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Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, is a day of mourning. This year it was observed at night after Shabbat on Aug. 10. It marks a number of sad events. Foremost is the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem; but also included are the Bar Kochba revolt where the Romans defeated the Jews of Betar and killed over 500,000 Jews, the plowing of the Temple site the following year, the first Crusades, and the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.
It’s a day of fasting that ends the three weeks and the nine days. The 17th of Tammuz is a fast day three weeks prior to Tisha B’Av. It starts a period of mourning. From the 17th of Tammuz until Tisha B’av, we don’t typically have celebrations or parties. Nine days before Tisha B’av starts a stricter mourning period. There is some variety of observance among the different branches, but traditionally, Jews don’t eat meat, cut their hair, or listen to instrumental music during this time.
Tisha B’Av marks the end of those mourning periods. We fast from sundown one day until the evening of the next day. There’s typically a special meal before the fast. It often contains round foods to symbolize the cycle of life. This begins a period where we sit on the floor—a sign of mourning.
There are a number of things we avoid on Tisha B’Av—food, drink, sex, bathing, washing clothes, studying Torah (with a few exceptions for specific stories of mourning), greeting others, work (if at all possible; although the restrictions aren’t the same as the total rest on Shabbat), swimming, trips, and wearing leather are just some. It’s typical to donate money. There is a custom to sit on the ground or a low stool for the first half of the day just like mourners do during shiva (the period of mourning after a close loved one dies). At services, there are certain prayers we avoid and tefillin and tallit aren’t worn in the morning. Some restrictions like eating meat, swimming, or washing clothes last until the following day.
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