Tisha B’Av: What is it about and why do people fast?

Tisha B’Av is one of the saddest days in the Jewish calendar (Picture: Getty Images)

Tisha B’Av is an important day in the Jewish calendar, traditionally known as a communal day of mourning.

A large number of disasters are said to have occurred to the Jewish people on or around this date, which is the ninth day of the month of Av (a month that typically lands around July or possibly through to August).

The day is usually marked by practising Jews by abstaining from pleasurable activities – this often involves fasting.

This year, Tisha B’Av will take place from the evening of the 6 to the evening 7 of August.

What is Tisha B’Av?

The communal day of mourning is said to reflect several disasters, with the major commemoration usually understood to be of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E, and 70 C.E.

While the exact dates of these events are unknown, its commemoration is traditionally associated with Tisha B’Av.

According to myjewishlearning.com, ‘The rabbis of the Talmudic age made the claim that God ordained this day as a day of disaster as punishment for the lack of faith evidenced by the Israelites during their desert wanderings after the exodus from Egypt.’

Since the destruction of the temples, other ill-fated events have also befallen the Jewish people, leading to it being considered a communal day of mourning.  

How is Tisha B’Av marked?

Jewish worshippers fill the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av feast in Jerusalem

The day will consist of fasting and praying (Picture: Getty Images)

Abstention from pleasurable activities is generally how those commemorating Tisha B’Av mark the day. However, a three-week period of lower-level mourning also leads up to the holiday – this time commemorates the siege of Jerusalem, which ultimately led to the Second Temple’s destruction.

Men typically refrain from shaving during this period, and celebratory events (such as weddings) aren’t usually held at this time. The final nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av will usually see the commemorative practices intensify, with some Jewish people refraining from eating meat except on the Sabbath.

Myjewishlearning.com go on to describe Tisha B’Av as a day of ‘intense mourning” and also say it is usually marked by “a day of fasting, on which one also is to refrain from washing, sexual activity, using perfume and other such ointments, and wearing leather.

The Book of Lamentations and other dirges (a type of mournful song or poem) are read in the synagogue.’

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