The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.
The First Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.
As part of our mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel, we abstain from many pleasurable activities on the night and day of Av 9—starting with sundown on the eve of the day before, and concluding with the following nightfall.
Specifically we don’t:
– Eat or drink. All adults – even pregnant and nursing women – fast on this day. One who is ill should consult with a rabbi. An ill person who is not fasting should refrain from eating delicacies and should eat only that which is absolutely necessary for his physical wellbeing.
– Wear leather footwear, or footwear that contains any leather (even if it is only a leather sole).
– Sit on a normal-height chair until midday. (“Halachic” midday is the halfway point between sunrise and sunset; click here for the exact time for your location.)
– Bathe or wash oneself—”even to insert a finger in cold water.”
One who becomes soiled may rinse the affected area with cold water.
It is permitted to wash up after using the restroom.
When preparing food – for children, or for the post-fast meal – one may wash the food, even if it also, incidentally, washes the hands.
When ritually washing the hands in the morning, the water should be poured on the fingers only until the knuckle joints.
– Apply ointment, lotions or creams.
It is permissible, however, to bathe a baby and apply ointments to his skin.
– Engage in any form of intimacy.
– Send gifts, or even greet another with the customary “hello” or “how are you doing?”
– Engage in outings, trips or similar pleasurable activities.
– Wear fine festive clothing.
– Study Torah, because “the commandments of G‑d are upright, causing the heart to rejoice” (Psalms 19:9). It is, however, permitted – and encouraged – to study sections of the Torah which discuss the laws of mourning, the destruction of the Temples, and the tragedies which befell the Jewish people throughout our history. This prohibition actually begins at midday of the day before Tisha b’Av.
“One who mourns Jerusalem will merit to see her happiness, as the verse (Isaiah 66:10) promises: ‘Rejoice with her greatly, all who mourn for her'”—Talmud Taanit 30b.