Tisha B’Av: History and Laws

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13 Feb 2014
Fast of Tisha B'Av

Tisha B’Av – The “ninth day” in the Jewish month of Av, which starts at sundown on the eighth day and concludes at sundown on the ninth day of Av. This is the day when the intensity of the entire three week mourning period reaches its peak (keep reading below for details and use our entire Tisha B’Av Resource Center to learn more).


According to our sages, many tragic events occurred to our ancestors on this day:

  1. The sin of the spies caused Hashem to decree that the Children of Israel who left Egypt would not be permitted to enter the land of Israel;
  2. The first Temple was destroyed;
  3. The second Temple was destroyed;
  4. Betar, the last fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 135, fell, sealing the fate of the Jewish people.
  5. One year after the fall of Betar, the Temple area was plowed.
  6. In 1492, King Ferdinand of Spain issued the expulsion decree, setting Tisha B’Av as the final date by which not a single Jew would be allowed to walk on Spanish soil.
  7. World War I – which began the downward slide to the Holocaust – began on Tisha B’av.


The prohibitions on Tisha B’Av itself are similar to those of Yom Kippur. In addition to not eating or drinking, we are not allowed to wash, anoint oneself or wear leather shoes. In a prohibition more stringent than on Yom Kippur, we are only allowed to study certain portions of the Torah and Talmud on Tisha B’Av.


The observance of Tisha B’Av begins with the Seudah HaMafseket, the last meal before the fast commences.

NOTE: During years when the fast starts on Saturday night we do not have a seuda HaMafseket.

Unlike the elaborate feast we have before Yom Kippur, this meal is typically one course, usually consisting of a hard-boiled egg and some bread. Also, this meal is generally not eaten with others to avoid having a Zimmun (quorum for public blessing) at Birchat HaMazon. Zimmun indicates permanence, habit and durability. We avoid the Zimmun because we’d prefer not to make this mournful meal a recurring experience. It is customary to eat this meal seated on the floor or a low stool.

Our sages teach that whoever mourns over Jerusalem will merit the future vision of her joy. As it is written in Isaiah (Chapter 66, verse 10), “rejoice greatly with her, all who mourn her.”


Shiva Asar B’Tammuz

Five disasters occurred on Shivah Asar B’Tammuz:

  1. Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, discovered the people worshipping the golden calf, and broke the luchot;
  2. During the siege of Jerusalem before the destruction of the first Temple the daily offering, was suspended because the Kohanim (who had fortified themselves inside the Temple) could not get any more sheep for the sacrifice.
  3. In the year 70, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the second Temple;
  4. Apustumus the wicked burned a Torah Scroll; and
  5. The Romans set up an idol in the courtyard of the Temple.

The Three Weeks

This period of time is known as Bein HaM’Tzarim, “between the straits”, because it says in Eicha (Chapter 1, verse 3): “and her pursuers overtook her between the straits”, referring to the calamitous events that befell the Jewish people between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. (Some of the prohibitions and customs we observe during this period are mentioned here. For specific questions contact a Rabbi.)

The Nine Days

The intensity of the three week mourning period increases with the onset of Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av. So, in addition to those items mentioned below, during the days between Rosh Chodesh and Tisha B’Av, we are prohibited from: