Hebrew ABC Customs & Traditions
How do we study Torah – on Tisha B’Av, apart from laws for mourning and matters of the destruction, this as study of the Torah is considered to be joyful and enlightening.
Dust instead of glory – in several communities it is customary to place a bowl of ash in the entrance to the synagogue, in which each person places his finger and puts a mark on his forehead to order to keep the custom of “dust instead of glory”. There are those who also spread ash on the floor of the synagogue.
Visiting the cemetery – on the morning of Tisha B’Av it is customary to visit the cemetery. According to the Talmud this custom is designed to symbolize us being as important as the dead (Bavli, Taanit, 15:71). It is customary to throw garlic on the graves in order to get rid of the demons and bad spirits.
Abstaining from leather shoes and eating meat as an expression of the torture and abstention from comfort and pleasures and as a memory of the cessation of the sacrifices in the Temple following the destruction. There are also those who customarily go totally barefoot.
Abstention from eating, drinking, washing and sexual relations which express similarity to death.
Removal of the ornamental cover – from the Holy Ark, there are those who cover the Holy Ark and the Torah scroll with a special black cover. There are those who also place it on the floor.
The Book of Lamentations – the book is a lament for the destruction of the (first) Temple and Jerusalem, attributed to Jeremiah the Prophet. It is read after the evening prayers in synagogue on the eve of Tisha B’Av. It is customary to read the book by the light of a flickering candle.
Prayer customs – it is customary to pray without shoes and in silence in the way of mourners. In the morning prayers it is customary in most of the communities to renounce the prayer shawl and phylacteries, as an expression of mourning.
Customs in Jerusalem – it is customary to carry out at the Western Wall “midnight prayers” and to lament. It is also customary to encircle during the night the walls of Jerusalem and carry out the custom of “surround Zion and encircle it” (Psalms, 48:13).
Final meal – it is customary to eat the final meal on the eve of Tisha B’Av. It is characterized by symbolic mourning foods such as lentils, hard biscuits and eggs (round dishes) and not an abundance of foods. It is customary to abstain from meat and wine. There are those who customarily dine on the floor as an additional symbol of mourning and there are those who put a piece of bread in ash.
Welcoming of the fast on Tisha B’Av – after the final meal it us customary to welcome the fast:
“I take upon myself the fast of Tisha B’Av by not eating and drinking and washing and anointing and by not wearing shoes and having sexual relations….and I take upon myself these five tortures: to mourn and lament the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the divine spirit and the exile of Israel the holy nation and the killing of the righteous during the destruction”. It is customary during this to sit on the floor, remove the shoes, and there are also those who wear torn clothing.
Welcoming the Messiah – according to tradition the Messiah was born on Tisha B’Av. In Sephardic communities it is customary in the afternoon to decorate the house and to bathe in order to welcome the Messiah who has already been born. In various communities there are additional symbolic customs relating to welcoming of the Messiah.
Thistles – in Ashkenazi communities it was customary to pick thistles and throw them during lamentations on the hair and beards of those praying.
Lamentations – it is customary to read Lamentations: Jewish liturgy of sadness from the classic liturgical period and from other periods. The lamentations are read on the eve and day of Tisah B’Av. The lamentations for Tisha B’Av were collated in the special books of lamentations: the Ashkenazi Book of Lamentations is called “Lamentations” and the Sephardic book is called “Four Fasts” or “Five Fasts”.
Sleeping on the floor – it is customary to sleep on the floor on the eve of Tisha B’Av, sometimes with a rock instead of a pillow as an expression of fasting.