The history of the Jewish month of Av and its relevance today

By Gideon

“I won’t sign any contract between July 8 and July 17,” (the first nine days of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar, which coincided with those dates on the Gregorian calendar in 2013) my wife said to me when we finally decided to buy a house and I was ready to make an offer on a home that we both liked. It was in a great location and within our price range. It had a special charm that we didn’t find in newer houses. The house was located in the older section of Boca Raton, in an area that had been developed recently and is close to shopping centers, tourism areas, and a walking distance from the beach. The house needed a lot of work, but we liked that. We’ve already envisioned what we’ll do to preserve its charm while bringing it to today’s living standards.

“Why not?” I said. “It’s in a great location, we can’t wait for three weeks, the house will be sold well before then.”

“It is not allowed and it is also a bad luck ; I won’t sign any contract during the first nine days of Av.” My wife said and that’s was the end of the discussion.

I looked at the pictures of the house one more time, saying good-bye to the dreams, and then I let it go. I knew that it was a lost battle; there was no way I could convince my wife to sign anything during this period. The next day the house was sold.

It took us more then six additional months of an exhausting search to find a house that we liked and could afford. We love the house that we finally purchased. When comparing the two houses, the wait was worth it: It is not near the beach, but it is in a great neighborhood and the view from the back yard is breathtaking – I can only attribute our luck to my wife’s persistence not to sign a contract during  the first nine days of Av… It appears that we were rewarded for observing this old Jewish tradition. 

***

The Hebrew month of Av is the fifth month of the Hebrew calendar. The name is Babylonian in origin and appeared in the Talmud around the 3rd century. This is the only month which is not named in the Bible. It is a summer month of 30 days. Av usually occurs in July–August on the Gregorian calendar. The name Av literally means “father.” It derives from the root which means “to will” or “to desire.”

The first nine days of the month of Av, known as the Nine Days, is a period of time established by Jewish rabbis to mourn the destruction of the two Jewish temples. Events that occurred over two thousand years ago and still affect my life today. The bad luck did not start with the destruction of the temples and did not end there. A long list of additional Jewish tragedies that occurred on that day in history is shown below:

Hebrew Year Common Year Event
2448 1312 BCE According to the Jewish Bible, the spies that Moses sent   to explore the promised land return from 40 days in Israel with evil reports   of the Land of Israel. Hearing the bad news, Jewish people cried in despair and gave up hope of entering the Land of Israel. G‑d was displeased by this public   demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of   Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children had that   privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years in the desert.
3340 421 BCE The destruction of First Temple by the Babylonians, under   Nebuchadnezar took place on Av 9th. About 100,000 Jews were killed   during invasion. The remaining tribes in Israelites’ southern kingdom were   exiled to Babylon and Persia.
3830 70 CE On Av 9th, 70 CE the Second Temple was   destroyed by Romans, under Titus. Over 1,000,000 Jews died as a result of   war, famine and disease. Over 1,000,000 Jews were exiled to all parts of the   Roman Empire. Over 100,000 Jews were sold as slaves by Romans. Jews killed   and tortured in gladiatorial “games” and pagan celebrations.
3892 132 CE On the same day in 132 CE, the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed.   Betar was destroyed – over 100,000 Jews were killed in the hands of the   Romans.
3893 133 CE Turnus Rufus ploughed the site of the Jewish Temple. The   Romans built a pagan city of Aelia Capitolina in Jerusalem.
4855 1095 CE The first Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II. 10,000   Jews were killed in the first month of the Crusade. The Crusades brought   death and destruction to thousands of Jews, totally obliterating many   communities in Rhineland and France.
5050 1290 CE The Expulsion of Jews from England, accompanied by pogroms   and confiscation of books and property, occurred on the 9th of Av.
5252 1492 CE The inquisition in Spain and Portugal culminated in the   expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. Families were separated,   many died by drowning. Jewish people suffered massive loss of property.
5674 1914 CE Britain and Russia declared war on Germany on 9th   of Av. The First World War begun. The First World War issues were not unresolved   at the end of the war, ultimately causing Second World War and the Holocaust.   During WWI 75% of all Jews were in the war zones. Jews were in armies of all   sides. There were 120,000 Jewish casualties in the armies. In Hungary,   Ukraine, Poland and Russia over 400 pogroms by Christians against Jews immediately   followed the First World War.
5702 1942 CE During the Holocaust in the Second World War, the deportations   of Jews from Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp begin on 9th   of Av.
5754 1994 CE The deadly bombing the building of the AMIA (the Jewish   community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina) which killed 86 people and   wounded some 300 others.

Many terrible things happened to a lot of Jewish people on other calendar days. However, the 9th of Av stands out because of the small statistical chance (0.03% or 1/365) that the destruction of the Second Jewish Temples will occur on exactly the same calendar day as the First Jewish Temple.

Is it just a coincidence that so many Jewish disasters occurred on Av 9th? Some say yes. Others say that it is part of the grand divine plan.

In any event, regardless of how long ago it happened, to my wife and to many other Jewish people, it is still a major factor in making daily decisions during the month of Av.

What’s not allowed during this period:

  • From the beginning of the month of Av one should minimize transaction. Some authorities are strict and forbid all transaction. Others only prohibit purchasing clothes from which pleasure is derived – for example, clothes for a bride and groom – and this is the accepted custom.
  • It is best to avoid general, non-essential transactions. And where there is fear of financial loss if the purchase be postponed until after the ninth of Av, it is even permissible to buy wedding clothes for brides and grooms during this period.
  • The entire month of Av is considered to be an inopportune time for Jews. The Sages advised that a Jew who is scheduled to have a court hearing—or anything of a similar nature—against a gentile during this month should try to postpone it until after Av, or at least until after the Nine Days.
  • Ashkenazi Jews refrain from scheduling any weddings throughout the three weeks between the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. Sephardic Jews do schedule weddings until the 1st of Av.
  • When the month of Av arrives, rejoicing should be minimized. One must avoid undertaking construction projects from which pleasure will be derived, or construction for the purpose of luxury. However, it is permissible for a family which lives in overcrowded conditions to expand their house.
  • One may not whitewash or paint the house from the first of Av. However, if this is necessary because, for example, the moving date is immediately after the ninth of Av, it is permissible to whitewash even after the first of Av.
  • If a Jew signs a contract with a non-Jewish contractor to build, whitewash, and paint his house in a manner forbidden after the first of Av, the homeowner should request of the non-Jew to postpone the work until after the ninth of Av. If it is possible to compensate him a bit so that he wait until after the ninth of Av.
  • Contractors carrying out construction projects for the community are permitted to build during the nine days, for this constitutes a fulfillment of the commandment to settle the land of Israel. Furthermore, not working would involve a loss of income for many workers, and the same holds true with regard to financial loss.
  • Eat meat or drink wine
  • Launder clothing
  • Swim or bathe for pleasure.
  • Remodel or expand a home
  • Plant trees to be used for shade or fragrance
  • Cut nails during the actual week of the fast of Tisha B’Av
  • It is customary to refrain from traveling (or engaging in any potentially perilous activity) during these days, unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • One may become engaged to be married during this period, but no celebration should be held until after Tisha B’Av.

 

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