Regarded by many as one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar, Tisha b’Av is a day of worldwide communal mourning for the Jewish community.
Always observed on the ninth day of the month of Av, hence Tisha (ninth) b’Av (in the month of Av) on the Jewish calendar, Tisha b’Av is a full day of deep, deep mourning, commemorating the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the Second Temple by the Roman emperor Titus in 70 AD. Among many other calamities, this date also marks the expulsion of Jews from England, France, and Spain over a period of roughly 200 years.
Tisha b’Av is an observed fast day in Israel, and throughout the worldwide Jewish community, much like Yom Kippur (the most solemn day, the Day of Atonement). It begins at sunset on the ninth of Av until sunset the next day. The fast is a sign of grevious mourning. This is an important day that connects worldwide Jewry to the history of their suffering and their love for the land which God gave them.
If you happen to be traveling in Israel—particularly Jerusalem—during Tisha b’Av, you may notice increased activity at the Western Wall, the last historical remnant of the Temple. There, thousands of Jews gather to pray and read the Book of Lamentations. Many, customarily, having removed their shoes, sit on the ground in deep prayer, similar to the custom of Jewish community members mourning the dead.
Written by the prophet Jeremiah, the Book of Lamentations documents the suffering of the Jewish people after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. God calls them to repentance for the forgiveness of sins and offers them reassurance of comfort and restoration.
Throughout Israel, most public places like restaurants, coffee shops, and bars are closed on the eve of the fast and reopen the following day, typically later in the afternoon. Public transportation is not affected.
If you’re in Israel during Tisha b’Av and wish to experience the solemnity of this communal fast day by visiting the Western Wall or local synagogues, you are welcome to do so. Reading from the Book of Lamentations will comprise the intent of worshipful gatherings you are welcome to join.