Tisha B’Av (lit. “Ninth of Av”) is another rabbinically instituted holiday God didn’t mandate. It is perhaps the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. According to Jewish tradition, many sad events in Jewish history occurred on the Ninth of Av. For example, it is believed that both the first and second Temples were destroyed on this day. It is also believed that on this day, God decreed that the children of Israel couldn’t enter the Promised Land after their exodus from Egypt. In addition, Columbus’s voyage to the New World is thought to have formally begun on this day. The voyage is a sad reminder to Jewish people because it was funded by their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and from the subsequent confiscation and sale of their property.
Observance of Tisha B’Av began sometime after the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The prophet Zechariah records that the people separated themselves, wept, mourned, and fasted on the Ninth of Av (Zech. 7:3-5).
Today the Jewish people observe Tisha B’Av by fasting and by following all mourning rites that would apply to the death of a next of kin. These rites include the complete abstention from food, work, drink, and bathing. In addition, the Jewish people are forbidden to wear footwear made of leather, and all mourners must sit either on the ground or on a low stool. Studying the Torah is also forbidden since the reading of God’s Word is a source of joy and blessing (Ps. 19:8). The only Scriptures read in the synagogue on Tisha B’Av are the book of Lamentations, the book of Job, the curses in Leviticus 26:14-42, some chapters in Jeremiah (e.g., 39), and some stories in the Talmud describing the destruction of Jerusalem.
The period of mourning actually begins with the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz (the month prior to Av in the Hebrew calendar), which was instituted to commemorate the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem. Beginning on the First of Av, the mourning rites are intensified daily until the fast of Tisha B’Av. On the evening prior to the fast, one may neither partake of two cooked dishes nor eat meat or drink wine. It is customary to eat a boiled egg at this meal as a symbol of mourning and to sprinkle ashes on the egg. The blessings after this meal are recited individually and silently.
Although Tisha B’Av has no prophetic or messianic significance, the Bible does speak of all fast days being turned into days of joy, gladness, and cheer. When Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) returns to establish His rule and reign on the earth—the time when “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26)—the sadness of Israel will be turned to joy, and there will be no need for Tisha B’Av or any other fast days of mourning. Until that glorious day of Messiah’s return, we, as believers in Him, while being mindful of the gravity of this day, must seek to bring the gospel message to those who are fasting and mourning so their sadness may turn into gladness and joy!