Tisha B’Av: Jewish Holiday Mourns National Destruction

Tisha B'Av (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty)
Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty

Religious Jews around the world will observe the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av (“The Ninth of Av”) on Thursday, July 30, which commemorates the destruction of the two Holy Temples — the first in 586 B.C., and the second in 70 A.D.

The day happens to mark the anniversary of several other terrible events in Jewish history, as the Jewish Virtual Library notes:

Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider the many other tragedies of the Jewish peoplethat also occurred on this day. Among them are: the crushing of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt at the hands of the Romans in 133 C.E.; the expulsion of the Jews from Englandin 1290 C.E.; the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492; and the beginning of World War I in 1914, which by general historical consensus led to World War II and the Holocaust.

Jews mark the day by fasting from sunset on Wednesday night to nightfall on Thursday evening. Eating, drinking, bathing, sexual relations, and wearing leather (a luxury in the ancient world) are all forbidden for the duration.

The rules for the fast are the same as on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which falls in late September this year. However, while Yom Kippur is a happy day, Tisha B’Av is a mournful one. There is no greeting for the holiday; people are discouraged from greeting one another at all. Congregations read the Book of Lamentations — with everyone seated on the floor, or on low chairs. Even the study of Torah is forbidden, except for subjects relating directly to the day.

It is common for Jewish communities to devote some time to studying history on Tisha B’Av — such as the history of the Holocaust, or of the history of the destruction of the two Temples. The latter is particularly relevant to today’s politics.

The rabbis of the Talmud declared that while the First Temple was destroyed as a punishment for immorality, the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam — baseless hatred. The petty rivalries between different religious and political factions made it impossible for the people of the ancient Israelite state to unite against common challenges. There was ultimately no reason for the hatred: society simply allowed the grievances to escalate until the nation was destroyed.

But Tisha B’Av is not completely hopeless. By the afternoon, normal practices during prayer are restored; people may sit on regular chairs. The idea is to re-enact the hope for the arrival of the Messiah, and the final redemption of the world.

That is why Jews still observe Tisha B’Av, though the State of Israel has been restored and Jerusalem is once again its capital. The messianic age still awaits.

The days after Tisha B’Av are days of hope and joy. Comforting passages are read from the Book of Isaiah; the holiday of Tu B’Av (The Fifteenth of Av), the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day, is observed.

There, too, some relevance may be found to what awaits the world beyond this present, fraught, divided moment.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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