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and within minutes, went up in flames. The area, along with the rest of Gaza, soon became a terrorist-controlled launching pad for thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, leading to three IDF operations.

How prophetic that the Talmudic Sages said that while the First Temple was destroyed due to the sins of idol worship, murder and immorality, the Second Temple fell due to the senseless hatred (sinat chinam) of one Jew for another.

And despite the 2000-year-old fast and palpable longing for the Temple to be rebuilt on Judaism's holiest site on Mount Moriah, UNESCO and the EU are entertaining proposals to recognize it as a Muslim site, ignoring all of the above. As Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold who blasted the proposal, said, it "deliberately ignores the historical connection between the Jewish people and their ancient capital".

Still, our Torah sages also teach that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B'Av and the saddest part of the regular daily prayers - tachanun - is not recited, in the anticipation of the final joyous Redemption that will render Tisha B'Av a day of joy. An old Jerusalem custom was to whitewash the walls of one's home in the afternoon of the fast, in preparation for the Messiah's expected arrival.

May we merit greeting the Messiah and be privileged to rebuild the Temple speedily in our time.

Selected events and information for Tisha B'Av:

  • The Women in Green's traditional Tisha B'Av eve walk, attended by thousands, around the Old City Walls will take place as usual. Click here for information.
  • Hidabrut.com website will be broadcasting a worldwide live marathon this Sunday, featuring 50 Rabbis, in 3 languages, from 4 locations across the globe. Popular speakers will include, The Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Zamir Cohen, Rabbi Yitzchok Grosman, Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb and many more world renowned lecturers from Israel, New York and France. The marathon is being organized In cooperation with the Ohr Somayach yeshiva and Chazaq radio.
  • The OU Center in Jerusalem will broadcast Kinot live on Sunday (click to register) with Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb speaking from the Israel Center at 22 Keren Hayesod, Jerusalem Rabbi Steven Weil speaking from Boca Raton.
  • Various population centers, such as in Modiin, will hold special "Tonight we don't study Torah" events to read Eicha and discuss social issues facing Israel.

Bus services to the Wall, to Rachel’s Tomb, south of Jerusalem, and to the Machpelah Cave in Hevron, are reinforced, with extended hours. (Check Egged site for details).