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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha b'Av FAQ

5771 Edition - NOW UPDATED August 8, 2011!!! If you want to see anything added to this FAQ, just leave a question in the comments section and I'll happily add it if it's at all relevant!

Fun, fun, fun trying to explain this fast day to Ted's family...
Everybody always asks the same questions:

0) Why are you fasting?

Actually, this is the UNSPOKEN first question. Hardly anybody asks this! Maybe people just assume that Jews are always fasting for something or other and it's better not to get us started. If you want a lucid explanation, try Judaism 101 here. If you want my explanation, read on!
Tisha b'Av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. We are fasting for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and yes, it was a long time ago. The idea as I understand it is that if we're on the right wavelength, it should still be relevant. Imagine the spiritual high of living so close to God - his (or her, because it's actually a feminine word) shechinah "dwelling in our midst." We still have the potential for closeness, but it's not so easy these days, and at this time of year, we're supposed to feel SOMETHING when we think of the rift caused by the loss of this spiritual Memphis.
What do I mean by Memphis? I've heard that, for efficiency, Fedex routes all packages through Memphis, so, too, at the time of the Bais HaMikdash (oops, Temple!), all of our prayers were efficiently routed through Jerusalem. Now, they're scattered, and it's harder to get a message through. We have to try harder to reach the same spiritual high. Also, Graceland is there. ;-)

1) How long is the fast?
25 hours; sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday. It's actually a bit longer, because you have stop eating, brush teeth, etc a bit before the time to make sure you don't go over.

2) But you're allowed to have a snack?
No; no snacks. Um... if you were eating, you wouldn't be fasting.

3) But you're allowed to drink water? Juice?
Nope and nope; no water, no juice. See above. Fasting is fasting; no loopholes for water or slurpies or freezer pops.

4) What about the kids?
Kids don't fast, period. Though, as they get older and stronger they might be encouraged to fast part of the day. At this point, both littles are too little to even really be away, beyond "Mommy & Abba are having a taanis (fast) so you have to be extra-helpful." (that line works a little, but not much, by the way...)

5) What if someone has to eat for medical reasons?
So eat! Consult a rabbi, but in general, you eat whatever you need to keep you healthy. If you have to take pills or something, discuss it ahead of time with your doctor and rabbi. There are ways to do it so you're still considered to be fasting.

6) What about you? Aren't you still nursing?
Yup. I don't do minor fast days, but still observe the two major ones (Tisha b'Av and Yom Kippur) for the full 25 hours. It's tough, but - for me - doable. Not everybody can, but I know I can get through it, with difficulty.
If you are nursing or pregnant, it's considered better to spend the day fasting and lying down with air conditioning than, for example, exert yourself going to shul and then need to eat or drink. Shul is optional, even on Yom Kippur, or at least, more optional than fasting.
A lot of women feel it would ruin the day for them if they just had to stay home, but consider also that pregnancy/nursing is (for most women) only a few years out of your life, so you'll be able to go again another year.
And then there are the really fun questions nobody asks!!!

7) What about brushing your teeth?
Nope! Verboten, along with showers and even most face and hand washing (except to clean off dirt). Don't get too close. Smile, but don't laugh in someone's face. Try not to yawn. In shul, give people their personal space; today, they need it.

8) So what do you do?
At night on Tisha b'Av, I usually stay home with the kids in bed, sit on the floor, and "lain-along" with this reading of megillas eicha. That takes about an hour, and then I tidy up & go to bed.
During the day, try not to think about food!
So far today, I took the littles to circle time, and since then, while they napped, I have been puttering in the garden.
There are a few video presentations at shul, and I'll probably go to a something there in about half an hour, when I'm finished nummying the baby.

9) What are the minor fasts?
This is from memory, since I haven't done these since I got pregnant with Naomi Rivka!
Tzom Gedalya - the day after Rosh Hashana
Asara b'Teves - a week after Chanukah
Taanis Esther - the day before Purim
Shiva Asar b'Tammuz - three weeks before Tisha b'Av
There's also one the day before Pesach, but it's only for firstborn men, and even they have a special way around it; I don't think anybody really fasts that day, if they can help it...
And, finally....

10) Which major fast is easier, Tisha b'Av or Yom Kippur?
Wow! What a great question!
On the surface, Tisha b'Av is easier because there are distractions (like the computer). You're allowed to go to work, if you must, and drive, shop for food, cook, and generally go about your normal life, if you have to.
On the other hand, Yom Kippur is more spiritually uplifting. It's not a SAD fast day at all - done right, it's a very joyous occasion (how happy would you be if you knew you'd finish the day with a totally clean slate, all sins forgiven?). But if you don't go to shul or immerse yourself in davening, and/or if you have young children at home who still need to eat, it can be a very long, boring, lonely day. I have always forced myself to go for part of the morning service and to go back for neilah, the final service of Yom Kippur. At our shul, there's lots of dancing; it's tremendously uplifting. You almost - ALMOST - don't want the day to end.
Except for being so darned hungry...
Speaking of which: only six hours to go until I can eat!!!

Addendum: Questions you have "asked" through "Rav Google"! Too late for this year, but nobody need wonder ever again. Keep in mind that I am not a rabbi, just a mama in MamaLand, who has lived this terrible day for many, many years as a baalas teshuvah.

The essential point to understand, with many of the questions that follow, is that Tisha b'Av is not like Yom Tov or Shabbat. It's not that you are FORBIDDEN to work - it's that you are REQUIRED to mourn. So you can switch on lights, turn on the stove and all that... but you have to be careful that you're not just trying to distract yourself from the mournful purpose of the day.

#1, can a little girl take a shower on tisha bav

I'd say probably YES, if she is dirty all over. Depends how little, but kids get really dirty in the summer and sometimes, there's no other option. As in the entire Nine Days, I wouldn't have a "pleasure bath" for kids, but a functional, cleanliness shower, I'd say no problem.

#2, are u allowed to drive on tisha bav
aka can you drive on Tisha B'Av
aka are we allowed to drive a car on tisha b'av?
(for some reason, in 2011 this is everybody's favourite question!)

Yup! In fact, sometimes, it makes life easier, like if shul is too far away to comfortably walk while fasting. If the weather is hot, I love tootling around with the air conditioner blasting in my face. Air conditioning feels almost like a drink of cool water on a fast day. Plus, you get to sit in that nice comfy chair. Seriously, I wouldn't drive for pleasure or miscellaneous errands in the morning (essential trips only), but in the afternoon, after midday, I might.

#3, can you brush your teeth on tsha baav or brushing teeth on tisha b'av

Nope. Just get stinky like everybody else. I always try to avoid other people and wonder when people want to talk to me real close-up, on either Tisha b'Av or Yom Kippur. Fasting breath is awful breath.
I like this one: can a doctor brush his teeth on tisha baav. To the best of my knowledge, doctors are the same as regular people. It's probably best not to put yourself in a work situation where you have intimate, close contact with clients on that day. Maybe make it a paperwork day, if possible? If you must breathe in people's faces, consult your rav about masking the stench!

#4, When is it allowed to cook on tisha b'av

Any time, for example, for kids or for an older person who needs to eat. For adults and others who are fasting, I personally try to keep the main cooking for late in the day, right before the meal. That's not halacha, that's just my preference. Others might prefer to do it in the morning, however, when they're feeling stronger. Ask a rav for advice if you're not sure.

#5, pills tisha baav and nursing women tsha bav

Ask your doctor! Ask your rabbi! If you need pills, you need them, but there are workarounds and ways you can still fast even with a bit of water and a pill.
If you have just given birth, there are probably leniencies, but most people I know don't hold by these leniencies beyond the first few days. I was nine months pregnant on Yom Kippur three years ago and still fasted. I have been nursing for the last five and a half years, non-stop, and have fasted every Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av during that time. Fasting during pregnancy and nursing will not harm you or your baby. HOWEVER, if your baby is still very tiny and not taking other food or drink, fasting may mess with your milk supply. Ask your doctor! Ask your rabbi!

#6, On Tisha B'av can you shop for food

Yup, but see the "car" entry above. Shopping can be quite pleasurable, and I wouldn't do it in the morning of Tisha b'Av unless it was absolutely necessary.

#7, are computers allowed on tisha b'av

Yup, kind of. In my opinion, they are a bit like a DVD player in that they can stream entertainment and be very diverting and fun. I avoid them in the morning, though this year, I did check my email to see about a plan a friend was trying to make for that day. In that way, email is a bit like the telephone. But I didn't sit down or open other programs. In the afternoon, this year, I was more lenient and did - gasp! - play a few games of Spider Solitaire to pass the time. Others would not, and I would probably have more respect for me if I hadn't either.

NEW for 2011!
#8, Nineveh


Why is everybody looking this one up???  I'm not sure what the connection is... if you know, tell me!


#9, menus for erev tisha bav and post-fast tisha b'av menus

This is a good question:  What SHOULD you eat before the fast?  Unfortunately, it's too late to answer for this year.  And anyway, everybody has their own ideas of what's best:  carbs, sweets, lots to drink.  Whatever you have, you'll be miserable by the afternoon, and I've known people who've made themselves sick and miserable just an hour after the fast starts by over-stuffing themselves.  Moderation, everybody!  As for afterwards, we have a lasagna in the freezer.  I like ending with pasta, and dream about it all day, but by the time the fast goes out, most people just want to have a quick bite, a lot to drink, and go to bed.


Anyway - sunset is almost upon us.  Keep those questions coming, and I'll see you back here next year!!!

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