Living according to the Jewish calendar aligns one with the meaningful rhythms of loss and renewal. On the 17th of Tammuz we begin a three week period mourning with a minor fast day (from sunrise to nightfall) that culminates with Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the day we mark the destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE, along with many other tragedies that have befallen our people throughout history. Since the 17th of Tammuz falls on Saturday this year, we observe the fast on Sunday. On Tisha B’Av the fast begins in the evening and lasts until the next night.
There are many mourning rituals during this three week period whose severity increases as we approach Tisha B’Av. We refrain from listening to live music, from getting haircuts, and shaving. During the first nine days of Av, we also refrain from eating meat or drinking wine, yet Shabbat meals override this restriction.
Each Shabbat morning during the three weeks, we read a special haftarah whose intent is to jar us out of complacency to take actions that will reverse or at least mitigate our harsh experience of history and reshape the world according to our highest values.
On Tisha B’Av itself, we begin the night chanting the book of Eicha, Lamentations, while sitting on the floor of the synagogue in the dark by the light of a candle. We either chant the prayers in a dirge-like melody or we simply say them. We don’t put on Tallit or Tefillin in the morning. We don’t study Torah or do other pleasurable activities.
At the afternoon service, the tone shifts towards healing and rebuilding. We put on Tallit and Tefillin and read sections from the Torah and prophets about comfort and forgiveness.
This begins the seven-week period, shiva, of healing, culminating with the renewal of Rosh Hashanah.
On each Shabbat, we read a haftarah of comfort. The first Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu and the haftarah beautifully opens with Nachamu Nachamu Ami, Be comforted, be comforted, my people.
From the outside, all of these rituals may look antiquated and extreme. For the one who lives in-sync with the Jewish calendar, these rituals guide one on a journey of transformation and renewal. The rabbis teach, “All who mourn for Jerusalem will merit seeing her joy, as it is said, ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all who love her; all who mourned her will rejoice with her (Isaiah 66:10).’”
Tosefta Sotah 15:10-15
Another word about fasting. Here is one of my favorite teachings-
As Rav Ḥana bar Bizna said that Rabbi Shimon Ḥasida said:
What is the meaning of that which is written: “Thus said the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness,and cheerful seasons, to the house of Judah”(Zechariah 8:19).
It calls them days of “fast” and it calls them “times of joy and gladness.” How so? When there is peace in the world, they will be times of joy and gladness, on which eulogies and fasting are forbidden; but when there is no peace, they are days of fasting.
Rav Pappa said that this is what it is saying: When there is peace in the world and the Temple is standing, these days will be times of joy and gladness; when there is persecution and troubles for the Jewish people, they are days of fasting; and when there is no persecution but still no peace, the halakha is as follows: If people wish, they fast, and if they wish, they do not fast.
Rosh Hashana 18b