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Tishah B'Av: Remembering the Destruction of Zion
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Tishah B’Av: The Day of Remembrance and Mourning

By Rabbi Jo David
Jewish Appleseed Foundation - Tishah B’Av is the day of remembrance and mourning when Jewish communities recall the many sad events that occurred on that day in Jewish history.  The name of the holiday means the “ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.”

What is the Significance of Tishah B’Av?

Tishah B’Av is often thought of as a “Jewish Friday the Thirteenth,” a day of bad fortune for the Jewish people.  According to Jewish tradition, the original Temple in Jerusalem (King Solomon’s Temple), the central focus of Jewish worship, was destroyed by the Babylonians on Tishah B’Av in 586 B.C.E.  That Temple was rebuilt but was destroyed by the Romans on Tishah B’Av in 70 C.E.  On Tishah B’Av in the year 1290, an edict was signed that forced the Jews to leave England.  On Tishah B’Av in 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain during the period of the Inquisition.  In more recent history, World War I began on Tishah B’Av.  Only thirty years later came World War II and the Holocaust, when six million Jews were killed.  All of these events are remembered on Tishah B’Av, making it a day of communal Jewish mourning.

Why do Jews Mourn the Destruction of The Temple in Jerusalem?

When Jews recall the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem on Tishah B’Av, they also remember that their ancestors were driven from the land of Israel.  After the First Temple was destroyed, the Jews were exiled to Babylonia, but were permitted to return to Israel fifty years later.  After the Second Temple was destroyed, the Jews were expelled to many foreign lands, where they lived for the next 2,000 years.  Living outside of Israel was known as living in the Diaspora, a Greek word meaning “dispersion.”  Without a homeland, the Jews were forced to wander from country to country, seeking a land in which they could live in peace.  Very often, severe restrictions were placed on the Jewish population.  In many Diaspora communities, Jews could not own land, join craft guilds, or engage in certain professions.  In addition, the Jewish population could be expelled at the whim of the government.  Church or government-sanctioned attacks on Jews and their property were also a common part of Diaspora life.  Today, for the most part, Jews living in the Diaspora have a more secure existence and many choose to live in countries all over the world.  However, since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, many Jews have chosen to move to their promised land to help build a new future for the Jewish people.

How is Tishah B’Av Observed?

Tishah B’Av is observed by demonstrating signs of deep sadness and mourning for the many tragedies that have occurred throughout three thousand years of Jewish history.  In the evening, before the holiday begins, it is traditional to eat a light dinner that includes hard-boiled eggs and lentils.  These are foods that are traditionally eaten during periods of mourning.  Their round shape reminds us that we are part of the cycle of life and death.  The eggs are also a symbol of rebirth, which is promised even in the face of death.  Many Jews observe Tishah B’Av as a day of fasting and refrain from other pleasures as well.  In the synagogue, the sanctuary is darkened and the curtains are removed from the holy ark where the Torah scrolls are kept.  The Book of Lamentations is read, and prayers of mourning called kinot are recited.  People attending services may sit on the floor or on low stools.  This is one of the customs that is observed when a person is in mourning.  As a sign of mourning, traditional Jews observe the custom of not eating meat for the three weeks prior to Tishah B’Av.  This three-week period is also a time during which Jewish law forbids marriages to take place.  Getting married on Tishah B’Av itself is also prohibited.  Non-Orthodox Jews do not necessarily follow all of these restrictions.  Tishah B’Av is followed by seven Sabbaths of comfort.  During these synagogue services, special portions of the Bible are read, providing hope and consolation to the Jewish community.

What is the Relevance of Tishah B’Av Today?

The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem deprived the Jewish people of a homeland for two thousand years.  Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, many Jews question whether mourning the destruction of the Temple is appropriate.  Others feel, however, that there is value in remembering events in Jewish history that were filled with suffering and oppression so that we will be sensitive to the plight of others.

Activities for Tishah B’Av

  1. Attend a religious service on Tishah B’Av.  Services may be held in both the morning and evening of the holiday.  Contact local synagogues, colleges, or community organizations to find out when and where services will be held.

  2. Find the book of Lamentations in the Bible.  In a Jewish Bible, it is found between Ruth and Ecclesiastes; in a Christian Bible, it is found between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  What is the general tone and message of the book?  To what is Jerusalem compared?  Identify a passage that gives the Jewish people a sense of hope and consolation.

  3. Find out the location of Babylonia and the Roman Empire, countries to which the Jews were exiled.  What modern nations are now on the sites of these ancient lands?

  4. In a Jewish history book or encyclopedia, find out the countries in which the Jews settled during the Diaspora.  Identify as many countries of the Diaspora as you can.  Find countries in which Jews once settled, as well as countries in which Jews still live.

  5. Look through a recent newspaper or magazine for articles that discuss international affairs.  Can you find a modern-day parallel to the destruction of the holy temples and the dispersion?  Is there a particular culture or nation that is threatened with destruction of its property or exile of its people?

  6. Look intothe history of a non-Jewish ethnic or cultural group.  Did that group ever experience events such as those commemorated on Tishah B’Av?  Were its sacred sites destroyed?  Were the people driven into exile?  What effect did these events have on this ethnic or cultural group?  Did the people remain as a distinct culture, or were they assimilated into other cultures?

  7. Whenever a Jewish holiday occurs, it is appropriate to give tzedakah, a donation of money or service to an organization.  Look for organizations in your community that would be especially appropriate for tzedakah contributions on Tishah B’Av.  You may wish to consider organizations that are involved with religious oppression or the resettlement of refugees.

  8. Visit elderly Jewish residents in your community and find out how they observed Tishah B’Av when they were children.  Did they attend synagogue?  Did they fast?  Did they refrain from certain foods before the holiday?  Were they permitted to marry on or before the holiday?  Find out how they observed Tishah B’Av, why they did these things, and how they felt about them.

Related article: Tishah B’Av: Remembering the Destruction of Zion

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© Rabbi Jo David, The Jewish Appleseed Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

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