Observing Tisha B’Av (Reprint from Last Year)

pictureHow lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! . . . She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.
-Lamentations 1:1-2

Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.
-Elie Wiesel

Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) begins tonight at sundown, July 19, 2010. According to a Talmudic passage (Taanit 26a), five things happened in history on this date:

(1) The Exodus generation was told they would die in the desert.

(2) The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians (586 B.C.E.).

(3) The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans (70 C.E.).

(4) Bar Kochba’s fortress was destroyed by the Romans, ending the second Jewish revolt (136 C.E.).

(5) The city of Jerusalem was plowed under.

Tradition has it that practically every tragedy in Jewish history is connected to this day. According to George Robinson (Essential Judaism) there is literal historical truth to that fact. The ninth of Av is the date when the Romans began destroying the Temple in 70 C.E. (they finished on the tenth). He says that it was truly on Tisha B’Av in 1190 when the Jewish population of York, England was massacred and in 1290 when Edward banished all Jews from England and Tisha B’Av was the deadline for Jews to leave Spain the expulsion of 1492. The Nazis deliberately chose this date in 1942 to send Jews from the ghetto at Warsaw into Treblinka for extermination.

A Disturbing Day, a Mournful Day
Walking into synagogue on the eve of Tisha B’Av, you find the chairs either removed or turned upside down. People sit on low stools or on the floor, as did Job in his distress. Curtains and coverings are removed, making the synagogue look bare.

The last meal before sundown is traditionally lentils and eggs. Their round shape is said to speak of mourning, since life is a circle of mourning.

The texts for reading are sad ones: Lamentations, Jeremiah (but not the consolation passages), Job, Deuteronomy 4:25-40, Jeremiah 8:13 – 9:23, and also Kinot, sad poems of mourning composed through the ages for reading on Tisha B’Av.

Lamentations is read in whole at the evening service. The cant gets louder through the first three chapters, silent on the fourth, and then loud again on the next to last verse:

Hashivenu, Adonai, eleikha v’nashuvah! Chadesh, chadesh yameinu, chadesh yameinu k’kedem!
Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old!
-Lamentations 5:21

Tisha B’Av as Spiritual Discipline
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
-Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 7:2

As long as we live in the age of death and futility, we ought to set times to meditate and reflect on these things. Our prayer and worship is heavily populated with verses of hope and consolation. May Messiah come speedily. Rebuild the Temple. May our own eyes see your return to Zion.

Such hope is vital and rightly emphasized. But in this age we will deal with death and we ought to deal with it purposefully and thoughtfully.

Tisha B’Av is a spiritual discipline. We eat our lentils alone and not in the joy of a communal table. Fasting on Tisha B’Av is a way of experiencing the pangs of suffering to remind ourselves, even in good times, that this is the lot of humankind. We pray silently and alone, even in synagogue, because death separates loved ones and harms community.

We need Tisha B’Av to remember how great the hope and consolation of Messiah truly is.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Observing Tisha B’Av (Reprint from Last Year)

  1. moderatelycatholic says:

    How can gentiles, in a spirit of solidarity, observe Tisha B’av? Should gentiles observe this day, or is its memorial exclusive?

  2. I know this is a re-post from last year, but for the sake of clarification, doesn’t Tish B’Av begin tonight (at sundown), July 19th, 2010?

  3. Derek,
    For starters, you need to correct the date of Tisha B’Av. It begins tonight (Monday, July 19) at sundown. Secondly, I find that Tisha B’Av is a difficult day on which to relate as a believer. Part of the reason is that the Messianic Community has so de-emphasized the importance and role of the previous Temple in Jerusalem. Here are some observations that show to what degree this de-emphasis has occurred:

    1) The daily morning prayer service in a traditoinal Siddur has an entire section on the Temple offerings, yet I know of only one person in our community that actually prays those prayers.

    2) In our own Siddur at our synagogue, the 5th prayer of the Amidah, which asks for the “restoration of the service of the Holy of Holies of the Temple”, has been abbreviated so that no mention of the Temple service is even made.

    3) At the end of the Amidah in a traditional Siddur, right after the “Oseh Shalom” blessing, you’ll find a petition to rebuild the holy Temple. However, that prayer is left out of our Messianic Shabat Siddur.

    4) In the Mussaf version of the Sabbath Amidah, the 4th blessing recounts the Mussaf (additional) sacrificial offerings brought on the Sabbath day and longs for the day when such things will be restored. Accept for a very Orthodox congregation in Colorado, I don’t know of any congregation in Messianic Judaism that prays the Mussaf prayers.

    5) The book of Lamentations is rarely read or taught by anyone in the Messianic Community. With the exception of Tisha B’Av, I generally don’t read it, much less have a good understanding of it.

    6) The book of Hebrews exhorts the disciples to place their trust in Yeshua, the perfect sacrifice, and not in the sacrifices of the Temple, which can never take away sins (Hebrews 9:11 – 10:4). There we learn that Yeshua has inaugurated a better covenant wherein he has become our new high priest (Hebrews 7:11 – 8:6). We also discover that sin offerings are no longer needed (Hebrews 10:18), which would presumably include the burnt offering (Leviticus 1:3-4), the sin offering (Leviticus 4:27-28), and the guilt offering (Leviticus 5:17-19), since all of these provide atonement for various types of sins.

    With the above observations in mind, you can perhaps understand how strange it seems when we are encouraged to observe Tisha B’Av. I’m not suggesting that believers not observe it. However, more teaching is needed in this regard to bring our community to the place of putting a value on its commemoration.

    -David Cook

  4. Oops, sorry about forgetting to correct the date. It is fixed now.


    I do think that non-Jews with a particular love for Israel could observe Tisha B’Av in some way. It would be entirely a matter of choice and not obligation. The sense of withdrawal of God’s Presence, the loss of the Temple as the place of his Name on earth, and the future promise of the return of his Presence and the renewal of Israel is something the church can relate to.

    Perhaps a minor fast, a reading from Lamentations (if nothing else, chapter 3), and a prayer for the people of Israel would be a worthy observance for Christians.

    David Cook:

    I know our Siddur is incomplete and imperfect. It follows in some places the Conservative tradition. I myself would wish for a more complete observance of prayers about the restoration of the sacrifices and the Temple.

    As you know, in my writing and teaching I urge Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Yeshua to understand the place of the Temple past and future. I have not yet taught the book of Hebrews, but I understand it in a nuanced fashion, not as anti-Temple, but making an argument against abandoning Yeshua and retreating to a Yeshua-less Judaism by those who have once understood his identity and message.

    Big subject. Sorry I am only able to say a little here.


  5. yochanan says:


    You make a vaild argument for observing it and remembering the Holy Temple.

    Rather than focusing on it’s non-observance in Messianic Jewish life, we can start a grassroots movement to restore this observance that has been left out of much of our experience.

  6. Cliff.C says:

    I am considering attending services at the small local Conservative synagogue in town. Honestly, is this a faux paus (for a Gentile)? I have attended here in the past on Yom Kippur and other occasions. If nothing else, to show my support for the local Jewish community. The synagogue isn’t very big and there are probably not more than 10 or 15 men + families as a rough guess. Well, just thought I would throw it out there to see if anybody has thoughts. I know in the first century, that’s exactly where I would be. Today things are a bit more complicated in the world. Tzom kal..

    • Gene Shlomovich says:

      Why not? And if someone asks, you can tell them that you there to support and mourn along side Jewish people.

  7. elephant730 says:


    Great post!! I would however like to post a particularly interesting question. You write, “May Messiah come speedily. Rebuild the Temple. May our own eyes see your return to Zion.” I would like to ask what you mean when you speak about Yeshua’s reconstruction of the Temple.

    I am in agreement with you, as Messianic Jews, we should also be mourning with our people on this day, but aren’t we a bit divided on this day because of our own faith? I would like to pinpoint the exact responsibility of the Messianic Jew to mourn on this day. What I mean is, we believe from study of the New Covenant texts, that Messiah already came to rebuild the temple (Yocahnan 2:19), and that the temple has been rebuilt in “hearts of flesh” (1 Corinthains 6:19) due to the spirit of the holy one residing within us. Therefore, should this day still be a day of mourning, or at least a day of mourning for the same reason?

    Please do not misunderstand my logic, as I am also fasting with you throughout the day today, but I would like to know what you think about the way in which Messianic Jews should mourn. Are we mourning for what has happened in the past, when maybe we should be celebrating the temple already being rebuilt within us? Are we ignoring the fact that Messiah has promised that the temple is already rebuilt in the world to come?

    I don’t think these are really answerable questions, but I think they are important questions that all Messianic Jews should ask themselves and be aware of before they decide to observe this particular Mitzvah.

    Do you have more in-depth thoughts on this subject?


  8. Elephant730:

    It seems odd answering a blog comment on a day like today, Tisha B’Av. But I decided to answer because the issue you raise is so theologically important and important to the day itself.

    I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about John 2:19 and the supposed anti-Temple theme in Yeshua’s teaching and his deeds. My upcoming book, Yeshua in Context, will deal in more than one place with that theme. Let me start with the conclusion and then offer supporting evidence: IN NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM IS YESHUA AGAINST THE TEMPLE, BUT RATHER IS MORE FOR THE TEMPLE THAN ANY OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES.

    (1) John 2:19 clearly is about the resurrection, not the destruction or literal rebuilding of the Temple.

    (2) Biblical imagery is never either-or but always both-and.

    (3) If someone argued that Yeshua already defined the rebuilding of the Temple in John 2:19 as the resurrection of his body (which is what the text says), then we’d already have a double fulfillment problem since later New Testament texts suggest that the people who follow Yeshua are a Temple.

    (4) Nothing about the function of the Temple contradicts the meaning of Yeshua’s death and resurrection.

    (5) Those who accused Yeshua of being anti-Temple at his trial were false witnesses and brought false testimony.

    (6) Yeshua referred to the Temple as “my Father’s house.”

    (7) Yeshua’s cleansing of the Temple was to heighten its sanctity, not to bring about its demise.

    (8) Yeshua spoke of the holiness of God’s Temple and altar in Matt 23:17, 19.

    (9) Yeshua affirmed the general thrust of the prophets and the promises of the age to come in Mark 13 and parallels.

    (10) Yeshua wept over the coming destruction in Matt 23 and Luke 19.


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