Tisha B'Av & other Fast Days
The old joke: the classic definition of Jewish holidays is, "They tried to kill us, they didn't, let's eat." While this tongue in cheek reference explains how we recall our deliverance at many of our holidays, and in the process, indulge in savoury potato latkes, delicious hamantashen, or sweet charoset. But sadly, not all our holidays are celebrations. There are sad days in the Jewish calendar too.
These are minor, historical festivals, and because these days generally fall at the end of June and July, they are often most observed by participants at Jewish summer camp. These days mark the destruction of the Temple, and perhaps more significantly, the exile of the Jewish people. As liberal movements do not pray for the restoration of the Temple and now that the State of Israel has been estalished, many liberal Jews have abandoned these days. Others still try to recognize the sombre nature of the day, and remember the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history and especially in more recent times. (See Yom HaSho'ah)
Both days do not have names- but are referred to by their dates: Shiva Asar B'Tammuz simply means the 17th of (the Hebrew month of) Tammuz, and Tisha B'Av is the 9th of Av.
Shiva Asar B'Tammuz
Rome wasn't built in a day, goes the old saying. The destruction of the Temple did not occur in one day either. According to the Talmud, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem three weeks before the Ninth of Av, on the seventeenth of Tammuz. But the Rabbis reinforce these days of sadness, by imagining that all Jewish disasters and calamaties fell on these days. According to tradition, the Golden Calf was made and the Ten Commandments were broken on the17th of Tammuz.
According to tradition, the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the Ninth of Av; the former by the Babylonion king, Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE, and the latter by the Roman general Vespasian in 70 CE. It is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Like the 17th of Tammuz, Tisha B'Av is observed as a day of mourning, and traditionally is a fast day. Special lamentations (kinot) are read, and the Scroll of Lamentations (Eicha) is chanted in a mournful dirge. Because Shabbat is joyous, if the ninth of Av falls on Shabbat, the observance on the "Ninth of Av" is moved to the Sunday. For the week preceding Tisha B'Av, it is customary to not eat meat (except for Shabbat). Just like in the month of Adar, we say, when Adar enters, joy increases, when Av enters, joy decreases. For this reason, weddings are traditionally not performed during the period between 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.
Like the 17th of Tammuz, other tragic events occurred on this day in history. The report of the spies - that led to the 38 years of wandering in the desert occurred on the ninth of Av. Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492 on the ninth of Av.
Within all this sadness, there is an element of hope. Tradition teaches that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B'Av.