A Time for Mourning

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


I. Introduction


In this study I would like to examine the reasons why we mourn on Tammuz 17[1] and again on Tisha B’Av.[2]


Five misfortunes befell our Fathers on the seventeenth of Tammuz and five on the ninth of Av. On the seventeenth of Tammuz the Tables [of the law] were shattered, the daily offering was discontinued, a breach was made in the city [of Jerusalem] and Apustumus burned the scroll of the law and placed an idol in the Temple. On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our Fathers should not enter the [promised] land, the Temple was destroyed, the first and second time, Betar was captured and the city [Jerusalem] was ploughed up. Talmud Ta'anith 26b


We spiral forward in time. Each place on the spiral has its own holiness and its own events. We look for events of freedom on Passover because that is the season for freedom. In the same way we look for tragedies on the seventeenth of Tammuz[3] and the three weeks culminating in the ninth of Av[4], because that is the time now appointed for tragedy.


'The essential significance of these days of tragedy and fasting, is not primarily the grief and mourning which they evoke. Their aim is rather to awaken our hearts towards repentance; to recall to us, both the evil deeds of our fathers, and our own evil deeds, which caused anguish to befall both them and us and thereby to cause us to return towards the good. As it is said:


Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:40-42 "'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers--their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, Which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies--then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.


The tragedies will not last forever. HaShem in His mercy has decreed a change to this pattern:


Zechariah 8:19 This is what HaShem Almighty says: "The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace."


The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months are:


Y Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz (Tammuz 17 - summer), when the walls of the city were breached, several years after the beginning of the siege;


Y Tisha B'Av (Av 9 - summer), when the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed by the Babylonians.


Y Tzom G'daliah (Tishri 3 - fall) when the Judean governor was assassinated in an Ammonite-generated plot. This brought about the end of Jewish autonomy under the Babylonians.


Y Asarah B'Tevet (Tevet 10 - in the winter), when the siege of the city by the Babylonians began;


The prophet Yirmeyahu calls Tisha B'Av a “moed”, a festival based on:


Eichah (Lamentations) 1:15 The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty [men] in the midst of me: he hath called a festival against me to crush my young men: the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, [as] in a winepress.


So, even our times of mourning are called festivals and these times of mourning will be turned to times of joy, Baruch HaShem! Let us keep this in mind as we examine more deeply the times of our mourning.


II. The Temple


The Temple is the center of HaShem’s focus. When HaShem made the Earth, He started with the foundation stone on the Temple mount. This location continues as the center of His focus to this very day.


The Temple is also the focus of the Children of Israel. We build all of our Synagogues facing the Temple. When we pray, we always face the Temple. Many of our prayers, including “The Prayer”, the Amidah, make mention of our longing for the Temple and its restoration.


Starting on Tammuz 17 we begin to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. To begin to understand the significance of the Temple, it is important that we review some of the most significant Torah events which took place on or near the Temple mount.


Temple Mount Events


Bereshit (Genesis) 28:10-19 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood HaShem, and he said: "I am HaShem, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely HaShem is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.


Bereshit (Genesis) 22:1-18 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of HaShem called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place HaShem Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of HaShem it will be provided." The angel of HaShem called to Abraham from heaven a second time And said, "I swear by myself, declares HaShem, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."


2 Shmuel (Samuel) 24:14-25 David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of HaShem, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." So HaShem sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, HaShem was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of HaShem was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to HaShem, "I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family." On that day Gad went to David and said to him, "Go up and build an altar to HaShem on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up, as HaShem had commanded through Gad. When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" "To buy your threshing floor," David answered, "so I can build an altar to HaShem, that the plague on the people may be stopped." Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. O king, Araunah gives all this to the king." Araunah also said to him, "May HaShem your God accept you." But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to HaShem my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. David built an altar to HaShem there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then HaShem answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.


It also appears as though the Garden of Eden encompassed the Temple Mount and that the Ark of the Covenant stood in the same place where the Tree of Life stood.


Following is a list of the major events leading up to the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem The information was compiled from Rabbi Shlomo Rottenberg's Toledot Am Olam by Long Island NCSY[5]


First Temple


3316 Yehoyakim ben Yoshiahu becomes King of Judea (II Melakim (Kings) 23:36)


3320 Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon conquers Judea. He removes part of the Temple's holy vessels and children of the royal family take them to Babylon (Daniel 1)


3327 Yehoyachim (Yechonia) ben Yehoyakim becomes king and reigns for only three months. Nebuchadnezzar exiles him to Babylon together with 10,000 people and the Torah Sages (II Melakim (Kings) 24:16)


3327 Zedekiah ben Yehoyakim becomes the last King of Judea (24:18)


3338 The First Temple is destroyed. It had stood for 410 years. Second Temple


3768 Rome (the dominant power in Judea since 3648) begins to appoint the Melakim (Kings) of Judea. The first Roman appointee is Agrippas ben Aristoblus.


3788 The Sanhedrin is exiled (Avodah Zarah 9b). Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, a student of Hillel the Elder (who died in 3768), becomes Head of the Academy (Zemach David 910).


3804 Agrippas II becomes the last Roman-appointed King and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel becomes Nassi (Prince).


3828 The Second Temple is destroyed. It had stood for 420 years.


The Temple, then, has existed for only about 830 years out of nearly 6,000, but, it is our focus because it is the point where HaShem meets His people and we serve Him. It is only in this intensely holy place that we truly achieve holiness and a connection with HaShem.


III. Shiva Asar B’Tammuz -The 17th of Tammuz


In the Mishna, in Ta’anith (4:6), we are taught: Five catastrophes befell our ancestors on the ‘Shiva Asar B'Tammuz’:


Ø  The Tablets were broken. After receiving the Torah, Moshe came down from Sinai with the first Tablets of the Law. What greeted his eyes was the sight of the people dancing around a golden calf. As a result of this sin, the Jewish People were no longer on a level to receive the Tablets. Thus, the letters took leave of the stone and flew back up to whence they had come. The Tablets were now unsupported by the letters, the spiritual light that buoyed them up, and grew too heavy for Moshe to carry. Moshe threw down the deadweight stone, and the Tablets smashed on the ground.


Ø  The Tamid offering was stopped.


Ø  The city walls were breached.


Ø  Apustumus burned the Torah.


Ø  He constructed an idol (or "an idol was constructed") in the Sanctuary.


In memory of these events we are required to fast on this day to inspire ourselves to repentance. The fast begins at the break of dawn (or when you go to bed the night before) and ends at nightfall.


During this time we neither eat nor drink any food whatsoever, not even water. Even though we are, strictly speaking, permitted to bathe on this fast day (unlike Tisha B'Av and Yom HaKippurim) the custom is not to bathe on Shiva Asar B’Tammuz.


Pregnant or nursing women, as well as anyone else for whom fasting may be a health problem should consult with a Rabbi. Children below the age of majority (bar or bat mitzva, thirteen for boys and twelve for girls) do not fast. (In some communities, it is customary for children to begin fasting a short time before they become bar or bat mitzva.)


It is important to recognize that the primary idea behind this fast is to meditate on the fact that these sufferings came upon us because the sins of our fathers, sin which we continue to commit, and that we must repent. Someone who fasts but spends the day in frivolous activity has completely missed the point.


The fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz marks the beginning of a three week period of national mourning for the Jews which is completed on Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av.


IV. The Three Weeks


The period from the fast of Tammuz 17 to the fast on Av 9, can be split into two basic units: the first unit goes from the seventeenth of Tammuz until the ninth of Av and is generally referred to as "The Three Weeks," and the second goes from the first of Av to the ninth of Av, and this is generally referred to as "The Nine Days." The Sephardim do it differently: the first basic unit in the Sephardi tradition begins on the first of Av and the second basic unit begins on the Sunday before the ninth of Av, both concluding on the tenth. The ninth of Av concludes the period of national mourning, because on that day both the first and the second Temples were destroyed.


During the three weeks, four types of restrictions arise:


  1. Weddings – Because they entail joy during this period of mourning. Associated with this is the restriction from listening to music, because it too brings joy. Singing, though, is not included in this prohibition.
  2. Haircuts – Because this three week period is modeled after the mourning for a close relative, we restrict haircutting in the same way we do during mourning for a close relative.
  3. Shehecheyanu - Saying Shehecheyanu is restricted although there is considerable lenience especially in regards to new clothes.
  4. Striking one's children – Because this period is prone to tragedy, we should avoid any striking which may bring tragedy about.


The Nine Days[6]


During "the nine days", four more categories of issurim come up: laundry, bathing, consuming meat or wine, and business.


1. Laundry


Two separate issurim are actually at work here. It is, firstly, prohibited to wash clothes; and, secondly, it is prohibited to wear newly washed clothes. It is also prohibited to make new clothes, but it is permitted to fix old clothes.


A) If you give your clothes to a non-Jewish laundry for a period including a day not in "the nine days," the non-Jew can, on his own prerogative, wash the clothes during the nine days.


B) It is prohibited to wear any freshly washed clothes, including underwear, even on Shabbat. It is customary to wear the clothes needed for the nine days for several minutes before Rosh Chodesh. If a person does not have any "unwashed" clothes, he may wear fresh clothes on Shabbat. This allows you, if you have no clothes for the week, to wear clothes that you haven't prepared beforehand on Shabbat. However, you should wear them for at least fifteen to thirty minutes, and only clothes you would normally wear on Shabbat.


Although underwear falls under the same prohibition, Rav Feinstein zt"l felt a person who does not have a "worn" supply may wear freshly laundered underwear.


2. Bathing


It is prohibited to take baths and showers or swim during "the nine days." However, washing your hands and feet alone, in cold water, is permitted.


In fact, washing in order to remove dirt is permitted. This creates a certain amount of room for poskim to be lenient nowadays, because when people bathed, in the times of the Gemara, they really went to a bathhouse. It was like a night at the movies or a long game of bridge. Nowadays the main goal of a shower is to get clean. Thus, some poskim say that regular showers to wash off sweat are permitted as long as they're taken at uncomfortable temperatures. Rav Lichtenstein is wont to be machmir, but he would definitely agree that it is permitted for Shabbat. Just don't prolong the shower.


3. Meat and Wine


It is prohibited to eat meat and to drink wine, because, in the words of the Gemara, "there is no happiness other than with meat and wine." Furthermore the meat and wine were prime ingredients in the Temple sacrifices.


On Shabbat, both these foods are permitted. This includes the hours before and after Shabbat which one adds on through an early kiddush and a late havdallah. Can this late havdallah be done on wine? The basic answer is yes. However, the Rama says that our custom is to use a child who is not old enough to mourn but is old enough to require a beracha. Since grape juice may be used for havdallah, it is preferable during this period.


A second heter is the "mitzva meal," e.g., a brit milah or siyum. A siyum can be made upon finishing a masechet of Gemara, a seder of Mishna, or even a book of Tanakh b'iyun (Rav Feinstein). You can not maneuver a siyum into "the nine days." Only friends and relatives who would normally be invited to this meal can come. This is something that a lot of people have missed somewhere along the way; some restaurants in New York, for example, have been known to advertise "Siyum Nights" throughout "the nine days." The only people you can invite are your relatives and friends. During the week (beginning on Sunday) in which Tisha B’Av falls, one may invite only relatives and up to ten friends.


The prohibition of meat and wine normally extends until noon on the tenth (nightfall for Sephardim). When the fast is postponed from Shabbat to Sunday this prohibition extends only through the night following the fast.


4. Business


It is prohibited to expand business activities during the nine days.


It is prohibited to build what the Gemara refers to as a "binyan shel simcha." It is clear from the example that the Gemara gives, a house built for a newlywed couple for them to live on their own for a while until they would go back to their in-laws, that a "binyan shel simcha" is a building that is expressly built to make people happy and as a luxury. Because of this, Rav Feinstein zt"l holds that, although according to the letter of the law, you really are allowed to wallpaper your house, you should not do so. Wallpapering is a type of luxury, even if it is not a joy. One can conclude that building for a basic housing need is permitted.


It is also prohibited to plant a "neteyah shel simcha (joyful planting)." In the times of the Gemara, only the very wealthy kept flowers for aesthetic purposes. Thus, basically any aesthetic planting is included in this issur.


V. Tisha B’Av – The 9th of AV


This is the saddest day of the year. In the future it will be a day of joy. Tisha B’Av afternoon, our Sages explain, is also the day on which Mashiach is born. This does not refer to his actual birth, but rather to the strengthening of his influence.


In the Mishna, in Ta’anith (4:6), we are taught: Five catastrophes befell our ancestors on the Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz:


Ø  The Spies speak evil about the Land of Israel in 1312 BCE. The spies began their journey on 29th Sivan and returned after forty days. That year (unlike today) both Sivan and Tammuz had 30 days, so the end of the forty days was on 8th Av. The people wept on 9th Av when they heard most of the spies say that they wouldn't be able to conquer the land, and HaShem said, "You wept without cause: therefore I shall set this day as a day for weeping throughout future generations". It was then decreed that they should wander in the desert for forty years.


Ø  Destruction of the First Temple (421 BCE) with the subsequent loss of national sovereignty and exile from the Holy Land. The destruction of the first Temple actually took place over a period of four days, from the 7th - 10th of Av. The burning was started on the 9th. (II Melakim (Kings) 25 and Yirimiyah (Jeremiah) 52).


Ø  Destruction of the second Temple (70 CE), with the subsequent loss of national sovereignty and exile from the Holy Land. During the almost 2,000 years of the Jewish exile and dispersion from Israel, many wars have been fought over Jerusalem. All told, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt no less than nine times, with each conqueror further attempting to obscure the glorious Jewish past. But through the centuries, one symbol has miraculously remained intact: the Western Wall. It represents the indestructibility of the Jewish People.


Ø  The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed in 132 CE. Betar was destroyed, and over 100,00 killed. It was said that there were so many pupils in Betar that there were 400 Synagogues in the city, to each of which was attached 400 teachers and each was teacher to 400 pupils. They said that the students could have repelled any hostile attack with the points of their writing materials. According to the Midrash, the siege of Betar lasted for three+ years and the success of the Roman General, Julius Severus, was achieved through starving out the inhabitants and depriving them of water. It was on the 9th Av that the final terrible assault on Betar succeeded. Thousands of people, Jews and Romans, were said to have died in Betar. The Midrash relates that the horses waded in blood up to their nostrils and the blood flowed into the sea, staining it for a distance of four miles. [ Betar was far from the coast, possibly as much as four miles!]. It tells how the brains of 300 children were smashed on one stone and that 300 baskets of tefillin were found there. Other children were wrapped up, each child in his own book (scroll) and burnt. Hadrian possessed a vineyard eighteen miles square and the Romans surrounded it with a fence made up from the bodies of those who had been slain at Betar. With the fall of Betar, the insurrection against the Romans was brought to an end. The Jewish population of Judea was largely exterminated in the years of repression which followed the fall of Betar. There were many massacres and vast numbers of Jews were sold into slavery. It was this that demonstrated without doubt that the independence of Judea had reached its bitter conclusion.


Ø  Turnus Rufus ploughs site of Temple in 133 CE. Romans build pagan city of Aelia Capitolina on site of Jerusalem.


Mashiach spoke of the destruction of the second Temple:


Marqos (Mark) 13:1-2 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Yeshua. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."


Additionally, history records other major tragedies that also occurred on this date:


Ø  First Crusade declared by Pope Urban II in 1095 CE. 10,000 Jews killed in first month of Crusade. Crusades bring death and destruction to thousands of Jews, totally obliterate many communities in Rhineland and France.


Ø  Expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 CE, accompanied by pogroms and confiscation of books and property.


Ø  It is the date of the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 CE.


Ø  Britain and Russia declare war on Germany in 1914 CE. The first World War begins. First World War issues unresolved, ultimately causing Second World War and the Holocaust. 75% of all Jews in war zones. Jews in armies of all sides -120,000 Jewish casualties in armies. Over 400 pogroms immediately following war in Hungary, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.


Ø  The first train transport of Jews to Auschwitz in 1942 CE. It is the beginning of Nazi deportations of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.


Tisha B'Av is the culmination of three week period of mourning, the last nine days of which are particularly intense, with observance of many customs similar to those practiced after a bereavement in the close family. The "Three Weeks", as they are known, begin on the seventeenth of the month of Tammuz.


The Megillah of Eicha (Lamentations), written by Yirimiyahu (Jeremiah) and Kinot, elegies written by many martyrs throughout the ages, form part of our services.


VI. Selected Essays




by Yitzchak Etshalom



Although both of these fast days were first mandated and established as a result of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and Yerushalayim, the Rabbis point to much earlier tragedies for each. This suggests that, in Rabbinic thinking, each of these days has a "theme" to its tragedy, one which has roots in the same experience which serves as the basis for all of Jewish history - the Egypt - Desert - Israel experience


Whenever the Tannaim (Rabbis of the Mishnaic period) present an ordered list (i.e. when they introduce that list with the number of items to appear), especially in non-Halachic literature, it indicates a significance to that number. This does not mean that there is a mystical import (although there may well be), but that if two parallel lists are presented, both with the same number of items and both "ordered", the symmetry indicates a parallel (or opposing) relationship between the two. (For an example of an "opposing" relationship, see the Mishna in Avot [5:19]: "Anyone who has these three [following] characteristics is considered a student of Avraham Avinu, and anyone who has three other [opposite] characteristics is considered a student of the evil Balaam." For an example of a parallel relationship, see the Mishna ibid. 5:4 - "Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in Egypt and ten [miracles] at the Sea." An opposing relationship is evidenced by the opposite nature of the lists - Avraham is a saint and Balaam is evil. A parallel relationship is identified whenever the two groups are of a similar type - in a general sense.)


The placement of these two "themes" and their lists of tragedies in juxtaposition implies a continuum from one to the other. This sequenced relationship is more clearly evidenced by the tradition that we have to regard the time period between Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av as a unit, marked by customs of mourning (e.g. no weddings, parties, haircutting etc.[7])


From this Mishnah (and our analysis & comments), we can infer four points:


a) Each of these days has a "theme".

b) This "theme" explains the inclusion of all five items on each list.

c) There is a parallel relationship between the two. (It is not an "opposing" relationship as the two sets are not presented as antitheses, rather they are all of one type - tragedy).

d) There is a continuum between the two "themes".


The rest of this shiur will be focused on identifying the themes of each of these days, by finding the common thread between the five items on each list, then suggesting the relationship between the two sets of tragedies, explaining the continuum of Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz ---> Tisha B’Av. This will, hopefully, enlighten us as to the nature of the "Three Weeks".






As the Midrash points out numerous times, the Stand at Sinai was the wedding of the Jewish People and God. The Gemara[8] compares the Stand at Sinai to an actual Chuppah, wedding canopy. Why did Moshe break the tablets (for which HaShem congratulated him with the first "Yasher Koach" in history - see the Gemara ibid.)? Because, just like a bride who has an affair under her Chuppah, the Jewish people, standing at the foot of Sinai just forty days after the Revelation of God's word, clamored for the construction and worship of a golden calf. The various reasons for Moshe’s breaking the tablets, suggested in different Midrashim, all point to one common idea. The Jewish people had broken their trust with God at the very location and time of their most intimate encounter with Him. The breaking of the Tablets was both symbolic - and the result - of the introduction of an abomination (idolatry) at a site and time which was the pinnacle of holiness. The covenant of Sinai - to be a "Kingdom of Kohanim and a Holy Nation" was turned on its head.



The Torah commands us to bring a daily offering, known as Korban HaTamid (the "Regular" offering). This Korban was to be offered twice daily, once in the morning (the first Korban of the day) and once "between the evens" (in the afternoon - with the exception of the Korban Pesach, the last Korban of the day). We would normally associate this Korban with the Beit HaMikdash, and would expect the suspension of its being offered to be in the same set with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Tisha B’Av). Why is it on this list? (One could argue that historically, that's just when it happened; however, following our thinking that the Rabbis deliberately composed two parallel lists, they intended each list to represent a common theme.)


A verse in Parashat Pinchas will clarify:


It is a regular burnt offering, ha'Asuyah b'Har Sinai (ordained/performed at Mount Sinai) for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to HASHEM. (Bamidbar 28:6).


As some of the Rishonim (see S'forno and Rashi's second explanation ad loc.) point out, this verse associates the regular twice-daily Korban with the offering brought in the aftermath of the Revelation as part of the covenant ceremony at Sinai (See Shemot 24:5-8). In other words, the daily Tamid was to be a reminder and recovenanting of the Brit Sinai, the covenant of Sinai. We now understand the inclusion of the suspension of the Tamid with the breaking of the Tablets.



Although we would normally associate this with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash - indeed, it was the first step in the final defeat which culminated in that terrible conflagration - yet, there is also a Sinaitic association with the breaching of the city walls.


One of the most beautiful compilations of Rabbinic "tragedy-literature" is the Midrash Rabbah on Eicha. Of note is the extensive "Petichta", which contains the many homiletic introductions given by the Rabbis to the reading of Eicha (or other tragic portions in Tanakh read publicly). In the second chapter of the Petichta, we read:


Rebbi sent R. Asi and R. Ami to check out - and repair- the cities of Eretz Israel; they would come to a city and ask for the N'turei Karta (guardians of the city) - and the townsfolk would bring them the constable and governor - whereupon they would say - "Are these the N'turei Karta? These are the Haruvei Karta (destroyers of the city)!" - So they asked "Who are the N'turei Karta?" - They responded: "These are the scribes and teachers who study and review and guard the Torah during the day and night." (Petichta of Eicha Rabbah, Ch. 2)


(This Midrash is the source for the name of the community in Yerushalayim known as N'turei Karta. There is a wide range of opinions as to how closely their policies and actions comport with the sentiments of this Midrash).


The Midrash is teaching a valuable lesson, one which deserves a shiur of its own. The protection of the city comes not from its military might, rather from its scribes, teachers, and students of Torah.


If the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were successfully breached, that would imply a breach in the protection of Torah - and a lapse among her students and scribes. Although the association with Sinai is now clear - Sinai is not only the source and foundation of Torah, but, as many Rishonim point out, every time that we engage in Torah study, we are effectively reenacting the Sinai experience (See Rashi Devarim 11:13). There is also a clear association between the study of Torah and the Korban haTamid, alluded to in the Midrash mentioned above. The Korban haTamid was to be brought twice daily, in the morning and evening ("between the evens"). Torah study is defined in the Torah as "when you lie down and when you rise up" - or, as God commands Yehoshua: "You shall meditate upon it by day and by night" (Yehoshua 1:8). In other words, the study of Torah parallels the Korban haTamid - it is an ongoing mitzva which has two time-foci: Morning and evening (see our shiur on the Korban haTamid, cited above.) The lapse of study which allowed the breach of the city walls is of a type with the suspension of the Korban haTamid - the cessation of the "day-and-night" worship of God, originated at Sinai.



Wherever this event happened, it is a clear "regression" from Sinai. That great gift which we received in the desert, among protective flames, now went up in flames. This is a clear disruption of the Sinaitic experience.



Whether Apustumus was the villain here - or someone else (see the various readings in Ta’anith - and Rashi Ta’anith 26b s.v. hu'amad), the similarity to the tragedy at the foot of Sinai is all too obvious. It was not just the establishment of an idol that was the tragedy - it was the placement of this idol in the Sanctuary - just like the abomination of the golden calf was its placement at the foot of Sinai in the wake of the Revelation.



All five of the tragedies which the Rabbis date to Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz are disruptions of the promise of Sinai - regressions from the intimacy we enjoyed when God first revealed Himself to us. The breaking of the tablets, the burning of the Torah, and the construction of an idol in the Sanctuary were clear "rollbacks" from Sinai. The Korban haTamid and the regular study of Torah (protecting the walls of the city) represents something about Sinai (as the verse in Bamidbar tells us - although we don't yet understand what it represents) - and these were also suspended or lost on the fateful day of Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz.





As we read in Parashat Sh'lach L'kha, after Kalev's challenge to the other scouts and their exaggerated response ("The Land eats up its inhabitants"), the people "wailed on that night". As the Gemara states:


Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. Rabbah said in the name of R. Yohanan: That night was Tisha B’Av; HaKodesh Barukh Hu said: They cried for naught, I will establish for them [this night as] a weeping for generations.[9] 


In other words, the wailing (and the subsequent decree that that entire generation would die in the desert and their children would enter the Land) was the event that shaped the nature of Tisha B’Av. Just as we found in regards to Shiva 'Asar B’Tammuz, the tragedies of Tisha B’Av are rooted in our desert sojourn.


In describing this wailing, the Psalmist says:


Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They grumbled in their tents, and did not obey the voice of HaShem. Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness. (Tehilim 106:24-26)


Indeed, their eager acceptance of the scouts' negative report was tantamount to a rejection of the "pleasant land", the Land which God had promised them, flowing with milk and honey and all manners of blessing.


We may then, following our earlier methodology, identify the Tisha B’Av group of tragedies as forms of rejection of Tziyyon/Israel.



We would assume that these two tragedies - certainly the nadir of our national existence - belong to the first group. As we have discussed in several shiurim, the Mishkan / Miqdash were meant to be a continuation of the Sinai experience. How do we explain these two events being listed here? (Here, by the way, our theory gains strength. As the Gemara in Ta’anith [29a] points out, the major part of the burning of the second Miqdash took place on the tenth of Av; nevertheless, the Rabbis wanted to preserve the theme and included the destruction of both Batei Miqdash on this list).


There is, however, a critical difference between the role of the Mishkan / Miqdash (="Heichal" - Sanctuary) and the "Beit HaMikdash", which includes the entire structure and institution. Whereas the Mishkan / Miqdash is the continuation of Sinai, with the smoke and fire reminiscent of the moment of Revelation, the Temple (writ large) plays a critically different role. The sanctity of the Temple plays a different role than that of the Miqdash. Whereas the Miqdash is a place reserved for the intimate relationship between the Jewish people and God, the Temple is - ideally and teleologically - a beacon for the entire world. We will address this fully in the concluding section of the shiur.


As we will see, the destruction of the Batei Miqdash and the rejection of the Land are of a type - they both belong to the de-evolution of a different mission from that established at Sinai. We will refer to it as the Brit Tziyyon - the covenant of Zion.



Roughly seventy years after the destruction of the second Temple, the great rebellion led by Bar-Kokhba ("son of the star" - later renamed "Bar Koziba" - the "son of deceit") held Messianic hopes for the people. Even the great R. Akiva considered Bar Kokhba to be the Mashiach and carried his weapons (see Rambam, MT Melakhim 11:3). Not only was the timing of the rebellion possibly inspired by the model of the Babylonian exile, in which there were only seventy years during which the Temple Mount lay fallow - but it was chiefly the attempt to regain Jewish sovereignty over our Land. The crushing of this hope was certainly similar to the decree against our ancestors, denying them entrance into - and sovereignty over - the Land.



This "final" tragedy was certainly of a type with the sentence against our ancestors. Keeping in mind that Yerushalayim is not only a spiritual center, it is also (of necessity) our political capitol, the plowing under of the city represented the final blow to our hopes for sovereignty in the Land.



All five of the tragedies listed which occurred on Tisha B’Av were rejections or disruptions of Brit Tziyyon - the national hope and promise of sovereignty in the Land. In order to understand the inclusion of the destruction of the Batei Miqdash on this list and the association between the two lists, we have to investigate the difference between the Brit Sinai and the Brit Tziyyon.



As mentioned above, Sinai was the wedding between the Jewish people and God. This metaphor is taken much further than earlier mentioned in Rabbinic literature:


"The Torah which Moshe commanded us is a Morashah (inheritance) to the congregation of Ya'akov" - Do not read Morashah, rather read M'orasah (betrothed); the Torah is betrothed to the Jewish people and is considered a "married woman" to the nations of the world.


See also BT Sanhedrin 59a where R. Yohanan utilizes this D'rashah to rule that if a non-Jew studies Torah, he is liable for death, either for "stealing" (the inheritance - reading Morashah) or for adultery (reading M'orasah).


Sinai was, indeed, the place where the Jewish people became separate from the nations of the world. The Gemara, in Shabbat (89a-b), discussing the various names given to that mountain, identifies the name "Sinai" with Sin'ah (hatred) - the mountain where hatred came down to the nations (Rashi: because they did not accept the Torah. This is based on the Midrash that prior to the Revelation, God offered the Torah to all of the nations and they rejected it). Another identification there is Horev (the name used in Sefer Devarim) with *Hurban* (destruction) - that it is the mountain from where destruction came down to the nations of the world.


Sinai represents that point of intimate and exclusive contact between the Jewish people and God. This is typified by the constant and consistent worship of God - both the daily offerings and the constant study of Torah (which is, again, our exclusive possession).


Sinai was, of course, not the end of the road for us. Our destiny was not to remain encamped at the foot of the mountain (see Devarim 1:6), rather to conquer the Land and to establish a Holy Community there. What was the purpose of that community, of that nation?


We find the answer in one of the most famous sections of Tanakh, which appears in the prophecies of Yeshayahu and Micah (8th c. BCE):


The word that Yeshayahu son of Amos saw concerning Yehudah and Yerushalayim. In days to come the mountain of HaShem’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of HASHEM, to the house of the God of Ya'akov; that He may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Tziyyon shall go forth instruction, and the word of HASHEM from Yerushalayim." He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Yeshayahu 2:1-4)


Our mission, the Brit of Tziyyon, is to be a model nation which attracts the attention and spiritual thirst of the nations of the world. The beautiful words: "From out of Tziyyon..." which we say every time we take out the Sefer Torah - are words which the prophet puts into the mouths of the nations of the world. An ethical, learned nation will certainly attract the nations of the world who will want to learn "our secret"; when they come a bit closer and see that our close relationship with God is the source of our learning and of our ethics - they will desire to learn from His teachings as well. The place of that instruction, as they themselves will say, is "Tziyyon".


We can now understand why the destruction of the two Batei Miqdash belongs with the rejection of the Land. One common interpretation (more prevalent in Hassidic thought) of the behavior of the scouts and the reaction of the people, was that they did not want to enter the Land because they knew that that would spell the end of their intimate relationship with God. They would become a nation among nations - with the responsibility of ethical leadership among them. The destruction of the Batei Miqdash - ideally the world-wide center for God's instruction through the Jewish people (keep in mind that the Sanhedrin was seated right in the Beit HaMikdash in the "office of hewn stone") - meant the (temporary) suspension of the opportunity to completely fulfill this responsibility. The fall of Betar and the plowing of the city were, again, seemingly fatal blows to our national destiny and opportunity. (Thank God, we have merited living in a generation in which we have been allowed to return and try again.)


We not only understand the nature of each list - but also the sequence. First, we were to fulfill Brit Sinai, maintaining and constantly strengthening our exclusive relationship with God - and we are also to fulfill Brit Tziyyon, using that special relationship to teach and inspire the world.


This is the tragedy of these three weeks - our failure in both regards, one leading to the next. It is not for naught that the traditions of our people have created a sense of continuity between these two fast days - they are, indeed, a sequence which we must reverse, through the introspection and Teshuvah motivated by a fast (see Rambam, MT Ta'aniot, 1:1-3).



The role of the Beit HaMikdash as an international focus is not only found in the prophecy regarding God's instruction; it will ultimately be a prayer-center for the entire world:


...For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Yeshayahu 56:7)


May we speedily merit the complete rebuilding of our nation and of our Beit HaMikdash - and may this be the last year when these fasts remain days of sadness:


Thus says HASHEM of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth (Av), and the fast of the seventh (Tishri), and the fast of the tenth (Tevet), shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Yehudah: therefore love truth and peace.


Text Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom.


* * *


Fast Days, Eretz Yisrael, and Teshuva

The Selected Speeches by R' Shimon Schwab zt"l


The four fast days mentioned in the Navi are days of teshuvah, an opportunity to repent for past sins. Yet this matter is not as simple as it might seem. Why should we fast on occasions commemorating past tragedies? How does this spur us to do teshuva? And why do we still fast today in remembrance of events that happened two thousand years ago, or even more?


Fasting in itself means little but it can serve to prompt thoughts about the true purpose of life. When a person fasts in the proper spirit on a taanit, he is, in effect, saying, "I am unworthy to continue living. I went against the will of the Ribono Shel Olam, and I have no right to go ahead with my life as is." Thus, he stops eating and drinking, and does not partake of life-sustaining nourishment. His life cannot go on unchanged. Unless he improves it, there is no sense in its proceeding. In short, the fasting is only effective if it causes one to rethink the value of his life, and to feel remorse for his misdeeds. And it is only really successful if it eventually leads to major improvements. In this sense, every taanit is basically a day of teshuva.


The time period between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av, which we call the "Three Weeks", has been designated by our Hacamim as the time span into which to concentrate all our mourning. For in reality, almost every day in the year is a memorial for some tragic event that befell the Jewish people. Yet we cannot mourn uninterruptedly throughout the year. We know that we must fulfill the admonition of "Serve HaShem with joy". We must not, therefore, make each day into a taanit. Instead the Hacamim have compacted all the various periods of Jewish mourning into the three weeks between the seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. This is why the Gedolei Yisrael did not officially sanction the observance of the so-called Holocaust Day, Yom Hashoah. There is no need to do so, because the mourning for the six million Jewish martyrs also takes place during the Three Weeks.


The focus of Jewish mourning, therefore, is centered on the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, which took place on the ninth of Av. The loss of the Holy Temple turns us all into aveilim for Tzion and Yerushalayim, and this hangs over our lives. When a person goes on a Shiva visit, he says, "HaShem shall comfort you among all the others who are mourning for Tzion and Yerushalayim." This means that the aggrieved person is also mourning the loss of Tzion and Yerushalayim, and it is hoped that he will be comforted along with all the others who are similarly in sorrow over the loss.


This is seemingly a bit problematic. After all, the person is mourning a deceased relative, not Yerushalayim. They are sorrowful that Jews no longer enjoy the spiritual glory and splendor of the Temple era. Any individual tzarah that a person, chas v'sahlom, may suffer is actually a part of and, in a way, an indirect result of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and Yerushalayim. The sins that led to the churban Bayit are still with us, and they are the obstacles which prevent our full spiritual re-flowering. This is why we say that if the Beit HaMikdash has not been rebuilt in our lifetime, it is as if it were once again destroyed.


When I was a child, it was a simple matter to realize that we Jews were in galut. Eretz Yisrael was a distant land where few Jews lived. Those Jews were supported by contributions to the little red tzedaka boxes that were in every house. The gabbaim collected the coins in these pushkes and sent them to the poor inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael: Eretz Yisrael was for poor people. The rest of us only had pictures in our homes of the Kotel Hamaaravi, the Wailing Wall. It was all so far away. So it was clear to us that the Jews were in galut, and it was only with the coming of the Mashiach that we would all go to Eretz Yisrael.


Since then, everything has changed. When I ask a seventh grade class, "How many of you have visited Israel?", almost all their hands go up. They've been there already, even before becoming Bar Mitzvah! So, seemingly, we have already regained Eretz Yisrael. Most of it has been rebuilt, and there are now millions of Jews living there, in large cities. What, then, do we mean that we still mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim?


I met a young man in Tel Aviv several years ago who was not very religious. Nevertheless, he fasted on Tisha B'Av, and he would go to the Kotel at night and have his picture taken there. He apparently thought it was some kind of ritual. Said he, "When I took my girlfriend to visit some of the Shuls on Tisha B'Av, and he saw the people sitting on the floor without their shoes on, saying Eichag, she said 'They're crazy! Why are they still mourning the loss of the Jewish state? We have it!'"


There are probably more Jews in Israel today than there were at the time of the second Beit HaMikdash. They have their own government, their own language, their own currency and postage stamps, their own consulates, and the state is a member of the United Nations. What more could we want ? So why are we mourning?


What that woman said is probably on the minds of many: What are we still grieving over today? Perhaps, you might say, we are still missing the Beit HaMikdash. The fact is, some people want to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash right now. They want to throw out the Arabs and just build it on the Har Habayit. Fortunately, there is a halachah that we're not supposed to go up there because we are unclean. But otherwise there's the feeling that Israel is the fulfillment of the hopes expressed in our prayers.


And then there's another aspect of life in Eretz Yisrael today. We now have yeshivot there, in which thousands of students learn Torah. There are religious, holy communities, with great gedolim. So we have also achieved spiritual progress there. What, then, is missing? What do we mean when we speak of aveilei Tzion and V'Yerushalayim? Do we mourn because two and a half thousand years ago Yerushalayim was conquered by the Babylonians? Why, the, our continued mourning?


The answer is this. Think of being invited to a lavish wedding. Hundreds of invitations have gone out to the most prestigious of guests, and the gala affair has cost the hosts a fortune. The wedding has been called for eight o'clock sharp. The musicians are playing, and the procession to the chuppah begins. The machutanim are there, and the rabbonim, and of course the photographer. The chazzan has been escorted to his place under the chuppah, and everyone is ready. What, then, are they all waiting for?


The Kallah.


The Kallah has not come. She was supposed to have arrived three hours ago. Everything is set for a wonderful ceremony and a joyous dinner, but nothing can proceed because the kallah is not there. Where is the kallah? You cannot have a wedding without a kallah. So instead of a happy celebration, you have a tragedy. A true horror story.


And so, yes: we have a Jewish state. We even have yeshivot, Torah and mitzvot. We seem to have everything. But, in reality, one thing is missing. The kallah is not there; the Shechinah of HaKodesh Baruch Hu is not in evidence. As a result, we have no geulah. Geulah will come when HaShem redeems the Jewish people and, in the process of doing so, redeems the whole world. This will lead to the type of world that has been promised to us: a world brimming with peace and without evil; a world governed by truth, honesty and righteousness; a world where tzaddikim will blossom and resha'im will disappear. It is this world that we do not yet have, and which we yearn for every Tisha B'Av. We ask for a wedding at which the kallah will be present.


What, then, do we actually mean by geulah? Will this be some mystical, miraculous era? Not necessarily. The Rambam says that miracles do not have to happen. The Jewish people will be a holy people, a "priestly nation". Yet, this can come about in a very natural way. However, one thing is clear: The geulah will come about only through teshuvah. And that is why we are still waiting, why we have not yet achieved even the beginning of geulah. Simply put, we have not done teshuvah.


There are so many signs that Mashiach is close. In fact, there is a whole list of things that will happen b'ikvot HaMashiach, in the days of the Mashiach. Fifty years ago, Rav Elchonon Wassermen zt"l advised me to write a sefer about the pre-Mashiach era, and told me exactly what to write. I composed it in Hebrew, entitled it Beit HaShoeivah, and published it anonymously. By this time, Reb Elchonon had already returned to Poland, and he eventually gave up his life al kiddush HaShem. About ten years ago, the sefer was republished, again in Hebrew, and it contains all the information available about the coming of Mashiach. Most of the conditions have come true, but Mashiach has not come yet. The catastrophes have occurred, and the signs looked hopeful. But then they faded again. It is clear that our level of teshuva has not been sufficiently high.


The most promising sign of geulah today is, in my opinion, the baal teshuvah movement. That is something quite new. When I was young, there was only one notable baal teshuvah. He was Dr. Nathan Birnbaum, the former friend of Herzl, who coined the term "Zionism". First he was a Socialist and Bundist, then a Zionist, and finally he broke with his former associates and wrote books about teshuvah in German. In my yeshiva, there was only one baal teshuva, who also died al kiddush HaShem. Nowadays, though, there are thousands of men and women who have forsaken their previous lifestyles and adopted Torah ideals. This voluntary return to the fold is one of the signs heralding the coming of Mashiach. If this becomes a mass movement, then the geulah might indeed be near.


What, really, is a baal teshuvah? In actuality, a person who was never religious and becomes so is not a baal teshuvah, because it cannot be said that he is "returning" to something that he never knew before. A real baal teshuvah is someone who was raised in a religious atmosphere and sinned, and then wants to repent. If it were up to me, I would call those who adopt Torah Yiddishkeit, "Tzaddikim". But the term "baal teshuvah" seems to have been accepted, although it is a bit misleading.


Let us explore the concept of teshuva itself. We say every day in our tefillot: "Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah; bring us close, our King, to Your Torah, and let us return in total teshuvah before You.... Who delights in teshuvah." Immediately afterwards, we say, "Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned; forgive us for we have rebelled against You; because you are a King Who forgives and grants atonement." Our teshuvah is based on the fact that a person can change his past deeds. What, exactly, does that mean?


The Hacamim say that teshuvah was created before the world was formed. This is a very strange statement indeed! How could anything have been created before the world itself came into being?


When we speak of the creation of the world, we believe that it was formed yesh me'ayin, a tangible reality out of nothing. This is possibly for the Almighty, with His infinite powers. Yet even science, which does not believe in a Creator, admits that first there was nothing, and then something appeared. The earlier conditions no longer prevailed.


Now let us consider a grave sin like the murder of Hevel by Kayin. According to our sages, Kayin did teshuvah for his crime. But what does that mean? Can this teshuvah bring back Hevel? Certainly not; he is dead. It is not like a case of robbery, where the money can be returned. Here the act cannot be undone.


Yet this is the wonder of teshuvah. If someone fully and sincerely repents, then HaShem considers it as if the crime had never been done. Instead of yesh me'ayin, we have ayin me'yesh. He turns the yesh of the crime into an ayin - a negation of an act that has already taken place. So in this sense, teshuvah was created before the formation of the world. Because teshuvah returns conditions to where they were before the Creation to the status of ayin. The misdeed is considered null and void.


This explains the statement of Chazal that "Whoever says that King David sinned is mistaken." On the surface, it seems strange for the Hacamim to have come to this conclusion. After all, the Tanakh is very direct in its descriptions of David's actions; it does not whitewash anyone. Certainly it is clear from the Tanakh that David committed some sin in regard to BatSheva. Why, then, is it wrong to think that David did do something improper?


The answer is that David sinned, but he also did teshuvah. And, as we have said, once someone has repented wholeheartedly and has committed himself to not repeating his mistake, it is as if he has not sinned at all. Consequently, once David did teshuvah, any sin he may have committed was wiped off the books. Therefore, Chazal can truthfully say that he did not sin at all.


This is the great miracle of teshuvah. One who truly performs teshuvah says vidui and demonstrates that he is sincere about being ashamed of his actions and will never repeat them. Then HaShem forgives him, and wipes out the fact of the action. Of course, if a person sinned because of lack of knowledge, and then became aware of his obligations, it is easier for him to do teshuvah than if he did the action deliberately. And if someone sinned because his desires overcame him, it is easier for him to repent than for someone who sinned spiritully and rebelliously. Yet, no matter what prompted his wrong doing, anyone can do teshuvah, for there is no limit to repentance.


We have no doubts that the geulah will come. HaShem has promised us that we will be redeemed. However, He did not tell us when. That is why we always add the words "speedily in our days". "Soon" could be a thousand years to HaShem. Therefore we make it clear that we ask HaShem to send the geulah quickly, "in our days."


VI. The laws for the ninth of Av


The following is a list of the basic prohibitions on Tisha B'Av.


We are forbidden to eat or drink anything for the entire period. Anyone who has health problems with fasting should consult a rabbi.


'The aim of fasting, is to subjugate our evil inclination by restriction of pleasure; to open our hearts and stir us to repentance and good deeds through which the gates of Divine mercy might be opened for us.'


 'Therefore, each person is obligated to examine his deeds and to repent during these days. As it is written of the people of Nineveh: 'And the Lord saw their actions' (Yonah 3), upon which the Rabbis say: 'It is not said, He saw their sackcloth and fasting, but rather their actions ' (Ta’anith 22). We see hence that the purpose of fasting is repentance.'


 'Therefore, the people, who fast but engage in pointless activities, grasp what is of secondary importance and miss what is essential. Nevertheless, repentance alone without fasting is also insufficient, because there is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to fast on this day.' (Chayei Adam; Klal 33)


It is forbidden to wash oneself, even just one finger. The only exception is the required washing upon rising in the morning and after using the bathroom. Even in these cases we may only wash until the knuckles. If one has soiled his hands he is permitted to clean the soiled area only.


It is forbidden to wear shoes made with leather.

Marital relations are forbidden.


With several exceptions, one may not study Torah on Tisha B'Av because the study of Torah brings joy. The exceptions are the book of Eicha (Eichah (Lamentations)), the book of Iyov (Iyov (Job)), the "bad" passages in Yirmeyahu (Yirimiyah (Jeremiah)) omitting the passages of consolation, and various Talmudic and Midrashic passages which deal with the destruction of the Holy Temples and with the laws of mourning. Even in these cases we are not permitted to study in depth.


We are not permitted to greet each other on Tisha B'Av, even to say good morning. If one encounters someone who is unaware of this law and greets you, it is best to tell him the law so he will not resent your non-response. If this is not possible then one should respond in a low voice and with a somber manner.


The night of Tisha B'Av and the following day until noon we sit on the ground or on a low stool.

It is best to avoid work on Tisha B'Av until noon.

One should not go for pleasurable walks or engage in any other activity that might distract from the mourning.


One should not smoke on Tisha B'Av. Someone who is very accustomed to smoking (i.e. addicted) may smoke in private after the hour of noon.


The Day Before


Although the fast itself does not begin until nightfall, certain aspects of the mourning of Tisha B'Av begin earlier. From noon and on it is best to refrain from Torah study in the same manner that one must on Tisha B'Av itself. Many authorities are lenient on this. Certainly one should not engage in frivolous activity but should prepare himself for the upcoming fast.


It is customary to eat a meal before Mincha (afternoon prayers). This meal carries no restrictions. It is customary to eat well at this meal in preparation for the fast, but care must be taken not to overeat so that one can eat the Seudah HaMafseket comfortably.


Tachanun is not recited during Mincha.


After the Mincha prayers it is customary to eat the last meal. This meal is called the Seudah HaMafseket (Separating Meal). It is forbidden to eat more than one cooked food at this meal. (Cooked includes any form of cooking even roasted, fried, or pickled.) Meat, wine and fish are forbidden. Intoxicating drinks should be completely avoided.


The meal is eaten sitting on the ground or a low seat. It is customary to eat a hardboiled egg (which serves as the cooked food). It is also customary to eat a piece of bread dipped into ashes and say, "This is the Tisha B'Av meal."


During the meal three men should not sit together so they will not have to recite the Birchat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) as a group. If they do eat together they still do not form a group.


When the eve of Tisha B'Av falls out on Shabbat, then none of these restrictions apply.


Tisha B'Av Night


All of the prohibitions of Tisha B'Av begin at sundown. It is therefore necessary to remove one's leather shoes shortly before sundown.


It is customary to remove the parochet (curtain) from the aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark) in the synagogue before Ma’ariv (evening prayers). It is also customary to turn off the main lights in the synagogue and to pray by candlelight.


After Ma’ariv is completed, the book of Eicha (Eichah (Lamentations)) is read aloud to the congregation. After Eicha is completed, the congregation recites Kinot, prayers of lamentation.


It is proper for a person to sleep in a less comfortable manner than he is accustomed to. If he usually sleeps with two pillows then he should sleep with only one. Some have to custom to sleep on the ground on the night of Tisha B'Av and to rest their head on a stone.


Tisha B'Av Day


At Shacharit (morning prayers) on Tisha B'Av morning, talit and tefillin are not worn. (They are worn during Mincha instead.) The small tzitzith is still worn but no blessing is recited. Tachanun is not recited. The Torah is taken out and the portion of Devarim (Devarim [Deuteronomy]) 4:25-40 is read and the Haftarah from Yeshayahu (Yeshayah [Isaiah]) 8:13 - 9:23.


After the Torah reading the congregation recites Kinot. This should last till a little before noon. After Kinot the prayers are completed. Lamnatzeach and the second verse of Uvo L'Tzion (V'Ani Zos Brisi…) are skipped. Some do not say Shir Shel Yom now but wait till Mincha.


It is proper for every person to read the book of Eicha (Lamentations) again.


After the hour of noon it is permissible to sit on an ordinary seat.


At Mincha we don talit and tefillin. The Torah is taken out and the standard portion and Haftarah for fast days is read.


During Shemoneh Esrei the following prayer is inserted in the blessing of V'LeYerushalayim Ircha:


HaShem our God, console the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem, and the city that is mournful, destroyed, shamed, and desolate. Mournful without her children, destroyed without her residences, shamed without her honor, and desolate without inhabitant. She sits with her head covered, like a barren woman who does not give birth. She has been devoured by the legions, and conquered by the worshipers of foreign powers, and they put your people, Israel, to the sword and willfully murdered the devout [servants] of the High One. Therefore Zion cries bitterly, and Jerusalem raises her voice, "My heart! My heart [aches] on the slain! My stomach! My stomach [aches] on the slain!" For You, HaShem, with fire you burned her, and with fire you will rebuild her, as it is said, "And I will be for her, says HaShem, a wall of fire around her, and I will be a glory within her."(Zechariah 2:9) Blessed are You, HaShem, Who consoles Zion and builds Jerusalem.


The Night After Tisha B'Av


Tisha B'Av ends at night fall. This time is sometime after sundown (roughly an hour). There are several legitimate opinions in this matter; you should follow the custom in your area. If you are unsure then consult a rabbi.


Even though the fast ends that night, it is proper to not eat meat or bathe until noon the following day. This is because the Temple continued to burn into the tenth day.


Shabbat and Tisha B'Av


When the ninth of Av falls out on Shabbat then the fast is postponed till the first day of the week. In such a case one need not abstain from meat and bathing the following day, but should still do so the following night.


X. The Mazzaroth




The month of Tammuz is associated with the tribe of Reuven, and it was Reuven who was the first person to return to G-d purely out of love, turning the 'heat' of his personality into light.


The mazal of the month is "Sartan," "Cancer," or "The Crab," because a constellation which is observed at this time of year has the appearance of a crab. Also, the season is summer, and the hot weather of summer causes crabs to multiply in the water.


Crabs pinch and hurt, and this month was basically a time in which the Jewish People were hurt.


Note also that Comet Lee is coming out of this constellation.




The month of Av is associated with the tribe of Shimon, from the same root in Hebrew as the word 'hearing.' Thus, Av is a time which is predisposed to correct (tikkun) mistakes in regard to hearing - listening to lashon hara (gossip) and rechilus (slander)[10].


Mazal: Aryeh (Leo--lion).


The mazal, Aryeh, symbolizes the super rational power of Divine will. The initial manifestation of G-d's will to destroy the Temple was in truth purely for the sake of reconstructing the Temple with all of its spiritual meaning and significance for Israel and the entire world for eternity.


In the words of our sages[11]: "The lion[12] came on the month of the lion [Av] and destroyed the lion[13], in order that the lion[14] come on the month of the lion and rebuild the lion."


* * *


On July 16, 1994 (Tisha B'Av) the 21 pieces of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 started to hit Tzedek (Jupiter). The first piece hit right after Shabbat and the last piece hit just before the following Shabbat began a week.


* * *


The comments of Hakham Dr. Yoseph ben Haggai:


By the way, concerning this Temple mourning has he seen that in My Lectionary arrangement of the Books of Marqos I have placed it in such a way that the death of Mashiach and his suffering in the tree more or less at grosso modo coincides with the days in which we think and mourn the Temple falling?


It appears to me and to some other "Christian" Scholars that it appears that the lectionary purpose of Marqos is to show that Mashiach is the embodiment not only of the Torah but also of the Bet HaMiqdash, and his death and leaving this earth is a test case for lack of a better word, of what would happen to the Temple. Also, that in Mashiach we can find the ultimate meaning of Avodah.


Yes, look at those texts in which Mashiach says anything concerning the Temple. Also, one interesting text if memory does not fail, is that on one of Hacham Shimon bar Tsefet (Tzefet (Peter)) saying that we are stones of the living Bet Ha-Miqdash which he attributes to Mashiach, and further, "Make Me into a Maqom Kodesh - a Holy Place".


Yes, when G-d said to Moshe to build him a Tabernacle He says: "Build me into a Maqom Kodesh - a Holy Place":


Following this sequence (the sequence as found in the Torah), the command to build the Mishkan and all of the associated details were not a response to the sin of the golden calf. That sin, which apparently took place towards the end of Moshe’s first forty-day visit on top of Sinai, was "brewing" while G-d was commanding Mosheh regarding the Mishkan, its vessels, the clothes of the Kohanim etc. The sin of the golden calf merely interrupted this process and necessitated Moshe’s intervention to save the people and restore the possibility of G-d's presence being manifest among them. (see 33:12-16)


There are opinions in the Midrash[15] which posit that either the entire institution of the Mishkan - or, at the very least, the command to donate a half-Shekel towards it (30:11-16) - should be understood as Divine reactions to the sin of the golden calf.


Following the notion that the entire Mishkan was a reaction, the Midrash builds on Moshe’s concerns that G-d's presence not abandon the people as a result of the sin: "how will the nations of the world know that You have forgiven them? 'Make for Me a Miqdash and I will dwell among them' ".


The more "limited" approach which maintains that the command to donate a half-shekel was a response to the sin is expressing a sensitivity to the text of that command: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to HaShem l'khaper 'al naph'shotekhem (to make atonement for your lives). You shall take the atonement money from the Israelites and shall designate it for the service of the tent of meeting; before HaShem it will be a reminder to the Israelites l'khaper 'al naph'shoteikhem." (30:15-16) The Torah's assignment of the donation to the Mishkan as a kapparat nephesh (atonement / ransom for a life) may be understood to mean that the donation was coming to protect us from an impending punishment (see R. Menachem Liebtag's shiurim on the connection between atonement and protection as seen through the Biblical usage of the root *K*P*R - you can find these shiurim at his Tanakh Study Center: www.virtual.co.il/torah/tanach)  ostensibly the punishment for the sin of the golden calf.[16]


Rashi (commentary to 31:18) reiterates his famous approach Ein Mukdam uM'uchar baTorah (chronological sequence is not maintained in the Torah) applies it to our sequence. Following the direction outlined in the above-mentioned Midrashim, Rashi explains that the entire command of the Mishkan, and specifically the command of the half-Shekel donation, was given after the sin of the golden calf and served as a method of atonement for that apostasy.


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501


Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/


(360) 918-2905


Return to The WATCHMAN home page

Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com



[1] Hebrewשבעה עשר בתמוז‎, Shiv'ah Asar b'Tammuz

[2] Hebrewתשעה באב‎ or ט׳ באב, "the Ninth of Av"

[3] "Tammuz" is the Babylonian name of this month, as are all of the "official" names of the months in the Hebrew Calendar. In the Tanach, however, the month is referred to as "the Fourth Month," with reference to Nisan, the First Month.

[4] "Av" is the Babylonian name of this month, as are all of the "official" names of the months in the Calendar. In the Bible, however, the month is referred to as "the Fifth Month," with reference to Nisan, the First Month. The name Av literally means "father." It derives from the root which means "to will" or "to desire." it is customary to add the name Menachem ("comforter," "consoler"; the name of Mashiach) -- Menachem Av.


[5] © 1999 - 5759 All Rights Reserved.

 Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America™


[6] A Student Summary of Rav Mordechai Friedman's Halachah Shiur. Prepared by Daniel Lubicki

[7] see Shulchan Aruch Orech Hayyim #551 and the Aharonim ad loc.

[8] Shabbat 88b

[9] Sotah 35a

[10] Rabbi M. Glazerson

[11] Yalkut Shimoni, Yermiyahu, 259

[12] Nevudchanetzar, who is referred to in the Bible as a lion--Yermiyahu 4:7

[13] The Temple, which is referred to in the Bible, especially with regard to the alter, as a lion

[14] G-d, of Whom is said 'the lion roars, who shall not fear'--Amos 3:8

[15] Notably Tanhuma - specifically Terumah #8, Ki Tissa #2, P'kudei #2, #11

[16] See JT Shekalim 2:3