Tisha be-Av as a "Mo'ed"

  • Rav Moshe Pinchuk
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur

Tisha be-Av as a "Mo'ed"

By Rav Moshe Pinchuk

Translated by David Silverberg


A number of laws of Tisha be-Av are based on the fact that this day is called a "mo'ed" (festival) in Megillat Eikha.

  1. The Hagahot Maimoniyot writes (at the end of Hilkhot Ta'aniyot) that Tachanun is not recited at mincha on Erev Tisha be-Av because Tisha be-Av is called a "mo'ed."
  2. The Tur (O.C. 559) writes: "If Tisha be-Av falls on Shabbat or on Motza'ei Shabbat, we do not recite 'Tzidkatekha tzedek,' since this resembles [a situation of] Rosh Chodesh which falls on Sunday, in which case we do not recite 'Tzidkatekha tzedek' on Shabbat. For Tisha be-Av, too, is called a 'mo'ed'."
  3. The Tur also writes (ibid.): "Rav Amram wrote: Our custom is to add many Selichot in [the berakha of] 'Selach lanu' [in Shemoneh Esrei], but Tachanun is not recited because Tisha be-Av is called a 'mo'ed'."


Where do we find Tisha be-Av referred to as a "mo'ed"? The Chayei Adam writes (135:21), "We do not recite Tachanun on Tisha be-Av, since it is called a 'mo'ed,' as it says, 'He has proclaimed a set time [mo'ed] against me.'" The Chayei Adam refers here to a verse in Megilat Eikha (1:15): "The Lord in my midst has rejected all my heroes; He has proclaimed a set time against me to crush my young men. As in a press, the Lord has trodden fair maiden Judah."

According to the straightforward reading of the verse, "He has proclaimed a mo'ed against me" clearly refers to Tisha be-Av. The Gemara, however, understood the reference to "mo'ed" in this verse much differently:

"On Tisha be-Av it was decreed upon our ancestors that they would not enter the land. From where [do we know this?]… It says in a baraita: On the twenty-ninth of Sivan Moshe sent scouts, and it is written, 'They returned from scouting the land at the end of forty days' - were these really [only] forty minus one [thirty-nine days]? Abayei said: Tamuz in that year was full, [meaning, it consisted of thirty days,] as it is written, 'He proclaimed a set time against me,' and it is written, 'The whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night.' Rabba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: That night was the night of Tisha be-Av. The Almighty said to them: You wept an unnecessary weeping - I will establish [this night] for you [as a night of] weeping for generations." (Ta'anit 29a)

This sugya interprets the expression "He has proclaimed a mo'ed against me" as a reference to Rosh Chodesh Av. The Almighty saw to it that Rosh Chodesh Av would occur in such a way that the destruction would take place on the ninth of the month. Thus, "mo'ed" refers to Rosh Chodesh Av, rather than Tisha be-Av. This interpretation also emerges from the Gemara in Pesachim (77a) and Shavuot (10a):

"It comes to inform us that Rosh Chodesh is called a 'mo'ed,' like [the position of] Abayei, for Abayei said: Tammuz of that year was full, as it is written, 'He proclaimed a mo'ed against me to crush my young men.'"

In light of this, it is difficult to understand on what basis the poskim established as practical halakha the principle that Tisha be-Av has the status of "mo'ed." True, as stated, the straightforward reading of the verse indeed yields such a conclusion, but the Gemara clearly understands the verse differently.

In the Midrash, this verse is explained according to its straightforward reading:

"'He has proclaimed a mo'ed against me to crush my young men' - we find that the passing of young men equals in severity the destruction of the Temple, as it says [in the continuation of this verse], 'As in a press the Lord has trodden fair maiden Judah' - similarly, 'He has proclaimed a mo'ed against me to crush my young men.'" (Eikha Rabba 1:44)

In any event, the source for the ruling of the aforementioned poskim affording Tisha be-Av the status of a "mo'ed" remains somewhat difficult. Nevertheless, let us assess the nature and definition of this halakha, and try to determine precisely which dimension of "mo'ed" can possibly apply on the day on which our Temple was destroyed.


The Bet Yosef (O.C. 554, s.v. Rabban Gamliel omer) writes:

"There is ancient custom that women [are permitted to] wash their heads beginning from [the time of] mincha on Tisha be-Av, and the elders among the Rishonim established this practice. They made as a basis for this that which is said in the Midrash, that Mashiach was born on the day of Tisha be-Av. One must [therefore] make some commemoration of the redeemer in order to console them, so that they do not despair of redemption."

The Midrash to which the Bet Yosef refers reads as follows:

"'There is none to comfort her of all her friends' (Eikha 1:2) - They said: On the day when the enemies entered the city and destroyed the Temple, there was a Jew outside Jerusalem who plowed with his plowshare. He saw that the cow with which he plowed threw itself to the ground and did not want to plow, but consistently refused.

The man saw it and was befuddled. He would beat the cow so that it would plow, but it did not want to. It would rather throw itself onto the ground consistently, and he would beat it continuously, until he heard a voice declaring, 'What are you doing to the cow? Let it be, for it cries for the destruction of the house and for the Temple that was burned today.'

The man heard and immediately rent his garments, pulled out his hair and cried, and he placed ashes on his head and wept. He said, 'Woe unto me! Woe unto me!'

Two or three hours later, the cow stood up on its legs and danced and rejoiced. The man was very bewildered. He heard a voice saying: 'Load [the cow] and plow, for at this moment Mashiach was born.'

The man heard, washed his face, arose, and rejoiced. He went to his home and took long silk straps for small children to hold them in their beds, and took them to Jerusalem.

When he came to the city, he took them and placed them on his arms and he called out in the city street, 'Who wishes to purchase a cow for his son or for his daughter?'

Shechinat, the mother of Mashiach, heard and said to him, 'Go to such-and-such house, for a child was born there.'

He went and came into the house and said to them, 'Buy for your son a strap.'

She said to him, 'I will not purchase for him, because he was born on the day on which the Temple was destroyed. Cursed is the day on which he was born!'

The man immediately went to the child, kissed him on the head and gave him a strap…

He returned home, and every year he would come to Jerusalem to see him. The child's name is Menachem ben Amiel.

One year he came to Jerusalem and entered the house. The child's mother immediately raised her voice and said, 'Ein la Menachem [She has no 'menachem,' no comforter], for he is hidden!' This is what is written, 'Ein la menachem mi-kol ohaveha." (Midrash Zuta, Eikha [Buber] - Nusach 2, 1)

It emerges from this Midrash that two events occurred on Tisha be-Av: the destruction of the Temple, and the birth of Mashiach. Coincidentally, two very different incidents came together on the ninth of Av - the destruction, for which we mourn, and, secondly, the birth of Mashiach, an event that alleviates the mourning at least to some degree.

In this manner we can perhaps understand the "mo'ed" dimension of Tisha be-Av. Though it is a day of mourning for the Temple's destruction, it is also a day of joy, as the birth of Mashiach also occurred on this day. According to this approach, no inherent connection exists between the mourning and the joy.


In the poskim, however, we find a different explanation. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (552:14) writes:

"We do not recite Tachanun at mincha on Erev Tisha be-Av because it is called a 'mo'ed'… This applies on Tisha be-Av itself, as well. The concept [behind this halakha] is [that it serves] as a sign that we are promised by God that these days will yet turn into celebration, joy and festivals."

The promise of which the Arukh Ha-shulchan speaks appears explicitly in the prophecy of Zekharya (8:19):

"Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity."

In the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 552:9), the Rema rules, "People have the custom to eat slightly more than usual during the first meal [just before the final meal eaten before the onset of the fast] in order that the fast does not harm them." The Magen Avraham (11) cites another reason for eating more than usual: "Since during the time of the Second Temple Tisha be-Av was a festival and people would conduct large meals, now, too, they did not depart from [this practice,] in order to commemorate the fact that it will, speedily and in our days, turn into joy and celebration."

According to the Magen Avraham's explanation, a dimension of "mo'ed" was added to Tisha be-Av to provide consolation and hope for those who mourn Zion and Jerusalem.


I would like to develop this approach further and establish a fundamental connection between the mourning of Tisha be-Av and its "mo'ed" quality.

The Gemara towards the end of Masekhet Makkot (24a-24b) records the following incident:

"It happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were walking along the road and heard the sound of the Roman masses from Pelitus, one hundred and twenty miles away. They began crying, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

They said to him, 'Why do you laugh?' He said to them, 'And you, why do you cry?'

They said to him, 'These heathens, who bow to images and bring offerings to idolatry, dwell in security and tranquility, whereas we - the house [that is] the footstool of our God has been burned by fire. Shall we not cry?'

He said to them, 'Therefore I laugh. If this is how it is for those who violate His will, then all the more so for those who perform His will!'

In yet another instance, they were ascending to Jerusalem. When they reached Mount Scopus, they rent their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox leaving the [site of] the kodesh ha-kodashim [the innermost sanctum of the Temple]. They began crying, but Rabbi Akiva laughed.

They said to him, 'Why do you laugh?' He said to them, 'Why do you cry?'

They said to him, 'The site about which it is written: "The foreigner who approaches shall be put to death" - now foxes walk there, and we shall not cry?'

He said to them, 'Therefore I laugh. For it is written, "I called upon reliable witnesses - Uriya the Kohen, and Zekharya ben Yeverekheyahu" (Yeshayahu 8:2). What does Uriya have to do with Zekharya - Uriya [lived] during the First Temple [period], whereas Zekharya [lived] during the Second Temple! Rather, the verse hinges the prophecy of Zekharya on the prophecy of Uriya. In [a prophecy of] Uriya it is written, "Therefore, because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field," and in [a prophecy of] Zekharya it is written, "There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem." So long as Uriya's prophecy was unfulfilled, I feared lest Zekharya's prophecy will not be fulfilled. Now that Uriya's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zekharya's prophecy will be fulfilled.'

They said to him: 'Akiva, you have consoled us; Akiva, you have consoled us.'"

Rabbi Akiva draws a connection between the destruction and the redemption. The destruction itself serves as the testimony and guarantor to the redemption that will arrive, speedily and in our days: "So long as Uriya's prophecy was unfulfilled, I feared lest Zekharya's prophecy will not be fulfilled. Now that Uriya's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zekharya's prophecy will be fulfilled." Similarly, once the Temple was destroyed, we can rest assured that it will be rebuilt; it is the destruction that testifies to the future redemption!

Let us now return to the Midrash's account of Mashiach's birth on Tisha be-Av. Mashiach's birth is not a separate event that by chance happened to take place on Tisha be-Av. The destruction itself constitutes the birth of Mashiach: "It is a time of trouble for Yaakov, and FROM IT he shall be delivered" (Yirmiyahu 30:7).

Perhaps this is the reason behind the seemingly peculiar custom to sing the final Kinna, "Eli Tziyon ve-areha." At first glance, this is self-contradictory: how can one sing a poem of lamentation?

Perhaps the singing of "Eli Tziyon" expresses the dual nature of the Kinnot. Although, indeed, the content and essence of the Kinnot relate to our mourning for the Temple, the mourning and destruction serve as our guarantee of our future redemption. This guarantee, which is latent within the Kinnot, allows us to sing this Kinna. After an entire morning of describing and crying over the dreadful destruction, the promise of redemption shines forth. As a result of this promise, we are indeed capable of singing the final Kinna.

I recall once in a synagogue in Petach-Tikva, that on the Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha be-Av the chazan began singing "Lekha Dodi" to the tune of "Eli Tziyon." There were some among the congregation who objected, feeling that the selection of this tune expressed mourning, an inappropriate emotion to introduce into the Shabbat service. But based on what we have seen, it turns out that the chazan acted correctly. The content of Kinnot is certainly about mourning and destruction, but the melody itself relates to joy and "mo'ed," the promise of redemption, which is undoubtedly an appropriate theme for Shabbat!

(This article appeared in Daf Kesher #451, Av 5754.)


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