Contrary to popular belief, Yom Kippur is not the saddest day in the Jewish year.
Yom Kippur, a day of judgment, is a solemn day.
Tisha b’Av is the saddest.
The fast day, which starts Monday at sundown, commemorates the destruction of the First Temple and Second Temple, 656 years apart, in ancient Jerusalem. Both sites fell, to the Babylonians and Romans, on the ninth day of Av.
Tisha b’Av, the end of the Three Weeks period which begins with a sunup-to-sundown fast, is considered a particularly inauspicious time on the Hebrew calendar, when other Jewish tragedies occurred during history: the return of the Spies in the Torah whose negative report about the Promised Land led to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness; the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492; the mass deportation to Treblinka from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Tisha b’Av shares many of the prohibitions of Yom Kippur, the only other 25-hour fast in Judaism: no eating, no drinking, no bathing, no leather shoes, no intimate relations.
Observant Jews don’t shave or cut their hair, or listen to music, or get married, during the previous Three Weeks, a semi-mourning period.
On Tisha b’Av, they sit on low stools or on the floor of their synagogue and recite Lamentations in dirgeful tones.
In Jerusalem, they gather at the Western Wall, inset, sitting on the stone plaza, some mourners sleeping there overnight, some marching around the Old City walls.
Some Jews in Israel spend the day at other religious venues, like the tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem.
In Mea Shearim, the city’s famed haredi neighborhood, worshippers read Lamentations by candlelight, above.
Throughout Israel, most restaurants and places of entertainment are closed.
When, according to Jewish belief, the Messiah comes and the Third Temple is built, Tisha b’Av will not be the saddest day in the Jewish year.