On the Ninth of Av it was decreed on our fathers that they would not enter the Land (of Israel) [Bamidbar 14], the Temple was destroyed the first time and the second time, Beitar (the stronghold of the Bar Kochba rebellion) was captured, and the city (of Jerusalem) was plowed under.
Talmud Taanis 4
As the anniversary of the most tragic events in Jewish history, the ninth of Av is the most important day of mourning in the Jewish year. Other than Yom Kippur, it is the only fast day in the year that lasts a full night and day. All other fasts begin in the morning and end that night. Tisha B’Av begins at sundown and continues till the following nightfall. Tisha B’Av carries several additional prohibitions that are not required by the other fasts.
The following is a list of the basic prohibitions on Tisha B’Av:
- We are forbidden to eat or drink anything for the entire period. (A person who has difficulty fasting for health reasons should consult a rabbi.)
- It is forbidden to wash oneself, even just one finger. The only exception is the required washing upon rising in the morning and after using the bathroom. Even in these cases we may only wash until the knuckles. If one has soiled his hands he is permitted to clean the soiled area only.
- It is forbidden to wear leather shoes. (There is no prohibition against other leather items.)
- Marital relations are forbidden.
- With several exceptions, one may not study Torah on Tisha B’Av because the study of Torah brings joy. The exceptions are the book of Eichah (Lamentations), the book of Job, the “bad” passages in Yirmiyah (omitting the passages of consolation), and various Talmudic and Midrashic passages which deal with the destruction of the first and second Temples and with the laws of mourning. Even in these cases we are not permitted to study in depth.
- We are not permitted to greet each other on Tisha B’Av, even to say good morning. If you encounter someone who is unaware of this law and he greets you, it is best to inform him of the law (in a polite manner) so that he will not resent your non-response. If this is not possible, then one should respond in a low voice and with a somber manner.
- The night of Tisha B’Av and the following day until chatzos hayom (midday) we do not sit in a normal chair. Instead, we sit on the ground or on a low stool.
- It is best to avoid work on Tisha B’Av until chatzos hayom (midday).
- One should not go for pleasurable walks or engage in any other activity that might distract from the mourning.
The Day Before
Although the fast itself begins at sunset, certain aspects of the mourning of Tisha B’Av begin earlier. From chatzos hayom (midday) of the eighth of Av and on it is best to refrain from Torah study in the same manner that one must on Tisha B’Av itself. However, many authorities are lenient in this matter. Certainly one should not engage in frivolous activity but should prepare himself for the upcoming fast.
It is customary to eat a meal before Mincha (afternoon prayers). This meal carries no restrictions. It is customary to eat well at this meal in preparation for the fast, but care must be taken not to overeat so that one can eat the Seudah HaMafsekes comfortably.
Tachanun is not recited during Mincha.
After the Mincha prayers it is customary to eat the last meal. This meal is called the Seudah HaMafseket (Separating Meal). It is forbidden to eat more than one cooked food at this meal. (This includes any form of cooking even roasted, fried, or pickled.) Meat, wine and fish are forbidden. Intoxicating drinks should be completely avoided.
The meal is eaten sitting on the ground or a low seat. It is customary to eat a hard-boiled egg (which serves as the cooked food). It is also customary to eat a piece of bread dipped into ashes and to declare, “This is the Tisha B’Av meal.”
During the meal, three men should not sit together so that they will not have to recite the Birchas HaMazon (Grace after Meals) as a group (mezuman). If they do eat together they still do not form a group.
When the eve of Tisha B’Av falls out on Shabbat, none of these restrictions apply.
Tisha B’Av Night
All of the prohibitions of Tisha B’Av begin at sundown. It is therefore necessary to remove one’s leather shoes shortly before sundown.
It is customary to remove the paroches (curtain) from the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) in the synagogue before Maariv (evening prayers). It is also customary to reduce the lighting in the synagogue. (In many synagogues, it is customary to pray by candlelight on Tisha B'Av night.)
After Maariv is completed, the book of Eichah (Lamentations) is read aloud to the congregation. After Eichah is completed, the congregation recites Kinos, poetic prayers of lamentation.
It is proper for a person to sleep in a less comfortable manner than he is normally accustomed to. If he usually sleeps with two pillows then he should sleep with only one. Some have the custom to sleep on the ground on the night of Tisha B’Av and to rest their head on a stone.
Tisha B’Av Day
At Shacharis (morning prayers) on Tisha B’Av morning, talis and tefillin are not worn. (They are worn during Mincha instead.) The small tzitzit is still worn but no blessing is recited. Tachanun is not recited. The Torah is taken out and the portion of Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read and the haftarah from Isaiah 8:13 - 9:23.
After the Torah reading the congregation recites Kinos. This should last until a little before chatzos hayom (midday). After Kinos the prayers are completed. Lamnatzeach and the second verse of Uvo L’Tzion (V’Ani Zot Briti…) are omitted. Some do not say Shir Shel Yom now but wait until Mincha.
It is proper for every person to read the book of Eichah again.
After chatzos hayom (midday) it is permissible to sit on an ordinary seat.
At Mincha we don talis and tefillin. The Torah is taken out and the standard portion and haftarah for fast days is read.
During the Amida (silent, standing prayer) the following prayer is inserted in the blessing of V’LeYerushalayim Ircha:
HaShem our God, console the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem, and the city that is mournful, destroyed, shamed, and desolate. Mournful without her children, destroyed without her residences, shamed without her honor, and desolate without inhabitant. She sits with her head covered, like a barren woman who does not give birth. She has been devoured by the legions, and conquered by the worshipers of foreign powers, and they put your people, Israel, to the sword and willfully murdered the devout [servants] of the High One. Therefore Zion cries bitterly, and Jerusalem raises her voice, “My heart! My heart [aches] on the slain! My stomach! My stomach [aches] on the slain!” For You, God, with fire you burned her, and with fire you will rebuild her, as it is said, “And I will be for her, says God, a wall of fire around her, and I will be a glory within her.”(Zechariah 2:9) Blessed are You, God, Who consoles Zion and builds Jerusalem.
The Night After Tisha B’Av
Tisha B’Av ends at nightfall. Even though the fast ends that night, it is proper to not eat meat or bathe until chatzos hayom (midday) the following day. This is because the
continued to burn into the tenth day.