Life Lessons; Tisha B’Av, also known as the Jewish Fast of AvJul 19, 2021
By Hayley McDonnell
The summer months are full of fun, sunshine, ice cream, beaches, family gatherings and outdoor picnics to name a few. They are a respite from daily work, a chance to enjoy sunnier weather (we hope) and to enjoy ourselves. It gives us a chance to momentarily forget our worries and concerns and focus on all the good that we have and I for one laud this attitude. What is important to remember, however, is that amongst our fun and frivolity there will be those who are dealing with personal issues, concerns for themselves or loved ones and the acknowledgement of past events which still affect them.
For the Jewish community, the month of August in particular is a period of fasting, lamentation, and prayer to remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av, also known as the Jewish Fast of Av, is acknowledged in this month and began with fasting after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The fasting continued even after they rebuilt the temple before the Romans destroyed the Second Temple by burning it in 70 CE. This marked the start of a long exile period for Jewish people.
Other significant events from Jewish history acknowledged at this time include: ten of the twelve scouts sent by Moses to Canaan gave negative reports of the area, leading to the Israelites’ despair; the Romans captured the fortress city of Betar which was the last stronghold of the leaders of the Bar Kochba revolt, and it is where thousands of Jewish people, including Bar Kokhba (or Kochba), were massacred in 135 CE; the city of Jerusalem was destroyed one year later.
Tisha B’Av is a sad day that observes other major disasters and tragedies that Jewish people have experienced throughout history including the expulsion of the Jewish people from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492, as well as the mass deportation of Jewish people from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
The degree of observing Tisha B'Av has varied through the centuries. It was observed less stringently around 100 CE to 200 CE, but more strictly and widespread around 1000 CE to 1200 CE. After the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948 and the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, some groups proposed that Tisha B'Av should no longer be a day of mourning and fasting, yet there are those who believe we should continue to show respect to those tragedies of the past and particularly those relating to the Shoah in World War II. Holocaust Memorial Day each January is a reminder of this.
It is important to note that if the ninth day of Av falls on a Saturday (Shabbat), the fast is observed on the tenth day of the month of Av, therefore showing how important it really is.
As a result of the Jewish diaspora (dispersion of Jewish people beyond Israel), the Jewish community can be found all over the world and with any of these communities outside of Israel, an extra day is usually added to religious observances. Yom Kippur, however, lasts only one day worldwide, whereas Rosh Hashanah is celebrated over two days in both Israel and the diaspora.
This custom has its roots in ancient times when the beginning of the months in the Jewish calendar still relied on the sighting of the crescent Moon following a new moon. The beginning of a new month was determined by the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of ancient Israel in Jerusalem. Once the date was published, messengers were dispatched to spread the news among Jews living abroad. Since this process took some time, it was decreed that Jews outside of ancient Israel were to observe every holiday for two days to make sure that the rules and customs applicable to each holiday were observed on the proper date. This rule is still observed today.
So, what are the outward signs or ways of acknowledging this period for the Orthodox Jews in particular?
Many Orthodox Jewish people do not cut their hair or hold weddings during this period. They also do not eat meat, drink wine, or go to concerts during the nine days before Tisha B'Av.
Tisha B'Av is essentially a day of mourning, fasting and prayer. There are five main prohibitions:
- Not eating or drinking.
- Not washing or bathing.
- Not using scented creams or oils.
- Not wearing leather shoes.
- Not displaying physical affection or engaging in sexual relations.
Also, no one can study the Torah, except for sad texts. Old prayer books and Torah’s may be buried. Some restrictions such as not eating meat or drinking wine continue until noon (12:00) on the day after Tisha B'Av.
It is customary to sit on the floor or a low stool and to sleep on the floor or without a pillow, on Tisha B'Av. Some Jewish followers may spend most of the day reading or chanting kinnot (kinnos, kinoth, qinot, qinoth). Kinnot are mourning poems or poems describing sad events such as the destruction of the Second Temple, the crusades, or the Holocaust. Some Jewish groups only mourn events that happened a long time ago on Tisha B'Av and mourn the events of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah.
Living in a world mid/post/emerging pandemic, depending on where you live, it is easier now more than ever to feel a connection with others who have endured the consequences of Covid-19 than ever before in human history. Knowing that there are members of the Jewish community who we live, socialise and work amongst who are purposefully acknowledging the new world and the events of their historical past, supports our attempts to bring global collaboration ™ to the fore.
Spiritual - What positive lessons have you learned from your life so far that you would like to pass on to others?
Moral - We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future. Do we spend too much time and energy thinking about the past?
Social - Reach out to colleagues, friends and acquaintances during this time and offer support and acknowledgement of their shared history. Use this month to look for volunteering opportunities in your local community.
Cultural - In our pursuit of recognising and valuing the things we have in common across cultural, religious, ethnic, and socio-ethnic communities, what values do you share with the Jewish community during this month and others?
Hayley McDonnell is a Personal Development/SMSC consultant and author intent on bridging the gap between countries, cultures, customs and ultimately people with “Global Collaboration” Her aim is to make our world feel smaller by connecting with our similarities and embracing our differences. She loves to travel and meet new people from different backgrounds, countries and cultures. You can find out more about Hayley here.
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