Whereas “Tisha” refers to the number nine (as in “ninth” day
of the month Av in the Hebrew calendar) – the number five is
actually much more prominent in Tisha B’av observances.
One way in which the diaspora Jews have kept their faith alive
is by nurturing a vibrant oral tradition. The Mishnah, a major
Jewish codex with authority secondary only to the Torah, is a
redaction of oral tradition from 536 BC – 70 CE. The Gemara
codex then closely follows – reflecting the next three-centuries’
worth of Rabbinical discussions about the Mishnah. Together
these two codices form the Talmud (Shas) – which has become a major text of mainstream Judaism.
According to the Mishnah, Tisha B’av (the ninth of Av) centers
upon these five key events: the pessimistic reporting by ten of
the twelve spies sent by Moses to Canaan, resulting in a loss of faith by the Israelites; the destruction of King Solomon’s First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army in 586 BC; the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE; the failure of Bar Kokhba’s revolt against Rome in 135 CE; and the razing of Jerusalem during the year following the Roman siege.
Mourning these events entails five major prohibitions: no eating or drinking; no washing or bathing; no applications of creams or oils; no wearing of leather shoes; and no marital relations.
The balance that is shown by this “five for five” approach is also very much reflected in classical Tisha B’av beliefs regarding the Moshiach (Messiah). It is widely anticipated that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’av. The Temple will subsequently be rebuilt, and the five prohibitions will be transformed into joyful celebration.
These classical ideas have their modern-day counterparts. Many Jews today prefer a metaphorical explanation. They contend that with the Temple’s destruction was born the need for (and thus the hope for) a Jewish Messiah. They also more expansively focus upon tragedies other than the loss of the Temple (in fact, some refer to the Temple worship as a “sacrificial cult” and do not wish to revive it). They are quite satisfied with how synagogue-based worship has evolved, and instead lament more recent horrors such as the Holocaust.
Did you know…
In 2003 Orthodox attorney Baruch C. Cohen successfully requested that the New York State Board of Law Examiners in Albany NY change the New York State bar examination scheduling in order to accommodate those who were observing Tisha B’av. This was followed by a similar ACLU petition to the State Bar of California on behalf of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Reverend Ed Bacon of All Saints Church in Pasadena, and the ACLU itself.