A Bissel of This and That
This month we will be focusing on Tisha B’Av, or the ninth day of the month of Av, which is observed this year from the evening of Wednesday, July 29th through the evening of Thursday, July 30th. Tisha B’av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar and in fact, is considered to be a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which coincidentally occurred on the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Roman destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
Since then, numerous other tragedies have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av. 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 England in 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.
Accordingly, Jews observe this day as a national fast day and a day of mourning. In Jewish law, many pleasurable activities are forbidden, and many of the restrictions generally observed by a mourner are followed. The restrictions on Tisha B’Av are similar to those on Yom Kippur: to refrain from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving, or wearing cosmetics; wearing leather shoes; and engaging in sexual relations. Work in the ordinary sense of the word is also restricted. People who are ill need not fast on this day. Many of the traditional mourning practices are observed: people refrain from smiles, laughter, and idle conversation, and sit on low stools.
The Book of Lamentations or Megillat Eicha, is read at night, and kinot, a series of mournful liturgical poems, are recited throughout the night and day. Many of the kinot mourn tragedies other than the destruction of the Temples, such as the Crusades and the Holocaust.
Even as we mourn, there is an element of joy and comfort. Indeed, the reading of Lamentations concludes with the verse “Restore us to You, O L‑rd, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.” There is also a custom among many to use flimsy paperback Kinot booklets, hoping that they will not be needed next year.
Sources of information: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tisha-b-av;