Tisha B’Av marks the culmination of a three-week mourning period that begins on the fast of the 17th day of Tamuz—when Jerusalem’s walls were breached by Rome—and intensifies during the final nine days. During the three weeks, marriages are not held and observant Jews refrain from listening to music, dancing, pleasure trips, hair cutting, shaving and wearing new clothing.
During the nine days, bathing—except for Shabbat—swimming, clothes washing and buying new clothing are forbidden. It also is advised to avoid situations that might pose physical danger.
It’s generally forbidden to eat meat and drink wine during the nine days, except on Shabbat or if there is a circumcision, for example. To observe the solemn nature of Tisha B’Av, Jews are forbidden to eat, drink, bathe, apply ointments, wear leather shoes and engage in sexual relations.
If Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, the observance is postponed until Saturday night. Just before Tisha B’Av begins, a se’udah hamafseket, or final meal, is eaten. It is customary to conclude the meal with a hard-boiled egg—a mourner’s food—or bread dipped in ashes while sitting on the floor or low stool.
The study of Torah also is forbidden—because it brings joy—unless it pertains to mourning, the destruction of the Temples or arouses sorrow.
On the night of Tisha B’Av, people sit on the floor at the synagogue, where lights are dimmed. The Book of Lamentations, which deals with the destruction of the First Temple, is recited in a mournful chant.
Some kinot, or liturgies of prayer and mourning, are read after Lamentations, and on the following day until chazot, or midday, which is 1:14 p.m. this year.
Congregants do not don a tallit or tefillin until minchah, or afternoon services. Additional ways of fulfilling zechar lechurban, or remembrances of the destruction, have been incorporated into contemporary Jewish life. They include the breaking of a wine glass by the bridegroom under the chuppah, or marriage canopy; leaving a square measurement of about 20 inches unpainted near the inside entrance of one’s home; and not wearing all pieces of jewelry at one time. In Jerusalem, it is forbidden to have a live band (is this accurate??)—except for a drummer or vocalist—at weddings.