Tomorrow night begins Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath immediately preceding Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Jews remember the destruction of Solomon's Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. It is also the anniversary of the destruction of Zerubbabel's/Herod's Temple by the Romans. It's also the anniversary of:
- The twelve scouts of Canaan returning from their mission with exaggerated tales of how mighty the Canaanites were. Because of the general panic of the Israelites in the desert over these false tales, God doomed the Israelites to wander in the desert for an additional 40 years, and condemned them all to death in the wilderness, allowing only those born in the desert to reach the Promised Land (except Joshua and Caleb).
- The failure of the Bar Kochba revolt, the last Jewish king to rule in Palestine.
- The razing of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the final ancient exile of the Jewish people from their homeland.
- The expulsion of Jews from England in 1290.
- The Alhambra Decree of 1492, expelling the Jews from Spain.
- The expulsion of the Jews from Vienna, 1670.
- The start of World War I, 1914.
- The mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka Extermination Camp, in 1942.
Some of the later anniversaries were not accidents. The Tsarist Russians and Nazis would often time their massacres for Jewish holidays to further demoralize the Jews, and the irony of exiling or murdering us on Tisha B'Av was not lost on many of the Jews' historical enemies.
Oddly enough, the Messiah is supposed to be born on Tisha B'Av. This strange midrash is supposed to provide encouragement, that even on the Jews' saddest day, there is a glimmer of hope.
Because Solomon's Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, this anniversary is a Masonic day of mourning as well. Every mason, and especially every Scottish Rite Prince of Jerusalem, would do well to have a moment of silence on Thursday to remember what we lost.
Orthodox Jews are prohibited from observing Holocaust Remembrance Day (post-Talmudic rabbis do not have the authority to create new days of observance, not until the Messiah gives them that permission), so they remember the Nazi Holocaust on Tisha B'Av.
This year, Tisha B'Av falls on a Wednesday night, and continues until an hour after sundown on Thursday. Traditional observance includes the harshest kind of religious fast for these 25 hours:
- No eating or drinking of any kind, save life-saving medicines.
- No washing or bathing.
- No applying of creams or oils, except if medically necessary.
- No wearing leather, especially not leather shoes.
- No sexual relations. Some refrain from physical gestures of affection of any kind, even going so far as not to greet others during this time.
Reading the Bible is forbidden (because that can be joyous), except for the books of Lamentation, Job, and parts of Jeremiah that address the destruction of the Temple. One is forbidden to sit in a chair until after noon, sitting on the floor instead. Some people sleep on the floor without a pillow the night of Tisha B'Av. Old or damaged prayer books and Torah scrolls are given a funeral and buried, the same way that old or damaged flags are burnt on Flag Day. Work is to be avoided, if possible.
There is an evening synagogue service, and the entirety of the Book of Lamentations is sung. The cantor we had last year began sobbing in the middle, and someone else had to take over. Like I said before, it's a very sad day.
Last year, Tisha B'Av fell on a Saturday night to Sunday night. I observed all of the mandatory rules, which was easier because of the weekend. This year, it falls on a work day, and I'm more conflicted. My heart wants to follow all the observances, but two things interfere. One: I have a go-live with a major medical practice at my job, and I'm a contractor, so I don't get holidays. Our client has 9 branches, all of which are going live on Thursday, and I'm the project lead. If I fast, I'm going to be a mess when I need all my mental acuity. Two: I'm moving this weekend through next week, and I don't want to fast and do heavy lifting. I'm really conflicted as to what to do. I need a good night's sleep for my go-live, so I might go to services, but not observe the fast. I feel like a bad Jew, but I'd rather not be an unemployed, homeless Jew on top of it.