The following are nine things you should know about Tisha B’Av, the final holiday of the Jewish year:
1. Tisha B’Av means “ninth [day] in [the month of] Av.”
2. The holiday begins at sunset on Wednesday, July 17, and ends the following evening.
3. The day marks a number of tragedies in Jewish history that occurred on or near the 9th of Av: The destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E.; the fall of the last Jewish stronghold in the third revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E.; the Romans’ ploughing the Temple site to build a pagan temple in 136 C.E.; the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
4. Tisha B’Av is traditionally a fast day, but unlike Yom Kippur, the mood is funereal. Like mourners, Jews don’t greet each other at synagogue, they sit on low stools or on the floor, and don’t wear leather shoes, a sign of comfort and wealth.
5. Tradition holds that the Jews brought the first destruction on themselves through idolatry and corruption, and the second through causeless hatred of fellow Jews. So the point of focusing on so much bad news is that our grief will help us mend our ways and repair the world, the theme of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
6. The biblical book of Lamentations (Eichah in Hebrew) is read on the day. Lamentations is traditionally believed to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.
The opening word Eichah—“How lonely sits the city … ”—echoes God’s question to Adam after he and Eve had eaten the fruit in the garden: Ayekah—“Where are you?”
6. The words are spelled the same, only the vowels are different. The rabbis say this is because Adam’s was the archetypal exile, prefiguring the later exile of the Jews.
7. At services, dirges called kinnot (literally “lamentations”) are recited.
8. Tradition holds that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av.
9. For information on Tisha B’Av services, contact a local synagogue or temple.