If Yom Kippur is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha b’Av is the saddest.
The holiday commemorates the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the exile that followed the sacking of the Second Temple by the Romans two millennia ago, several expulsions of Jews from European countries, and other tragedies throughout Jewish history. It has come to be the date when many Jewish tragedies, including the Holocaust, are commemorated.
Tisha b’Av occurs this year on Saturday but is observed on Sunday since Yom Kippur is the only Shabbat when fasting is permitted. It concludes the Three Weeks period of semi-mourning that began with the fast on the 17th day of the month of Tamuz.
The entire month of Av in considered inauspicious for the Jewish people; observant Jews will try to avoid scheduling court dates or initiate important projects during Av.
In Israel, restaurants and places of entertainment are closed on the eve and day of Tisha b’Av and media outlets run stories with Tisha b’Av themes, but the holiday is primarily of concern to Orthodox Jews.
Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza a decade ago, some religious Zionists read kinnot, or liturgical poems, written to commemorate the expulsion of Jewish settlers from Gush Katif.
On the morning of Tisha b’Av, some Sephardic congregations chant the book of Job and a growing number of Reform and Conservative Jews have designed modern readings and contemporary observances.
Israel’s chief rabbis have ruled that combat soldiers are exempt from fasting on the holiday.
For secular Jews, “Tisha b’Av seems a vestigial organ,” Don Futterman, program director in Israel for the Moriah Fund, wrote in Haaretz. It is seen as a religious, rather than a national holiday. “It may have had a function in an earlier stage of our evolution, but today seems irrelevant. Many non-Orthodox Jews feel there is enough officially mandated sadness in our calendar.”
For many Orthodox Israelis, the center of their Tisha b’Av observance is the plaza of the Western Wall, above, the last remnant of the Second Temple. Sitting on the ground, many all night, they read Eicha (the biblical Lamentations) and kinnot. Some camp out in sleeping bags, as if guarding the site.