Being the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av is commemorated with many of the traditions observed during the period of mourning for a loved a one. Many of the customs are observed form the evening of Tisha B’Av until the end of the day (25 hours later). The purpose is to bring an element of suffering into our lives and to bring our full attention to the tragedies and suffering of the day in commemoration and to create a stronger emotion of empathy.
By observing a period of sadness with such intensity we achieve several things:
- A state of national catharsis
- Giving us an allocated time to reflect and grieve for great suffering
- Develop a greater sense of empathy with those who suffer even if it is not our own personal experience
- Delve into the meaning of pain, suffering and tribulation
Here is a list of common traditions observed across the world of Jewish communities.
All adults above the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah – even pregnant and nursing women – fast from sunset the eve of Tisha B’Av (ie the night before the day) until night falls at the end of the day of Tisha B’Av.
In the event of a person being ill, pregnant or breast feeding a rabbi should be consulted to discuss whether it is appropriate to fast or not.
Even if a person has been instructed not to fast, they should still refrain from eating delicacies and should eat only that which is absolutely necessary for physical wellbeing (likewise for children).
On Tisha B’Av we refrain from wearing leather footwear, or footwear that contains any leather (even if it is only a leather sole). We don’t wear celebratory or new (unworn) clothes during this 25 hour period.
Until midday of Tisha B’Av we sit on low chairs (approximately below 25cm) or the ground. Some even have a tradition to remove their pillow or place a stone under their pillow when sleeping to create an added measure of discomfort.
For when the sun goes down until the following night we not only avoid showering or bathing, we don’t even wash our hands (unless for hygiene after the bathroom etc. or preparing food for people under your care who need to eat). The traditional ritual of washing hands upon rising in the morning are reduced to just sprinkling water up to ones knuckles (and not the whole hand).
We don’t apply ointments, oils or creams (even to alleviate discomfort) to our body (for babies this is permitted as is bathing and washing).
We refrain from intercourse (even if it is the ‘Mikveh Night’), excursions or trips. It is strongly recommended to avoid unnecessary travel on this date. However, many have the custom to go to the cemetery.
Generally games, TV and any other recreational/joyful activities are avoided on this day and reduced for children.
Gifts & Greetings:
As awkward and challenging as it seems, we don’t greet one another, send gifts or open received gifts.