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Jewish Holidays: Shiva Asar B'Tamuz & Tisha B'av

Dates: July 20, 2000; August 10, 2000

It’s 95 degrees outside, but your Jewish friends won’t head to the pool with you. You’ve got extra tickets to the concert of the century, but they turn you down. What’s up?

Shiva Asar B’Tamuz, the 17th of Tamuz, kicks off a three-week period of mourning, otherwise known as Judaism’s bummer in the summer. Music, shaving, haircuts, and weddings are out. Worst of all, there’s two fast days in the span of three weeks. Everyone hates fasting. Perhaps that’s why the rabbis used it to commemorate bad days in Jewish history, to get people’s attention for a little introspection.

On Shiva Asar B’Tamuz in 586 B.C.E., Babylonian forces, which had sieged Jerusalem, broke through the city walls. On Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, they destroyed the first Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple).

The 17th of Tamuz has a bad history. In the 16th century the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned on this day, and in 1944 the Kovno ghetto was destroyed, to name two examples.

Within the Three Weeks lies the Nine Days, which begins on Rosh Chodesh Av, the first of Av. Additional mourning customs are observed during the Nine Days: no meat or wine is consumed, no laundry is done, and only instructional swimming is permitted. Wine and meat are permitted on Shabbat, however, since Jewish law forbids mourning on Shabbat.

The Nine Days conclude with Tisha B’av, which commemorates many national Jewish tragedies, most prominently the destruction of the first and second Temples. Tisha B’av is observed through a 25-hour fast, during which no eating, drinking, or sexual relations is permitted. Leather shoes are not worn, either.

On Tisha B’av, Jews act like mourners, sitting in low chairs and refraining from greeting each other. The Book of Eicha (Lamentations) is read, and kinot are recited, special prayers that recall the Temple and the sins of the Jewish people.

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