Passages

Tisha B’Av by Adele Berlin

What does Tisha B’Av commemorate?

Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (which falls in July or August), commemorates two catastrophic events: the destruction of the first and second temples. Both events occurred on or near 9 Av. The first temple was destroyed by the Neo-Babylonians in 586 BCE (see 2Kgs 25; Jer 52; 2Chr 36:11-21), and the second temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. These events were perceived, in ancient times and still today, as historically and theologically earth-shattering. Both involved heavy loss of life in siege and war, followed by the deportation of parts of the Jewish population. More important, both brought to an end the central religious institution, the temple—the seat of the Divine Presence and the locus of worship. Without the temple, sacrificial worship could not be conducted. After 70 CE, prayer and the study of sacred texts, already widely engaged in, became and remain the main components of Jewish worship. But the loss of the temple, and the hope for its eventual restoration, echo through biblical and later Jewish thought.

Other communal disasters are also remembered on Tisha B’Av, incorporated into the quintessential disaster of the loss of the temple. These include the devastation of the Jewish communities of France and the Rhineland during the first crusade (1096), the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497), and the Holocaust (1933–1945).

How is Tisha B’Av observed?

Tisha B’Av is a day of fasting and public mourning; its tone is somber and subdued. In traditional communities the lights in the synagogue are dimmed, the decorative curtain covering the ark (where the Torah is kept) is removed, and normal greetings and chit-chat are avoided. One does not engage in pleasurable activities, like bathing, sexual relations, music, and entertainment. Since the study of sacred texts is deemed enjoyable, only mournful texts like Lamentations, Job, passages from Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, and certain Talmudic sections may be studied. In accord with the Jewish rituals of mourning, leather shoes are not worn, and in synagogue people sit on the floor or on low chairs.

During the evening service that begins Tisha B’Av (the “day” in the Jewish calendar begins on the preceding evening), the biblical book of Lamentations is recited. This book is comprised of five moving poems about the destruction of the first temple. Special poetic laments, called qinot, are added in the evening and morning services. The prayers are not sung to their usual melodies but are intoned in a speaking voice. The tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries) worn by men (and in some liberal congregations by women, too) during the weekday morning service are not put on until the afternoon service.

When did Tisha B’Av originate?

Tisha B’Av as it is currently observed took shape in talmudic times (the early centuries of the Common Era), but the commemoration of the first temple’s destruction originated in biblical times, during the Persian period. The book of Lamentations may have been composed for such an observance. Zech 8:19 mentions “The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth.” These fasts memorialize events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The fifth month is Av, and while the date of this fast is not specified, it may have been on the 9th of Av.

Adele Berlin, "Tisha B’Av", n.p. [cited 13 Aug 2020]. Online: http://www.bibleodyssey.com/en/passages/related-articles/tisha-b-av

Contributors

Berlin-Adele

Adele Berlin
Robert H. Smith Professor of Bible, Emerita, University of Maryland

Adele Berlin is Robert H. Smith Professor of Bible, Emerita, at the University of Maryland. She is the author of numerous books and articles, the editor-in-chief of The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (2nd ed., 2011), and coeditor of The Jewish Study Bible (2nd ed., 2014). She is a past president of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Residents of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon, also used to refer to the population of the larger geographical designation of lower Mesopotamia.

A neutral term for the "A.D." period of years, i.e. the past two thousand years.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Relating to the system of ritual slaughter and offering to a deity, often performed on an altar in a temple.

The structure built in Jerusalem in 516 B.C.E. on the site of the Temple of Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians seventy years prior. The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans responding to Jewish rebellion.

2Kgs 25

1And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, ... View more

Jer 52

The Destruction of Jerusalem Reviewed
1Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Ham ... View more

2Chr 36:11-21

11Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He di ... View more

Zech 8:19

19Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons ... View more

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