Birkenau, Poland, May 1944. Jews deemed unfit for work waiting in a grove near gas chamber.

Everything You Need to Know About Judaism’s Saddest Day of the Year

Tisha b’Av, the Ninth of Av, is the commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple.

And it’s also, basically, Catastrophe Day for the Jews. It’s the day we consolidate all of our thousands of years of sorrow into one, 25-hour long inferno.

Here’s what traditional Jews are mourning on this day, according to the Mishnah (the first redaction of the oral tradition, written around the first century CE):

1313 BCE: While the Israelites were sojourning in the desert, Moses’ spies return with bad reports about the Land of Israel (see Numbers 13-14).

423 BCE: First Temple, built by King Solomon, is destroyed by the legions of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

69 CE: Second Temple, built by Ezra and Nehemiah, is destroyed by the legions of Roman emperor Titus.

135 CE: The Bar Kochba revolt is crushed by Roman emperor Hadrian.

135 CE: Turnus Rufus plows the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Other events that notably took place on this day:

1290: Jews are expelled from England by King Edward I.

1492: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sign the edict of the Spanish expulsion.

1914: Germany declares war on Russia, sparking World War I.

The religious laws associated with the day:

  • Fasting (no food or drink) from sundown to the next day’s emergence of three stars.

  • Refraining from bathing, lotions/oils, or cosmetics

  • Refraining from sexual intercourse

  • Refraining from wearing leather shoes

The rules are pretty much the same as those for one in mourning/shiva.

Here’s a fascinating piece on Psalm 137, which includes the famous verse ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept’, and which has “long served as an uplifting historical analogy for a variety of oppressed and subjugated groups”. Worth the read.

25 hours is long — but don’t worry, we’ve got a list of best movies to watch to help the day move along.

Fasting Tips

TIPS FOR BEFORE THE FAST

  • Drink plenty of water, starting 48 hours before the fast. Increase your regular fluid intake by 30%.

  • Wean yourself off of caffeine starting 72 hours before the fast.

  • Decrease foods or drinks with refined sugar a few days prior.

  • Avoid salty foods.

  • Eat complex carbs: Whole grains, vegetables, baked (preferably sweet) potatoes.

  • Don’t overeat in your pre-fast meal.

  • Eat fruit, especially hydrating fruit like melon and watermelon, which help retain liquids.

CUSTOMS FOR THE PRE-FAST MEAL

  • The meal is eaten while sitting on the floor or on a low stool, as if one is sitting Shiva.

  • Traditional pre-fast foods include boiled egg or lentils, foods associated with mourning, their round shape a symbol of the cycle of life.

  • It is customary to dip bread or egg into ashes.

  • Traditionally, fish, meat and wine are avoided, as they’re considered celebratory foods.

AFTER THE FAST

  • Break your fast on 4 cups of water, before eating anything.

  • Eat a light meal. Salad and soup, along with bread or rice, is great for this. Dessert should be fruits only.

  • Traditionally, meat and wine are not consumed until the following day.

  • After eating lightly, step away from the table and go for a short walk.

  • If you are really still hungry after that, have a small snack and more water.

Author

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt is the Life/Features editor at the Forward. She was previously a New York-based reporter for Haaretz. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesSalon, and Tablet, and she teaches journalism at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women.

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Everything You Need to Know About Judaism’s Saddest Day of the Year

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