Av is the fifth month of biblical calendar year. The name "Av" is the Babylonian name of the month. In the Bible, it is simply referred to as "the fifth month" as in Numbers 33:38, "And Aaron the priest went up Mount Hor at the command of the LORD and died there...on the first day of the fifth month."
Aaron the high priest died on the 1st of Av. The Torah says that after that, "all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days" (Numbers 20:29). Unfortunately, this was a foreboding sign of things to come. Since those days, the month of Av has been a month of tragedy and affliction for the Jewish people.
As mentioned in a previous article, the 17th of Tammuz begins the Three Weeks. It is a mourning period that originated in the days of the post-exilic prophets. When the month of Av begins, the traditional mourning customs are intensified as Jews draw closer to Tzom Tisha B'Av, the Fast of the 9th of Av. Why? Aaron the high priest died on the 1st of Av; both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on Tisha b'Av. Aside from Yom Kippur, these Nine Days are perhaps the most somber and heartrending days of the Jewish calendar.
Tisha b'Av is the only one of the traditional fast days that is a sundown to sundown fast from food and liquid. The sorrow of Tisha B'Av is so great that men do not even don Tefillin during the morning Shacharit prayers.1 Special services are also held on Tisha b'Av as well. During these services, congregants sit on the floor and read the book of Lamentations (Eichah). Jeremiah the prophet wrote this solemn book after the destruction of the First Temple, making it a fitting choice for Tisha b'Av.
This day holds intense significance for the Jewish people, but what about Christians, the followers of Messiah? Should believers mourn as well? Yes, we more than anyone else.
The afflictions of Tisha b'Av were not just limited to the days of the Bible. Tisha b'Av has continued to be an ominous day for the Jewish people throughout their history. Sadly, many of these tragedies have been at the hands of "Christian" rulers, popes, and angry mobs.2 Whether by crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, or blood libels, so-called followers of Yeshua have tortured, burned, and murdered Jews. In so doing, these "Christians" have maligned the name of the Master and blasphemed His character.
But though some of these tragedies may seem like ancient history, "Christian" persecution is still fresh in the collective mind of the Jewish people. Given that fact, perhaps Tisha b'Av should become a Christian tradition as well. We must continue to rid our congregations of the sin of anti-Semitism in whatever form it takes, whether in thought, speech, or theology.
Once again, tzom kal - May you have an easy fast.
1. On Tisha b'Av, Tefillin are donned at Minchah instead. 2. The word "Christian" is in quotes because true followers of the Messiah would never engage in such persecution. These persecutors were "Christian" in name only.