The laws and customs of Tisha B’Av

Other than fasting and mourning the loss of the Second Temple, Tisha B'Av has various other traditions in Jewish culture to help us remember the tragedy; Live from the Western Wall

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon|Updated:

The Mishna, Ta’anit 26b, describes what happened in Tisha B’av: On the ninth of the month of Av, it was decreed upon our ancestors that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael; and the first and second Temples were destroyed the first time; Beitar was captured; and the city of Jerusalem was plowed.
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The First Temple stood for 410 years (Yoma 9a). On the seventh day of Av, the Babylonians entered The First Temple, on the ninth day of Av it was set on fire and destroyed.
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מתפללים יהודים הכותל המערבי  בתשעה באב
מתפללים יהודים הכותל המערבי  בתשעה באב
Jewish man praying at the Western Wall
(Photo: Reuters)
The Second Temple was also destroyed on the ninth of Av. Thus, the mourning observances begin before Tisha B’Av and continue until the 10th of Av.

Before the fast

Midday of the day before Tisha b’Av (and until the end of the fast) we study only sections of Torah which discuss the laws mourning, the destruction of the Temples and the tragedies which befell the Jewish people throughout our history, while there are those who mekelim (lenient).
“Separation Meal”: the meal eaten before the fast begins consists of one dish (Taanit 26b). How do we eat a plentiful meal before the fast?
Some eat a larger meal before Mincha, followed by the somber meal (a piece of bread and a bit of ashes, sitting on the floor).
Some have a custom of eating a single meal, after Mincha, and not eat one dish, but rather other satisfying food, and at the end of the meal, they will sit on the floor and eat a hard-boiled egg dipped in ashes.
Beginning of the fast: with sundown.
We take off leather shoes and go to the synagogue.
In the synagogue: the curtain is removed from the ark, and the lights are dimmed.

The actual fast

The five prohibited activities on Tisha B’Av are eating and drinking, washing, anointing, donning leather shoes, and marital relations (Taanit 30).
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מתפללים בכותל בתשעה באב
מתפללים בכותל בתשעה באב
Tisha B'Av prayers at the Western Wall
(Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)
Washing: One is not allowed to wash one’s hands. When one awakens in the morning, one should wash one’s hands only up to the knuckles. The same should be done after one uses the facilities. One may rinse dirt off with water, and if needed, with soap.
Anointing: Medical ointments, Vaseline and odorless deodorant are permissible, as the purpose is not pleasurable.
Shoes: one may wear any shoe that is made of leather; if the shoe has a leather decoration and such that does not hold the foot – one may mekel (more lenient.).
It is allowed to wear shoes that are not leather even if they are comfortable, but if there are less comfortable shoes (or slippers) – it is considered a hiddur (better to use them).
Performance of Melacha: In Gemara (Ta’anit 30), it is indicated that whoever performs a Melacha on Tisha B’Av, does not see blessing from it ever. However, there is no prohibition, but rather it is dependent on the custom of each place. The usual custom is to avoid doing any form of Melacha until midday.
After midday, one may perform a Melacha that involves an important need, and if refraining from Melacha will result in a significant and irretrievable loss, it is permissible to do Melacha all day long.
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הכותל המערבי, ערב תשעה באב
הכותל המערבי, ערב תשעה באב
Prayers at the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av
(Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)
The reason for forbidding Melacha is to avoid distraction from mourning. Therefore, there is no prohibition on non-distracting Melacha, such as turning on a light, driving a car, etc. It is permissible to write things related to Tisha B’Av or mourning.
In addition, it is customary to start preparing food after midday towards the end of the fast. It is permitted to prepare food for children or for sick people during the fast.
Greeting: one may not greet another person with a verbal greeting such as “Hello” or “Good Morning”.
Torah Study: Study is prohibited because it causes the heart to rejoice, but passages that are related to the destruction or other sad matters, such as Iyov are permitted.
Sitting: One may not sit on a chair, but on the floor or a low chair (which height is less than 24 cm, and if needed, less than 30 cm).
Tzedaka: It is good to give tzedaka on a Taanit, and there is no problem giving a gift.
Illness: someone who is ill, even if his life is not in danger, but whose body is weak – is patur from fasting and does not need to eat “leshiurin” (small-bits-at-a-time).
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דגם של בית המקדש השני
דגם של בית המקדש השני
A model of the Second Temple
(Photo: Shutterstock)
A woman up to thirty days after childbirth may eat on Tisha B’Av. A woman, who has surpassed thirty days after childbirth, is to fast according to din, but practically, this varies depending on her strengths, if she is breastfeeding, the age of the baby and more, and she must consult a chacham.
A pregnant woman must fast according to the law, but in fact, in many cases, there are alleviations, because of fear for the wellbeing of the fetus and the like, and therefore it is recommended that she ask a chacham.
Children: According to Halacha (din) they are patur. It is customary to educate them to fast for part of the day, from the age at which they understand the mourning of destruction. However, since this is only a matter of education and not by law, their fast should not be prolonged.
There are those for whom the fast will mean they will not eat or drink during the night, and others who will continue the fast until ten in the morning or shortly after. In any case, it is proper to give the young ones only simple foods so they will feel the mourning of the destruction.
Brit Milah: If there is a Brit, it is performed after the kinot (elegies). The prevalent custom is to perform the brit towards the end of the day, towards a time of comfort. Blessing over wine is performed and the yoledet will drink, and if she cannot, the newborn is given.
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Rabbi Rimon
Rabbi Rimon
Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon
(Photo: Jerusalem College of Technology)

Post Tisha B’Av

The fast ends when three medium stars appear, about 26-27 minutes after sunset (according to the Land of Israel calendar). It is customary to do netilat yadayim three times. Kiddush Levana. One should taste something before Kiddush Levana.
The restrictions of the Nine Days are still in effect until midday on the tenth of Av, because the Temple continued to burn through the 10th. If Tisha B’Av is deferred from Shabbat to Sunday – see in continuation). Sephardi custom is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine until the end of 10th B’Av.
This year, when Tisha B’Av falls on Thursday, Ashkenazi are allowed to have a haircut (and shave) and wash clothes on motzei Tisha B’Av in order to prepare for Shabbat, but eating meat and drinking wine and the rest of the Three Weeks restrictions apply as in other years.
Baruch Hashem we are privileged to have a state of our own and an army of our own. However, we need to feel what is still missing. We lack the presence of the Shechina. By understanding what we lack, we should be zoche (merit) - Please God - to see the building of the Temple soon.

Rabbi Rimon is the Rabbinic Head of the Jerusalem College of Technology and the Head of its Batei Midrash and serves as the rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council.
First published: 18:43, 07.26.23
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