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Why Fast on Tisha B’Av?

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Why Fast on Tisha B’Av?

We know that the most stringent fasts are Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur. However, Yom Kippur is mentioned in the Torah in contrast to Tisha B’Av.[1] Maybe we should observe Tisha B’Av with Ahavas Chinam. Why do we fast?

Tisha B'Av and the 3 Weeks - Destruction and Renewal -

We are taught the 365 sinews on one’s body correspond to the 365 negative commandments and to the 365 days of the year.[2] The Zohar tells us the Gid Hanashe[3] corresponds to Tisha B’Av.[4] The Zohar also informs us that the fight of Yaakov and the Malach of Esav occurred on Tisha B’Av.[5] The Arizal therefore remarks that eating on Tisha B’Av is akin to eating from the Gid Hanashe as it was in this area that Yaakov was hit.[6]


The pasuk there states על כן לא יאכלו בני ישראל את גיד הנשה…, the Jewish people are not to eat the Gid Hanashe to this day.[7] This alludes to fasting on Tisha B’Av. Moreover, את is an acronym for תשעה אב. The four fasts we observe because of the Churban — the 10th of Teves, Tzom Gedalya, the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B’Av — are alluded to in the word גידג has a gematria of 3, alluding to Tzom Gedalya, the third day of Tishrei.[8] Also, ג is the first letter of גדליה. The י alludes to the 10th of Teves because it has a gematria of 10. Adding up the letters of the word גיד, we get to a sum of 17, referring to the 17th of Tamuz. The Gid Hanashe itself refers to Tisha B’Av.[9]


The first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sins בין אדם למקום, the three cardinal sins. The second was destroyed because of בין אדם לחבירו — Sinas Chinam.[10] This is alluded to in כי שרית עם אלה-ים ועם אנשים ותוכל, you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.[11] The words עם אלה-ים refers to בין אדם למקום while ועם אנשים is a reference to בין אדם לחבירו. When we succeed in these areas, then the third Beis Hamikdash will come![12]

[1] See Tur, Orach Chaim, 554.

[2] See Makkos 23b.

[3] The Shu”t Tamim Da’im (144. This story is also quoted in Teshuvos Rashi and the Ohr Zarua ad loc.) cites a story that took place at the wedding of Rashi’s daughter. After preparing the wedding meal with a tzvi v’ayul, deer and hart (see Devarim 12:22), they asked Rashi if the prohibition of the fat of the Gid Hanashe applies also to a chaya (undomesticated animal) like a deer and hart. Rashi answered that it is also forbidden to eat the Gid Hanashe and its fat by a chaya, just like by a be’haima (domesticated animal).

[4] Zohar, 1:170b.

[5] The Malach of Esav made his mark on Yaakov, in the Gid Hanashe. This is symbolic that the trait of Yaakov, Torah, would be diminished on one day of the year, Tisha B’Av —this is the day we are limited on what we are allowed to learn (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 554).

[6] It says ותקע כף ירך יעקב, Yaakov’s hip socket was dislocated (Breishis 32:26). This alludes to the idea that evil will dominate on Tisha B’Av, as the ירך refers to the future generations of Yaakov, his descendants. Examples include: Both Batei Mikdash were destroyed on this day. In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, the deadline for the Jews to leave the country or face death was on Tisha B’Av.

[7] Breishis 32:33.

[8] The Beis Yosef writes in the name of R’ Yeruchem (Hilchos Tisha B’Av, end of 549) that Gedalya Ben Achikam was killed on Rosh Hashana and the fast is pushed off until the third of Tishrei, a weekday. The Kaf Hachaim (549:5, see there) and the Rambam say however that he was killed on the third of Tishrei.

[9] The pasuk tells us Yaakov wrestled with the Malach of Esav — ויאבק (Breishis 32:25). Why doesn’t it use the more common term of וילחם? Chazal (Kalla Rabasi 8) say the first destruction of Yerushalayim was because of Avoda Zara while the second was because of Sinas Chinam. The Shela points out it says the term אבק in regard to Avoda Zara (as in כיון דאביקו ביה). Another place it says אבק is concerning Lashon Hara as in אבק לשון הרע (Baba Basra 165a, See Hakdama to Shemiras Halashon that the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash was because of Lashon Hara). The Batei Mikdash were destroyed on the day of ויאבק.

[10] Yoma 9b.

[11] Breishis 32:29.

[12] See Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzva 3.

Writer of the weekly Fascinating Insights Torah sheet in Englishעברית ,אידיש and français
Author of Six Books including the recently released “Dazzling Money Insights: Illuminating Torah Essays about Money”

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