Jewish FAQ: Tishah B’Av

Jewish FAQ:
Tishah B’Av (9 Av) 
Begins at sundown on July 28th.

Tisha B’Av, which occurs on the 9th of Av, is a traditional day of mourning 
the destruction of both ancient Temples in Jerusalem.
In contrast to Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism has never assigned a central 
religious role to the ancient Temple. Therefore, mourning the destruction 
of the Temple in such an elaborate fashion did not seem meaningful. More 
recently, in Reform Judaism Tishah B’Av has been transformed into a day 
to remember many Jewish tragedies that have occurred throughout history.
Jews fast on this day until the following sundown. In the synagogue, the Book 
of lamentations is changed, as are kinot, dirges written during the Middle Ages. 
Congregants also read sections of the books of Jeremiah and Job, as well as 
biblical and talmudic passages dealing with the Temples’ destruction.
To the early Reformers, mourning the destruction of the Temple in such elaborate 
fashion did not seem meaningful, especially since Reform has not idealized the 
rebuilding of the Temple, as has Jewish tradition. 
In order to understand the mournful nature of Tishah B’Av, then, we must enter the 
traditional mind as we look back into history.
The First Temple in Jerusalem was constructed during the reign of King Solomon 
(965 b.c.e.–925 b.c.e.). Solomon’s father, King David, had wished to build the Temple, 
but was not allowed to do so. The Bible relates that God disqualified David because 
of his many military campaigns. The Temple was to be a holy place, a place of peace. 
Therefore, only a king who had not shed blood could bring it into being. Thus, Solomon, 
whose Hebrew name was Shlomo (from shalom, peace), inherited this sacred task.
Solomon built the First Temple with the assistance of King Hiram of Tyre. Hiram sent his 
Phoenician artists and builders magnificent stone from his nation’s quarries and the beautiful 
cedars of Lebanon to aid in the task.
The finished Temple was an awesome structure. Situated on a mountain 2/500 feet high, 
it had courtyard, a sanctuary, and a small room called the Holy of Holies, entered only once 
a year by the high priest. It was in the Temple that the kohanim (priests) offered the ancient 
sacrifices on behalf of the people, assisted by the Levites.
In 586 b.c.e., the Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem. Led by their general, 
Bebuchadnezzar, they broke into the city and conquered it. Then, on the Ninth of Av, 
they destroyed the Temple. The Jews were sent into exile, crushed and despondent. 
According to some scholars, the prophet Jeremiah, grieving for the Temple, composed 
Psalm 137, in which he wrote: “By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept for thee Zion.” 
A people who had grounded their entire religious system in a priestly Temple structure 
suddenly had it torn away from them.
Some sixty years later, Persia conquered Babylonia, and the Persian King Cyrus 
allowed the Jews to return home. They rebuilt the Temple but it was not nearly as 
magnificent as Solomon’s Temple had been. Still, the Jews rejoiced, for once again 
they had an opportunity to be led by their priests and to offer sacrifices in their holiest site. 
It was this rebuilt Temple that King Antiochus defiled in 168 b.c.e., and which the 
Maccabees reconsecrated three years later. But the Building of the Second Temple was yet to come.
The Second Temple was enhanced and expanded during the first century b.c.e 
by King Herod, one of the cruelest rulers in Jewish history. Deciding that the rebuilt 
Temple was not to his liking, Herod decided to expand it. He partially leveled the previous 
site, then oversaw the construction of a Temple that rivaled that of Solomon’s in grandeur.
In 70 c.e., Roman legions, led by the General Titus, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed 
the Temple. It was the Ninth of Av. Once again, the Jews were sent into exile, this time to Rome.
Some historians have expressed doubt that the actual destruction of both Temples 
occurred on the Ninth of Av, but there is no disputing the fact that the day became a 
symbol of Jewish tragedy. The synagogue ultimately replaced the Temple. But Jews 
continued to hope and pray that the Temple would be restored. The prayer book and 
songs expressed this yearning, and Tishah B’Av became a vehicle for expressing that deep sorrow.
(adapted from
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