Tisha B'Av Observance? Learn and Decide!

Tisha B’Av (Ninth Day of the Month of Av) – the culmination of the "three weeks" and the saddest day of the Jewish year -- commemorates numerous tragedies in Jewish history.  It occurs this year on July 25th.  However, July 25th is also Shabbat, a day on which Jewish law forbids fasting and public mourning.  Observance of Tisha B’Av is therefore pushed back a day to Sunday.   

Thus arrived in my email in-box this week the following halachic question:  

Must boys whose thirteenth birthday is this Sunday – the day on which they literally become a “Son of the Commandment(s)” – i.e. Bar Mitzvah – fast on that day?  Or, need they not fast in observance of Tisha B’Av, since it actually occurred the day before they became bound by Jewish law?  

Until I started rabbinical school, my answer to this question (not that I would have signed-up to receive such emails!) would have been “I don’t know and I don’t care” and/or “That’s yet another excellent example of the ridiculous picayune strictures that concern Orthodox Jews; I’m glad I’m not one of them.”  

But even though I still don’t consider myself an Orthodox Jew, despite my ramped-up ritual observance, my attitude toward such questions has markedly changed.  I now feel that engaging with such questions is an essential part of what makes Jews -- especially non-ritually observant Jews – Jews in more than name/biological descent.

But that’s not just my opinion.  The Reform movement’s current Statement of Principles includes the following:

We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of (mitzvot) and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community. Some of these (mitzvot), sacred obligations, have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times.   ….

The days of remembrance remind us of the tragedies and the triumphs that have shaped our people's historical experience both in ancient and modern times. 

Serious, on-going reflection upon “esoteric” questions such as that presented above is a primary way through which we can become and remain “committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of (mitzvot).” Then, having learned about and thought about these mitzvot, we can make educated and/or emotional decisions about “the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community.”  

In other words, Jews who reserve the right to observe only those rituals that they find meaningful must nevertheless study “the whole array” in order to decide which to fulfill!  It is not enough to say, or think, "we're not Orthodox; we don't do that."  Why do the Orthodox do or not do that?  Should we, or shouldn't we?  With the freedom to choose comes the responsibility to make responsible choices ... especially because, "Some of these (mitzvot), sacred obligations, have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times."  

Tisha B’Av is the principal “day[] of remembrance [that] remind[s] us of the tragedies … that have shaped our people's historical experience both in ancient and modern times.  Perhaps we will not fast the entire 25 hours, or even at all; attend synagogue; refrain from bathing; sit on or low to the floor; not wear leather; read Jeremiah, Job, the Book of Lamentations, and similar Scripture; forgo celebrations and pleasant activities, etc.  But, if we do not, these should be knowing decisions.  Knowledge is so easily gained; we can simply "Google" Tisha B'Av and read several website explanations of its history and customs.  

Even if we choose to do nothing more on Tisha B'Av than be mindful of its historical significance and of its traditions of observance, such mindfulness is very important.  It helps us to connect with the Jewish people, past, present, and, G-d willing, future.  Education and historical memory – at the minimum -- are indispensable to Jewish continuity and survival!  

Back to the question at hand: does Jewish law require this Sunday’s thirteenth-birthday boys to fast?  Rather than giving you a “yes or no” answer, I invite you to read, below, the email discussion that I received.  Then, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the conclusion, consider signing-up to receive “Daily Halacha” as an easy way to learn and, G-d willing, enhance your own fulfillment as a Jew.      

Shabbat shalom and, if you choose to fast on Sunday, may it be a meaningful one!  

The Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin Memorial Halacha Series
Authored by Rabbi Eli J. Mansour (7/22/2015)

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Description: Tisha B’Ab – If a Bar Misva Boy Turns Thirteen on Tisha B’Ab That Falls on Sunday

When the 9th of Ab falls on Shabbat, the fast of Tisha B’Ab is delayed until Sunday. We eat our normal meals on Shabbat, and the Gemara establishes that even the final meal eaten before sundown may be large and festive, “like the meal of King Shelomo in his time.” 

An interesting question arises in the case of a boy who turns thirteen on the 10th of Ab which falls on Sunday. Is he required to fast that day? On the one hand, he is a Halachic adult on the day when the fast is required – the 10th of Ab – and should thus seemingly be required to fast. On the other hand, the fast was to have been observed the previous day, on Shabbat, and it is only because we cannot fast on Shabbat that the observance is delayed until Sunday. Perhaps, then, only those who were theoretically obligated to fast on Shabbat are obligated to fast on Sunday. 

The answer to this question depends on how we perceive the observance of the fast on the 10th of Ab when the 9th falls on Shabbat. Do we view the fast on the 10th as a “makeup” for the fast which could not be observed on the 9th? Or, do we say that in such a case, the Tisha B’Ab obligation from the outset applies on the 10th of Ab, and not on the 9th. According to this perspective, we fast on the 10th not to make up the fast which we missed, but rather because in this case the Tisha B’Ab observance is scheduled for the 10th of Ab, and not the 9th. 

Some Halachic authorities suggest drawing proof from the fact that some elements of mourning are observed on Shabbat, the 9th of Ab, in such a case. The Mishna Berura (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) cites a view that although one may indulge in a large meal before the fast on Shabbat, this should not be done in a joyous, festive manner, but should rather be accompanied by a somber, solemn aura. Others maintain that if one normally conducts a joyous, festive meal with friends late Shabbat afternoon, then he should do so this Shabbat, too, as this would otherwise constitute a public display of mourning on Shabbat. This discussion presumes that some degree of mourning should be observed on this Shabbat – albeit perhaps only in private – which might suggest that even in such a case, the real day of Tisha B’Ab is on Shabbat, even if the actual fast is delayed until Sunday. Accordingly, only those who would have been obligated to fast on Shabbat are obligated to make up the missed fast on Sunday. 

Others, however, disagree. Rav Shemuel Wosner (1913-2015), in Shebet Ha’levi (4:72), takes the position that from the outset, the 10th of Ab is considered the date of the Tisha B’Ab observance when the 9th falls on Shabbat, and therefore, one who becomes a Bar Misva on the 10th of Ab in such a case is obligated to fast. 

Summary: If Tisha B’Ab falls on Shabbat and is thus observed on Sunday, even a Bar Misva boy who turns thirteen on Sunday, and would not have been obligated to fast if Tisha B’Ab had been observed the previous day, is obligated to fast. 

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Torah Learning Resources, P.O. Box 230212, Brooklyn, NY 11223

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