Tisha B'Av Rituals & Practices

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Tisha B'Av cannot be observed on Shabbat, so if the date falls on Shabbat, the festival is postponed until Sunday. On such occasions, there are some small changes to Maariv (the evening service) on Shabbat. Also, during havdalah (the concluding ceremony of Sabbath), the blessing over the wine is postponed until after the fast on Sunday night, though the blessing over the twisted candle is still said at the close of Shabbat.

The Fast Begins

Tisha B'Av is a full fast day, so the last meal must be eaten before sunset prior to the ninth of Av. This meal marking the boundary between periods of eating and fasting is called the "seudah ha-mafseket." The meal often is comprised of round foods like eggs or lentils, which symbolize mourning in Jewish tradition because they evoke the cycle of life. Some people eat an egg or bread sprinkled with ashes, and some Jews may sit on the ground during the meal. The birkat hamazon (grace after meals) is said individually and in silence.

In addition to abstaining from food or drink during Tisha B'Av, Jewish tradition also mandates refraining from wearing leather, engaging in sexual relations, washing one's body, and using perfume or other such ointments. Visiting cemeteries on this day is encouraged, as if to heighten the sadness.

Uniquely on Tisha B'Av, Torah study, meant to be joyful, is not permitted. Some parts of the Bible or Talmud are allowed, like Job or Jeremiah, or sections of the Talmud or Midrash that discuss the destruction of Jerusalem. In the synagogue, the lights are dimmed and the ornamental parokhet (covering) is removed from the ark as a sign of mourning before the evening service. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other.

Prayers & Customs

Megillat Eicha (the Scroll of Lamentations)--which is a lament for the destruction of the First Temple--is chanted during the Maariv service, along with several kinot, elegies or dirges written at different periods of Jewish history. The kinot speak of the suffering and pain of Jewish tragedy through the ages. An extended set of kinot are traditionally recited during the morning service, and some communities repeat the chanting of Eicha in the morning as well. The traditional Torah reading is Deuteronomy 4:25-40 and the haftarah is Jeremiah 8:13-9:23, which is chanted to the same tune as Lamentations the night before.

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