;This week, our calendar has a Friday the 13th. Some people consider this day unlucky. Some are even frightened of Friday the 13th, a condition called paraskevidekatriaphobia.
On average, there are two Friday the 13ths in a year — we had one earlier this year, in April, but there will not be another on our calendar until September 2019. So, if you have a fear of the date, you are in the clear for more than a year.
However, for our Jewish brothers and sisters, every year contains a specific day (in July or early August) that is considered as, if not unlucky, a day of misfortune.
This year, that day begins at sunset July 21 and lasts until sunset July 22. It is called the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), meaning it is the ninth day of the month of Av (the fifth month of the Jewish year.) Av is considered the saddest month of the Jewish year.
This is because the month of Av was the month in which the First and Second Temples were destroyed in Jerusalem. Devout Jews mourn the loss of both temples every year at this time.
The First Temple was built by King Solomon on the site chosen by his father, King David. Known as King Solomon’s Temple, it was constructed after Solomon ascended the throne around 970 B.C. It took several years to complete and was destroyed by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. It took several days to completely destroy the Temple; however, the Talmud — the primary book of Jewish law and teaching — gives the official date as the ninth of Av.
After the Babylonian exile, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland and to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. This was allowed by the order of the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, and took place in the year 516 B.C. This Temple was later expanded by King Herod the Great, starting around 20 B.C. and this was the Temple Jesus knew.
The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 A.D. and never rebuilt. Parts of it remain today, most notably the Western Wall (sometimes called the “Wailing Wall.”) This destruction of the Second Temple also took place on the ninth of Av.
Over the centuries, other tragic events have taken place for Jews on Tisha B’Av. According to Jewish historians, these include the expulsion of all Jews (about 200,000) from Spain on this date (July 30) in 1492 and the start of World War I on Tisha B’Av in 1914: Germany entered the hostilities by declaring war on Russia on Aug. 1. (The dates of Tisha B’Av vary because the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle.)
Like a death in the family
Because of its ties to tragedy, the “Encyclopedia Judaica” notes that this day — Tisha B’Av —“became a symbol for all the persecutions and misfortunes of the Jewish people, for the loss of national independence and the sufferings in exile.” It adds that, a person is required to mourn on the ninth of Av in the same way that they would mourn of the death of the “next of kin.”
On Tish B’Av, no eating or drinking is permitted, not even water. There is no bathing or washing — except for the fingers — no wearing of leather shoes, no anointing of the body with any oil or perfume, no reading of the Torah (for that is considered a joyful experience) and no marital relations.
The entire Book of Lamentations (called Eicha in Hebrew) is to be read on this day. This book, attributed to Jeremiah (sometimes called “the weeping prophet”) tells of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the First Temple. Special dirges (called Kinot) are sung or prayed throughout Tisha B’Av. In the synagogues, the ark of the Torah is draped in black.
While it is not forbidden, business is not usually transacted on Tisha B’Av because it is a day with such bad connotations. In Jerusalem, visits to the Western Wall are common on this day and, for all Jews, it is common to visit cemeteries on this day.
While Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning — and the three weeks leading up to it are filled with moments of fasting and increasing sadness — the end of Tisha B’Av is tinged with joy. Why? Because it is also believed, by devout Jews, that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av.
Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller is a full-time lecturer at Neve Yerushalayim College in Jerusalem. She explains that what “this tells us is that the same covenant that promises suffering, promises redemption. They are two sides of one coin; labor and birth. We may never allow ourselves to forget what we have suffered. … We must also not allow ourselves to forget who we are, and why we have survived. We are God’s people with a mission to fulfill Abraham’s covenant. We aim towards living seamless lives, elevating the physical, and having faith in God.”
This promise reminds Catholics of the words of Jesus when he had cleansed the Temple: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. … He was speaking about the temple of his body” (Jn 2:19-21).
For both Jews and Christians, the Temple is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his promises and his people — no matter what day it happens to be.
Sources: Chabad.org; jewishvirtuallibrary.org; the Encyclopedia Judaica; Judaism 101 at jewfaq.org; myjewishlearning.com; aisch.com; and usccb.org