On Tisha B’av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, we mourn the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem that were destroyed, along with other tragedies suffered by the Jewish people on this day.
Our sages teach that the ninth day of Av is a cursed day that is eternally destined for bad luck and tragedy. The first such tragedy was the biblical episode of the spies.
In the Book of Numbers, we read how Moses sent emissaries to spy out the Land of Israel prior to the arrival of the Jewish People. They were sent to bring back a report on the Land of Israel and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the spies brought back an evil report in order to persuade the Jewish people to stay in the dessert and not enter the Promised Land. So frightening was their report that the people cried that night. It was a result of this event that God decreed that the Jewish people would be forced to wander the dessert for 40 years.
That night was the ninth of Av. We are taught that God told the people that since they cried for nothing on that ninth day of Av, they will cry on the ninth of Av forever.
Tisha b’Av Tragedies
Indeed, as mentioned, it is not only the destruction of the two Temples that we mourn. Rather, tragedy after tragedy has befallen the Jewish people on this day, and the crying continues.
Here are some of the other tragedies that occurred on the ninth of Av:
We can begin with the well-known episode of the Golden Calf, which occurred on the 17th day of Tammuz. (Tammuz is the month before Av, and it, too, is closely associated with the tragic flavor of Av.)
The First Crusade began on the ninth of Av, corresponding to August 15, 1096. Over 1.2 million Jews were killed.
The Jews were expelled from England on the ninth of Av, corresponding to July 18, 1290.
The Jews were expelled from France on the ninth of Av, corresponding to July 22, 1306.
The Jews were expelled from Spain on the ninth of Av, corresponding to July 31, 1492.
Germany entered World War One on the ninth of Av, corresponding to August 1, 1914. This was essentially the start of the Holocaust.
SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution” on the ninth of Av, corresponding to August 2, 1941.
The deportation of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, most of whom were taken to be gassed in Treblinka, took place on the ninth of Av, corresponding to July 23, 1942.
Definitely a day of tragedy, and we are told it will continue this way until Messiah arrives. Even the day after, the 10th of Av, has also been associated with tragedy since at least Talmudic times. In more recent times, it was on the 10th of Av, corresponding to July 18, 1994, that the Jewish Community Centre of Buenos Aires was bombed by Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists, killing 85 and injuring 300. And to end our list of calamities, the “Disengagement”, the unilateral withdrawal by Israel from Gaza, took place on the 10th of Av, corresponding to August 15, 2005.
Symbols of Mourning
The restrictions of Tisha B’av are similar to those of Yom Kippur. During the course of Tisha B’av, the following activities are forbidden:
No eating or drinking;
No washing or bathing;
No application of creams or oils;
No wearing of (leather) shoes;
Of course, those who are ill are permitted to eat, as needed. Another prominent feature of Tisha B’av is the reading of the Book of Lamentations, along with the recitation of ancient dirges that take place in the synagogue while worshippers are seated on the floor.