Nine Days FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
9 Questions for 9 Av
By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
1. What is Tisha b’Av?
Tisha b’Av – the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av – is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a number of tragedies that occurred on that date, most notably the destruction of both Temples, some five centuries apart.
2. Why did so many tragedies occur on Tisha b’Av?
The Talmud in tractate Taanit (29a) explains that the spies who delivered a negative report about the land of Israel in parshat Shelach (Bamidbar chapter 13) returned on 9 Av, a date easily calculated from known dates. Discouraged by the spies’ false report, the people cried all night. God said that since they cried for nothing, He would give them legitimate reasons to cry on that date.
3. Surely the Temples weren’t destroyed just for that! Why were they really destroyed?
The Temples weren’t destroyed because the Jews cried thousands of years earlier, that just set the date for future tragedies. The first Temple was destroyed circa 425 BCE because of rampant violation of the three cardinal sins: murder, adultery and idolatry. The second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam – baseless hatred between people (Yoma 9b).
4. How is Tisha b’Av commemorated?
Tisha b’Av is a day of mourning, observed by abstaining from eating and drinking, marital relations, wearing leather shoes, and washing and anointing for pleasure. (If one gets dirty, he may wash for cleanliness. Similarly, one may anoint medicinally.) Unlike other fasts (except for Yom Kippur), these restrictions start at sundown (the beginning of the Hebrew day) rather than at daybreak. Additionally, we read Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) and we recite kinnot, dirges of mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem.
5. What is Megillat Eicha?
Eicha is the Biblical Book of Lamentations. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah, who had the misfortune of prophesizing about the destruction and then ultimately witnessing it. You may find it surprising that at least part of the Book was written prophetically, before the destruction, as a warning (see Yirmiyahu chapter 36).
Eicha contains five chapters; the first four are alphabetic acrostics, with the third being a triple acrostic. Chapter 4 is a dirge that Yirmiyahu recited mourning the death of King Yoshiyahu, as described in Divrei Hayamim II 35:25.
6. What are the Three Weeks?
The Three Weeks are a mourning period that lasts from the fast of 17 Tammuz through Tisha b’Av (in 2018, July 1 through July 22).
During the Three Weeks, we do not shave or get haircuts, listen to music, get married or recite the bracha (blessing) of Shehechiyanu (which is recited on special occasions).
7. What happened on 17 Tammuz?
The Talmud lists the tragedies that occurred on 17 Tammuz (Taanit 28b). Among these, the first tablets of the Law were broken (when Moshe came down from Sinai and saw the Jews worshipping the golden calf), the walls of Jerusalem were breached, and an idol was placed in the Temple.
8. What are the Nine Days?
The Nine Days are the last nine days of the Three Weeks, lasting from 1 Av until Tisha b’Av (in 2018, July 13 through July 22).
The Talmud tells us that when the month of Av arrives, we decrease our joy (Taanit 29b). Accordingly, our mourning intensifies at this time.
In addition to the other restrictions of the Three Weeks, we do not eat meat, drink wine, wear freshly laundered clothes, or swim or bathe for pleasure during the Nine Days. (One may eat meat and drink wine on Shabbat; one may bathe for cleanliness during the Nine Days.)
Wondering what to make for dinner during the 9 days when these restrictions are in effect? We've got recipes.
9. Until when do the restrictions of Tisha b’Av last?
Certain mourning practices that we observe – not sitting on chairs, studying Torah or extending greetings – are only in effect until midday on Tisha b’Av, after which they are permitted. The prohibitions of Tisha b’Av, such as eating and drinking, are in effect until after nightfall. Even after Tisha b’Av is over, the restrictions of the Nine Days remain in effect until the afternoon of 10 Av because the Temple continued to burn on that day (Yirmiyahu 52:12; Taanit 29a).
In the big picture, the restrictions of Tisha b’Av remain in effect until the Temple is rebuilt. At that time, Tisha b’Av will be transformed from a day of mourning into one of rejoicing!