Monday, August 4, 2014

Tish'a beAb, the Jewish Day of National Mourning

Tish'a beAb, our national day of mourning, begins tonight Monday August 5th. In NYC the fast begins at 7.58pm and ends tomorrow, Tuesday August 5th at 8.27pm (some communities have different times).
This afternoon around 6.30pm we do the seu'da mafseqet, the last meal before the day-long fast.

This is virtually 'a mourners meal' and should consist of bread, eggs, lentils and water.  In some communities people would also have rice with lentils or other variations.

What make this meal special is that:

1. We abstain from eating two different cooked dishes to express (or inspire) a mood of austerity, by consuming only what is needed to endure the fast (Raw vegetables and fruits are not restricted).

2. The ancient custom is that everyone eats in solitude, with no zimun, sitting on the floor or on a low chair, like mourners do.

For Arbit, we chant the prayers with a sad tune, starting with 'al neharot babel (Tehilim 137), the Psalm of the mourners for the Bet haMiqdash. In many Sephardic communities the Shema Israel is said with a sad intonation, instead of the regular ta'amim .

Then, we read Megilat Ekha, the book of Lamentations written by the Prophet Yrmiyahu. The book of Lamentations describes the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE), the desolation of Yerushalayim, the pain of the exiles to Babylon, the mockery and pleasure of our enemies seeingour misery, the impotence of the defeated, the deadly starvation, the horrors of sickness and death.

Then, we recite the Kinot. The Kinot are poems which describe different tragedies that we endured throughout our history.

At the end of the Kinot, sitting on the floor, with lights dimmed, we declare with sadness and tears: "Listen, oh our brothers of the house of we count ... 1946 years from the destruction of our Bet haMiqdash...."  (According to the traditional Sephardic account the second bet haMiqdash was destroyed 1946 years ago, in the year 68 of the Common Era).
May we all have an easy and meaningful fast.

May this be the last year we mourn for our Bet haMiqdash! AMEN



The fast of Tish'a beAb should be observed by all those who are in good health.

Yoledet: During the first 30 days after birth or after a miscarriage, a woman is exempted from fasting on the 9th of Ab.

Pregnant and nursing women: Similar to Yom Kippur, pregnant and nursing women should observe this fast. In cases of complicated pregnancies or physical weakness, or if the pregnant mother is worried that fasting will affect her health or her baby's health, she should ask her doctor before the fast-day and proceed as the physician recommends. If during the fast a pregnant woman feels sick, especially if she is vomiting or having any signs of dehydration, she should break the fast and drink or eat immediately. However, mild dizziness and nausea that can be coped with by lying down on a couch or a bed are considered normal (Listen to a very important lecture "Pregnancy and fasting" at the end of this email).
Hole She-en Bo Sakana: People with a chronic disease like diabetes or patients under treatment or someone with high fever should not observe the fast. In some cases, when is not possible to fast for 24 hours it would recommended to fast from dawn until the end of the day, as we do on the 17 of Tamuz or the 10 of Tebet.
Elders: Should consult with their physicians to make sure that the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (or forbidden) from fasting.
Minors: Boys younger than thirteen years old and girls younger than twelve are exempt from fasting. Unlike Yom Kippur, there is no need for children to fast for a few hours. The reason is that while we do educate our children to fast on Yom Kippur as part of a teshuba (=repentance) process, we do not educate our children to mourn for the Bet haMiqdash before they formally need to. Because hopefully this will be the last year we mourn for the Bet haMiqdash, and BH training for next year will be unnecessary. 
When allowed to eat during Tish'a be-Ab for health reasons, one should eat only whatever is necessary for his or her health, and not for pleasure or in excess.

                                                     FOR PREGNANT WOMEN

Click here to listen to Dr. Jessica Jacob's  lecture.

 Dr. Jessica Jacob is a MD/OBGYN and although this lecture was given for pregnant women fasting Yom Kippur most information is relevant for Tish'a beAb as well. The most important difference is that on Tish'a be-Ab, when exempted from the fast, one can eat normally and does not have to eat in small portions, as it is required on Yom Kippur.


Tish'a beAb is a day of fasting and it is also a day of collective morning. During Tish'a beAb we behave virtually as mourners  who are grieving for a loved one who just passed away.  To express and reach this emotional state of grief, we avoid engaging in certain pursuits: activities from which we derive a physical pleasure, actions associated with happiness or which would distract us from the mood of mourning.  
Some examples
REHITSA (Washing) Same as Yom Kippur, taking a shower, bathing or washing for pleasure is forbidden on Tish'a beAb. However, if a part of the body is unclean we can wash it.
Washing our mouth is not permitted on Tish'a beAb. Except in a situation of great distress. In such a case one should bend the head downward when washing the mouth to avoid swallowing any liquid (Rabbi Obadya Yosef z"l). 
It is permitted to use baby wipes to clean one's face, eyes, hands, etc. because this type of cleaning is not considered "washing". 
Technically we could wash our hands normally in the morning for Netilat Yadayim, because we do it for a Mitzva and not for pleasure. The standard Sephardic custom, however, is to wash only the fingers for Netilat Yadayim.  
SIKHA (Using creams) Using creams for pleasure or comfort is not permitted on Tish'a beAb. Medical creams or oils are permitted. Using deodorant is permitted.

NE'ILAT HASANDAL (Leather shoes)Leather shoes are considered a luxurious item. During Tish'a beAb then, we don't wear leather shoes but snickers or other type of footwear made of fabric, plastic, etc. Other leather items, like a belt or a leather Kippa are permitted.

TASHMISH HAMITA (Intimacy)Marital relations are suspended on Tish'a beAb. If the Mikveh night falls on the eve of Tish'a beAb, i.e., Monday August 4th at night, Mikveh has to be postponed for the following night .

LIMUD TORA: On Tish'a beAb we refrain from studying Tora, because studying Tora is a joyous and pleasurable activity. We might read and study books or texts with a sad content such as the book of Iyob or Ekha, some passages of the book of Jeremiah or some Psalms, masekhet mo'ed qatan, etc.

WORK:  On Tish'a beAb it is not recommended to work because working would divert our minds from the feeling of grief. Refraining from work on Tish'a beAb, however, is not a formal prohibition but rather a tradition some communities have adopted and some have not (minhag hamaqom) and it also depends on each individual's financial or professional situation. In any case, it is beyond debate that if one would incur in significant losses or if one's job position will be compromised it is permitted to work.  
TEFILIN: We do not use Tefilin in the morning of Tish'a beAb. Tefilin is a signal of honor and pride: a crown in our heads which declares that we are the people of God. In most Sephardic communities men wear Talit and Tefilin just in Minha. In some Syrian communities the tradition is that before going to the Synagogue in the morning one says Qaddesh Li and Shema Israel at home with Talit and Tefilin. In other communities men wear Tefilin and Tallit normally in the morning (=minhag Yerushalayim).  
SHE-ELAT SHALOM: On Tish'a beAb we don't greet each other as usual, because our mood is or should be a mourner's mood. If someone greets us, we can discreetly and politely acknowledge the gesture.  
SITTING ON THE FLOOR: The general custom is that during the reading of Megilat Ekha people don't sit on the Synagogue's benches but on the floor, like mourners do during the shib'a (the first  seven days of Jewish mourning), while the lights are dimmed.

Five tragedies are remembered on Tish'a be-Ab
1. HET HAMERAGELIM (ca. 1300 BCE): The Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the ten explorers. They cried and complained to God for taking them out of Egypt. They also hinted that the Almighty won't be able to help them in conquering the Land of Israel and defeat so many enemies. HaShem decreed that all those who were 20 years or older would not enter the Promised Land. The people will wander  for forty years until that generation disappears.  The night on which they cried and were condemned to die in the dessert was Tish'a be-Ab.
2. HURBAN HABAYIT HARISHON (586 BCE): The First Temple was destroyed and burned on the ninth of Ab by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered, enslaved or exiled to the Babylonian empire. The story of the destruction of Jerusalem and its desolation is narrated in Megilat Ekha.
3. HURBAN HABAYIT HASHENI (68 CE): The Second Temple was also destroyed on Tisha be-Ab. The Romans led by Titus destroyed the city. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, sold into slavery or exiled.
4. NILKEDA BETAR (135 CE): The Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar (Sephardim call it "Bee-ter"), which was the Jews' last stand against the Romans, was captured by the enemy on Tish'a be-Ab. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and their bodies left unburied.
5. NEHERASH HAHEKHAL: Around the same period, also on a ninth of Ab, the Temple's holiest area and its surroundings was plowed by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city, and renamed Aelia Capitolina. Access to Jerusalem was forbidden for Jews.