In this article we will first discuss the fast of the Ninth of Av as well as this sad month in general, in the light of the general structure of months in our calendar. After this will briefly talk about the book of Eicha[1].


The Ninth of Av is certainly the saddest day of our calendar. It would take too long to describe all the sad events that happened to us on this day. Some of them include the decree that the generation that came out of Egypt should not enter the Holy Land and remain in the desert for 40 years, the destructions of both Temples in Jerusalem, the end of Bar Kochba’s revolt and the exile of Spanish Jewry. We will only concentrate on one more recent event that happened on the Ninth of Av: the beginning of World War 1. This terrible bloody war caused tremendous upheavals in the established Jewish communities. Many Jews were uprooted from their homes and became refuges, many were taken as soldiers to the army to never return ...


One of the sad results of World War 1 was the tremendous decline of traditional observance in the Jewish communities. Shabbos violations became very common around most of Europe and the Rabbinical authority began to rapidly decline. Until then, most Jews in Central and Eastern Europe were very religious, scrupulously observing the commandments of the Torah. Only the Jews of Western European countries had left their religion some time before (as the Enlightenment and the Reform movements succeeded to swing most of the population to their side). However, after World War 1, even the Jews of such countries as Poland and Lithuania started to decline in their observance following their "Western brothers".


One of the most drastic immediate results of World War 1 was the weakened army of the Russian Czar that made it possible for the Bolshevik (Communist) revolution to take place. The communists not only succeeded in overthrowing the royal authority, but also annexed Ukraine after a few years of terrible war that brought with it untold suffering to our people.


The Ukrainians who had hated the Jews for centuries, got another chance to destroy there arch enemy - the Zhid. They were especially encouraged to kill their Jews since they considered every Jew - a hated Communist. Pogroms all over Ukraine were raging non-stop. It is estimated that a few hundred thousand Ukrainian Jews were killed in just a few years.


After the Russian armies won the war, the pogroms were stopped, but the spiritual level of our already weakened people went into further decline. Within years, most Russian and Ukrainian Jews would sign up as atheists.


Meanwhile, as a result of the weakened economy of European nations, a mass immigration to "Golden countries" like America, Canada and South Africa started. At that time, these countries had no Yeshivas, almost no Rabbis and very few Jews who would be willing to stay committed to Torah, despite the difficulties.


Many of the factories worked 6 days a week including Saturday, and working in those factories while observing the Shabbos was out of the question. Those few families that wanted to stay observant, despite the odds, faced another challenge: education of their children. A child coming out of public school rarely saw any reason to keep the mitzvos of the Torah. To him, these commandments were just an extra burden that prevented him from integrating into the society.


Meanwhile, two movements were spreading among the Jews in Eastern and Central Europe. The first was Socialism together with Communism, which promised equality for the "working class" and for all nationalities. The second – was nationalism (secular Zionism), which called for resettling all Jews in one country, so that their fate will no longer depend on the good will of other nations. The common denominator of these two movements was their fierce hatred towards a traditional Jew.


As these two groups were winning the hearts of the youngsters of our nation, the few loyal (traditional) Jews found themselves in a very uncomfortable position – that of an oppressed minority. It is hard for us to imagine the feelings of a young Yeshiva student in Europe in that generation. Even presently religious (Orthodox) Jews are not always the most well liked group, but we don't feel much hatred directed towards us either. In that generation, however, religious Jews were simply despised. It was not uncommon for Communist or Zionist Jewish youngsters to simply beat up a Yeshiva student.


Our people now saw for themselves the fulfillment of the terrible curses predicted for the generation of "Chevley Moshiach" – birth pangs before Messiah. The Talmud (Tractates Sotah page 49 and Sanhedrin page 97) vividly describes some of the characteristics of the Jews in that generation – audacity, disrespect for the old, despise for observance and for those who fear Heaven, the face of the generation being like that of a dog, nobody to rebuke the evildoers ... Together with the terrible decline of our people, the decrees against us began. Prohibitions against ritual slaughter, obligation to keep stores open on Saturday – these are just some of the laws issued in various European countries. As usual, the punishment was "Mida Keneged Mida" – measure for measure. The violations of Kashrus and Shabbos caused that the observance of these commandments to become harder and harder.


Meanwhile, Germany was very unhappy with the results of its defeat during World War 1. It lost its power and prestige, and it was experiencing major economic problems. Fifteen years after the end of the war, a uniquely wicked individual rose to power; we all know his name – Hitler (may his name be erased). According to Hitler, Jews were responsible for the German defeat in WW1 (as well as for all other world tragedies). Soon after Hitler came to power he started building up an army ready to compensate for Germany's last shameful defeat.


In the meantime, many laws against the Jewish people were passed. Here also the principle of measure for measure was operating. Jews could no longer intermarry with gentiles; they could not go to gentile places of entertainment (theaters and like). Later Jews were forced to wear their own distinct clothing – a yellow star. They had to add Jewish names – every Jewish man was Israel – every Jewish woman – Sarah.


While the German Jews were experiencing this unusual treatment – some hoping that it will soon pass and life will return to normal while others were trying to find ways to leave Germany, the sages of Torah in the Eastern European countries were trying desperately to return the Jewish people back to observance. Like Mordechai in his generation, when the threat of annihilation hung over the heads of our people, they were calling on the masses to do Teshuva. Reading their great works now (such as writing of the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Elchanan Wasserman, the Maggid of Kelm, Rav Simcha of Dvinsk and many others) we can see how these great sages clearly foresaw the terrible tragedies that would befall our nation if we didn’t repent. Unfortunately, their voices were not heeded. Germany made a pact with Russia to split Poland between them. Within a short time, over 3 million Polish Jews found themselves under two enemy regimes – the Nazis and the Communists. This punishment was also measure for measure, after all, most of Polish Jews were either Communists or nationalists (Zionists) and they were now split between the Nazis (who were nationalists) and the Russian Communists.


Everybody knows what happened next. Germany was systematically destroying the Jewish population of one country after another. After the war was over, European Jewry was almost totally annihilated. Moreover, most of the countries where some religious Jews were still living were turning Communist with threatening speed.


This was probably the lowest point in our history – the number of religious Jews throughout the world was probably smaller than ever before, and many of them lost large parts of their families. They remained scattered, poor, with hardly any hope or even reason to continue living. And it is then that the Teshuva movement of return started, as the Torah predicted would happen after all the suffering. The numbers of people returning to the observance of the commandments increased manifold within the last two generations and it continues increasing.


"And it shall come to pass when all these things happen to you – the blessing and the curse that I had placed before you, and you shall contemplate among the nations where you were scattered by G-d your Lord. And you shall return to G-d your Lord and you shall hearken to His voice, like all that I command this day – you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 30: 1-2)



In this short essay we will first describe the general order of months in our calendar and talk about the two saddest months in particular. Then we will describe how this relates to the book of Eicha we are about to read.


Now we will discuss the order of our months in general and the reasons why the saddest months were chosen to be Tamuz and Av. It is known[2] that the six summer months and the six winter month are projections of one another. Both six month periods correspond to the Sefiros from Chesed till Yesod[3].


Summer months

 Winter months


Translation of Sefirah








Strength, Judgment



















We thus find the Exodus from Egypt during the month of kindness (Nisan); in Iyar our nation was tested by a war with Amalek (Gevurah); during Sivan – Torah was given (Tiferes). Tamuz and Av was the time when the spies were inspecting the land of Israel. These two months are given over to the dominion of Eisav and the unclean forces of Sitra Achra (the “other” side) and the greatest catastrophes befell our nation at these times[4]. At last, Elul (Yesod) is the time to do Teshuvah (its’ astrological sign is a virgin).


Similarly, during winter months, Tishrey is a happy holiday month (Kindness). Even though the judgment days are in the beginning of this month, our judgment is a happy one[5]. Yom Kippur and Sukkos are the holidays when the Kindness of the Creator is revealed to its’ outmost[6]. Cheshvan (Gevurah – Judgment) a sad month when the Great Flood started and when Yeroboam made the Golden Calves. Kislev is a happy month when the miracle of Hanukkah happened.  The next two months (Teves and Shevat) are sad[7], just as the corresponding summer months. The tenth of Teves is a fast day commemorating the events preceding the destruction of the First Temple. Shevat turns into a happy month after the fifteenth (the New Year of trees), just as the 15th of Av is a happy day and so is the remainder of the month. At last, Adar, when the miracle of Purim happened, corresponds to Yesod, just as the soul of Mordechai[8].



Bnei Issachar (Tamuz-Av) in the name of Sefer Yetzirah explains that the two saddest months in our calendar: Tamuz and Av correspond to the letters “ח” and “ט” making together the word “sin”. Our sages say[9] that the poison of a snake is between its’ teeth. The word snake “נחש” has letters “שן” – tooth and a letter “ח” between them. Similarly, the word “שטן Satan has the letters “שן” and a letter “ט” in between. In general, “ח” and “ט” represent two types of sins – open assault and secret enmity where the attacking is done with hypocrisy, through gossiping and ruining someone’s reputation[10].


We will now briefly discuss the book of Eicha. Four of the five chapters of the book of Eicha are structured in alphabetical order with one exclusion: the letter  “ע “ – “Ayin” follows the letter  “פ” – “Pey” instead of preceding it. Our sages[11] explain the reason for this. The word “Ayin” also means an eye. The word “Pey” also means the mouth. The spies who were sent to inspect the Holy Land brought a false report, they said with their mouths what they did not see with their eyes.


In the fifth chapter we read: “Our forefathers sinned (chatu) and they are gone, while we bear their iniquity”. The wordchatuimplies an inadvertent sin. The reason for his is that Hashem usually exacts only minor punishments for small sins from a wicked person. The punishment for the major iniquities however is left for the future generations[12]. Since usually this person comes back to this world through his own children, he ends up bearing his own iniquity in a future gilgul.


In the end of Eicha we read: “Return us Hashem and we will return, renew please our days as before”. It is known that 248 positive commandments correspond to the organs in our bodies, while the 365 negative commandments correspond to the days of the solar year.The GR”A explains that when we do not keep a positive mitzvah, we cause damage to our physical and spiritual structure. On the other hand, when breaking the negative commands we destroy the corresponding day. Now we ask that Hashem should rectify our damaged organs and return us back the “days” we spoiled!


May we be worthy to fully return to Hashem and see the redemption, so that we may never have to read the book of Eicha while sitting on the ground, and all tears will be wiped of from everybody’s faces!


Laws of Tisha Beav.


1. Because of the sadness of these days, our nation accepted on itself certain restrictions in the three weeks prior to the Ninth of Av. As the sad day approaches, the prohibitions become more and more severe. We don’t listen to music starting on the fast day of the 17th of Tamuz[13]. Ashkenazim have a custom not to marry throughout the 3 weeks but some Sephardim allow marrying until the end of Tamuz. In general, any happy celebrations should be avoided from the first of Av till after the fast.


2. The Ashkenazi custom is not to do laundry after first of Av, but Sephardim are only forbidden starting Sunday of the week of the Ninth of Av. Starting this time, wearing freshly laundered clothes is also forbidden – one should wear each cloth for some time before Av.


3. Most Sephardim don't eat meat and don't drink wine starting the 2nd of Av. Ashkenazim keep this prohibition starting the 1st of Av – a day earlier. Weak people, who need to eat meat for health reasons should ask a Rabbi, if meat can not be avoided, it is better to eat chicken than beef. On Shabbos, eating meat and drinking wine is permitted.


4. Sephardim don't take haircuts on the week of the Ninth of Av until after the fast day. Ashkenazim are not allowed to cut hair for the entire 3 weeks. Cutting nails on the week of the Ninth of Av until after the fast should also be avoided.


5. The evening before the Ninth of Av, we eat the last meal before the fast – Seudas Mafsekes. We are not allowed to eat more than one type of cooked food during this meal. It is proper to conduct this meal while sitting on the floor.


6. During the Ninth of Av, besides eating and drinking, the following is forbidden:


- Learning Torah except sad topics that have to do with mourning or the Ninth of Av itself.

- Washing, but one is allowed to wash the fingers after sleep or the bathroom.

- Smearing oils, creams or soaps into the skin.

- Wearing leather shoes.

- Marital relations


7. We don't greet people on the Ninth of Av. During the evening, the prayers are recited while sitting on the floor with lights dimmed. We continue to sit on the floor in the morning till the afternoon. In most places, Tefillin and Talis Gadol is not put on until Mincha time.


8. Regular work should be avoided during the Ninth of Av. If one needs to do some urgent work, a Rabbi should be asked.


9. Some laws of mourning apply to the next day – the Tenth of Av as well. In general, we start feeling the real happiness only by the fifteenth of Av, which used to be a small holiday in Talmudic times. In the future, the Ninth of Av and all other sad days will be turned into holidays.



[1] The book is read on the night of Tisha Beav and it discusses the suffering of our people during the period of First Temple’s destruction. This book was written by Yirmiyahu before the actual destruction and it consists of five chapters corresponding to the 5 books of Moshe, see our words in parshas Behaaloscha.


[2] Arizal, Shaar Hakavonos, Rosh Hashanah, Nahar Shalom 39b.


[3] For more information about Sefiros, see our words to parshas Devarim.


[4] See Zohar 2:78b, Ben Ish Chai, introduction to the laws of Tisha Beav. In our commentary to parshas Devarim we describe that during the centuries corresponding to Netzach and Hod, the worst punishments befell our nation. These punishments are predicted in the Torah’s chapters Ki Savo and Nitzavim, also corresponding to these two Sefiros. We also mention there that only the first half of Hod is sad, just as the corresponding Parsha in the Torah and so too are the events happening in the world during the first half of this century.


[5] See Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah, 7b.


[6] See our words to parshas Emor.


[7] See Zohar 2:12a.


[8]  See Arizal, Shaar Hakavonos, Purim.

[9] Talmud, Sanhedrin 78.


[10] Similarly the spies are considered to have spoken Loshon Hara about the Land of Israel (Talmud, Arachim, 15a, see below).


[11] Talmud, Sanhedrin 104b, Rashi on Eicha 2:16.


[12] Arizal, Shaar Hapesukim, Iov, 9.


[13] Listening to modern songs on the radio that contain indecent language is forbidden throughout the year as well. Listening to Jewish music and to classical music may be permitted by some Rabbis, but during these weeks the custom is to forbid it.