Tisha B’Av: Fasting on the most somber day in Jewish history

Jeremiah on Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Jeremiah on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

This is a sample chapter from Debra Darvick’s This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. Her book is a series of real-life stories from the lives of Jewish men and women. Throughout the book, which follows the traditional calendar, she marks each Jewish season with a brief introduction.

Tisha B’Av

Lonely sits the city, once great with people. She that was great among nations; is become like a widow.
Lamentations 1: 1-5

Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself. And let us come back: Renew our days as of old.
Lamentations 5: 23-25

The last holiday of the Jewish calendar, Tishah B’Av, falls in late summer and is the most somber day in Jewish history. On this day, the 9th of Av, both Temples were said to have been destroyed—the first in 586 BCE and the second burned by the Romans in 70 CE. On this date in 1290, all the Jews of England were expelled from the country; and in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled Spain’s Jews as well.

Tishah B’Av is a fast day. It is forbidden to drink any liquids, engage in sexual relations, bathe, wear leather shoes or put on makeup. These restrictions drive home the point that all of Israel is in mourning on this day.

During evening services, the Book of Eicha, Lamentations, is read. Written by the prophet Jeremiah in the wake of the destruction of the First Temple, the book chronicles innumerable horrors visited upon the Jewish people. It is customary to sit on the floor to hear it read, just as mourners sit on low chairs during the week of shivah.

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