A day of mourning marking the destruction of the First Temple, destroyed in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; and the destruction of the Second Temple, destroyed in 70 CE by Titus, emperor of Rome. This date also marks the beginning of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, by order of the Spanish monarchy. All these have turned this day into the main day of mourning among the other days of mourning on the Jewish calendar. There are three more days of mourning associated with the destruction of the First and Second Temples, but Tisha B’Av is the most important of all.
The three weeks preceding Tisha B’Av are a period known as Bein ha-Metsarim - a mourning period that starts with the 17th of Tammuz, the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached prior to the destruction of the Second Temple (it, too is a day of fast). Various mourning practices are observed during this period: there are no weddings and religious Jews do not cut their hair or listen to music.
Tisha B’Av is a fast day like Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), lasting from sunset on the eve of the 9th of Av until sunset the following day. The day of fast includes many other prohibitions on physical pleasures.
Fasting - this is a total fast, with eating and drinking prohibited.
Additional prohibitions and physical abstinences - washing, wearing leather shoes, etc. Strict observance includes sleeping on the floor and not sitting on a chair during the day (usually until noon).
Reading the Book of Lamentations - The Biblical Book of Lamentations is a lament over the destruction of the First Temple, written, according to tradition, by the prophet Jeremiah. Lamentations describes the miserable condition of Jerusalem and the Jewish people after the destruction. The text justifies the decree of destruction issued by God for the Jewish people’s sins, but also contains words of comfort and supplication to God to forgive his people and return them to their former status. There is a custom to read Lamentations by candlelight, while seated on the floor.
Praying at the Western Wall
- On Tisha B’Av many Israelis go that the Western Wall
in Jerusalem, the last remnant of the Temple, to read Lamentations there.
Unlike the Day of Atonement, on Tisha B’Av most secular Israelis do not fast. Still, on the eve of Tisha B’Av all entertainment places are closed, including restaurants, coffee shops and bars. On Tisha B’Av day most businesses are open as usual.