Short Guide to Tisha B'Av and the Nine Days
By Jake Miller
It is traditional to observe some customs of mourning for our exile and the destruction of the holy Temple during the time between the Seventeen of Tamuz and Tisha B'Av. These customs are a rabbinic enactment that has been traditionally observed for many centuries. They are designed to bring into our hearts the sadness that we may bring home to our hearts the tragedy of having been exiled from our land and cut off from having our holy Temple in Jerusalem. It is considered meritorious to observe these customs; however if one is in an environment that is ignorant of Tisha B'av, the observance may be in an inconspicuous manner.
The period of time between the Seventeen of Tamuz and Tisha B'Av can be divided into three periods: From the Seventeen of Tamuz to the first of the month of Av; the next is the period is between the first of the month of Av to the week of Tisha B'Av; the third is the week of Tisha B'Av.
For customs and traditions of the Seventeenth of Tamuz, the reader is directed to another article in this magazine. During this period we refrain from activities that bring us happiness such as listening to happy music, weddings and other similar activities.
During the period from the first of Av to the afternoon of the Tenth of Av with the exception of the Shabbat, meat is not eaten and wine is not drunk. If there is a Brit Milah, (a circumcision) during this time, those close family members are permitted to eat meat and drink wine. Also for those people who need meat and can not function with out it, may eat meat, but others who are healthy must abstain.
During this same period no laundry is washed or even given to be washed. Small children whose clothing is constantly soiled may be washed, but only in the smallest amounts. Likewise, an adult who has absolutely no clothing that is wearable without washing may do just the smallest amount, such as one shirt or blouse at a time. It is best not to hang it in an area where the public may see it so they should not suspect you of not observing the mourning customs of this period. If the tenth of Av happens to be on a Friday, laundry may be done from the morning of the tenth.
On the Eighth of Av starting in the afternoon, the Torah, both the written Torah including the Prophets and other writings and the Oral Torah, the Mishna and Talmud, is not studied since studying the Torah besides being a mitzvah is considered as an activity that brings delight to the soul. However portions of the Torah that deals with the destruction and exile, such as in some of the Prophets and in several tractates of the Talmud may be studied. Indeed, these subject matters should be studied in order that we learn the lessons of what caused our long exile that they never be repeated again.
The fast of Tisha B'Av is obligatory on all healthy people beginning with girls from the age of twelve and boys from the age of thirteen. The fast of Tisha B'Av begins at sunset on the eve of the eighth of Av and terminates at nightfall of the following day. If ever the ninth of Av occurs on the Shabbat, the fast is postponed until the following Sunday.
On Tisha B'Av it is customary to refrain from washing one's hands and face during the day unless they are soiled. The principle is that any thing which is done from pleasure is forbidden but anything which is done to alleviate discomfort is permitted.
On Tisha B'Av we do not wear leather shoes or sandals. Only footwear made of plastic or rubber may be worn. Leather is considered comfortable, whereas plastic, wood, or rubber is not so comfortable. In past times when leather was the only real shoe material, it was permissible to wear leather if it were necessary to appear before gentiles, but it may well be that since there are today many acceptable shoes of synthetic material that it is no longer acceptable to wear leather to avoid being scoffed at.
Similarly, if it is necessary to walk a great distance and only leather shoes are suitable for such a journey, they can be worn during the journey but they must be removed immediately afterwards.
At night time, many people sleep on the floor; generally they put their mattress on the floor. Alternately people sleep without their pillow or if they use two pillows, they will discard one. All this is to generate a small measure of discomfort.
Until noon time on Tisha B'Av it is not permitted to sit on chairs or benches but rather only on the floor or on a low stool. Indeed, in the synagogue, the chairs are generally turned over to emphasis that one should not sit upon them. Low stools or low chairs are brought to the synagogue or else some sort of pads or pillows to sit upon. The reason is that on this disastrous day we do not want to be comfortable; sitting on the floor is uncomfortable and an obvious sign of mourning. From noon time and onwards it is permissible to sit on chairs.
On Tisha B'Av we do not exchange greetings; we do not say "hello" or "how are you" and the like. However if some one who is ignorant of these customs greets you, you may respond, but it should be in a feeble manner so as not to prolong or begin a greeting session.
It is customary to read the Book of Lamentations (Eichah in Hebrew) in the synagogue Tisha B'Av by night. If you have time on the day of Tisha B'Av it is worthwhile to re-read it by day. There are several changes to the prayer services as well: the tallit and tefillin are not worn in the morning instead they are put on in the afternoon. Some prayers are omitted also.
For more on the Seventeenth of Tamuz, see our article in this month's Jewish Magazine
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For more on Fast Days, see our Archives
from the July 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine