This month, which is called “Av,” the Jewish lunar calendar is scheduled to commemorate the anniversary of the twice destroyed Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
All that remains today is the Kotel, commonly called Western Wall, which is a revered place of prayer. “Kvitls,” or little prayers on folded pieces of paper, are inserted in the cracks of the wall with heartfelt appeals by devotees. (President Obama himself was seen inserting his own prayer for peace in the Wall when he visited the site.) The holiday is called Tisha B’Av, which means “the ninth (day) of Av,” and involves a day long fast just like Yom Kippur, with similar restrictions: people refrain from smiles, laughter and idle conversation and sit on low stools, which are all Jewish customs for a house of mourning.
Jews also refrain from eating and drinking (even water); washing, bathing, shaving, wearing cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, and studying Torah. Sexual relations are also forbidden. Those in ill health are absolved from these restrictions.
The book of Lamentations and mourning prayers are recited. Worshipers sit on the floor. A sombre mood prevails the entire day and evening. The hymns and the liturgy sometimes sound operatic in tone depending on the customs of the local synagogue.
Napoleon is said to have been so impressed with this mourning period while traveling through a small town in Europe, that he gained a new respect for Judaism. He was incredulous that such respect for tradition could endure for 2000 years. Subsequently he dictated a number of freedoms for Jews including allowing an election of a leaders, and abolishing Jewish ghettos.
The holiday marks the culmination of a three week period of increased mourning, during which no weddings, no haircuts, no parties are allowed. Custom dictates that Jews refrain from eating meat and drinking wine except for the sabbath. No new clothes are permitted as well.
Tisha B’Av also commemorates other tragedies which coincidentally fell on the same day. The most important five events include:
- Moses sending twelve spies to survey the land of Canaan, ten of whom disparaged the land and caused Israelites to despair of entering “the Promised Land;”
- King Solomon’s Temple and the Kingdom of Judah destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar with Judaeans exiled to Babylonia;
- The destruction of Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemia with the diasapora that lasted until Israel was founded in 1948;
- The Romans crushing the Bar Kochba revolt, and the killing of 100,000 Jews in 132 A.D.
- Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowing the site of the Temple into the ground.
Other events included the First Crusade, which destroyed Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland; the English expulsion of Jews in 1290 B.C.E.; the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492 B.C.E.; the beginning of World War I which set the stage for World War 11 and the Holocaust murdering six million Jews.
All these tragedies are in the liturgy and lace rabbinical sermons during the day.
To find a synagogue in Boston go to the Jewish Boston site listed here. http://www.jewishboston.com/events?page=4
On a more contemporary note, presidential candidate Romney like Napoleon will also display respect for the holiday during his upcoming two-day trip to Israel to raise elections funds. However, the $50,000-per-person fund-raiser, scheduled for July 29, appears to have been scrapped because it is Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning and fasting. According to a tweet by Natasha Mozgovaya, a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the campaign was not holding the fund-raiser on that day and was “aware of the sensitivity of that date.”