Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av is a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the two Temples in ancient times, as well as more recent tragedies befalling the Jewish people.

It is sometimes referred to as “The Ninth of Av, since it falls on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. On the secular calendar it usually coincides with late July or mid-August. This year, 2014, it falls on August 5th.

Tisha B’Av vividly recalls devastating tragedies in Jewish history, so it is known as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.

The first great tragedy occurred in 586 B.C.E. when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple built by King Solomon, the most important place in ancient Judaism.

The Temple was re-built on the site of the First Temple, and completed in 516 B.C.E. This second temple was destroyed during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

The destruction of the two Temples took place on the same day — the ninth of Av — about 656 years apart. These two events were so devastating that the ancient rabbis declared the anniversary of the Temples’ destruction a day of mourning. This is the origin of Tisha B’Av.

Other tragedies have occurred on this day.The ninth of Av is the day Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.

In 1914, Word War One was declared on the Ninth of Av. Immediately following it, a series of over 400 pogroms began in Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland at the hands of the infamous Black Hundreds imperialists, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and other anti-Semitic, xenophobic groups.

Many Jewish communities use Tisha B’av to mourn the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

On Tisha B’Av in 1941, SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”

On Tisha B’Av in 1942, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.

The Talmud says: “From the beginning of Av, we diminish happiness.” So in keeping with this sentiment, the first nine days of the month of Av become increasingly mournful, and observant Jews refrain from a number of activities. For instance, during these nine days Jews are not allowed to cut their hair or shave. This custom hearkens back to ancient times when a person showed they were in mourning by allowing their hair to grow.

They also refrain from drinking wine, eating meat or participating in pleasurable activities like going to the movies, dancing or dining out. Even washing their clothes is prohibited, because wearing clean clothes is an enjoyable experience.

The purpose of all these prohibitions is to help people feel like true mourners by the time Tisha B’Av comes around on the ninth of Av.

For Jews in Ukraine it is common during this period to visit the sites of tragic events in their community’s past that occurred on this day. This year, Lviv’s  Jewish community visited a small town located near Lviv called Bilohorshcha. It is the site of mass graves of Jews who the German Nazis tortured and killed, including prominent rabbis and Jewish community leaders.

At these services, there are lighted candles, chants and prayer requests for mercy for the innocent martyrs who were brutally killed just for being born Jewish.

While Tisha B’Av is historically a sad day, Jews are taught that Tisha b’Av will one day reverse from a day of mourning to a day of celebration.

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