The Three Weeks and the Nine Days

  • Rav Mordechai Friedman
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur


The Three Weeks and the Nine Days

A Student Summary of Rav Mordechai Friedman's Halacha Shiur

Prepared by Daniel Lubicki



There are no sources in the Gemara which address the period of mourning known as "The Three Weeks and The Nine Days," although the Gemara does say that there should be less happiness from the first of Av. Ashkenazi halachic tradition has pushed this date back to the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz, on which five things happened:

1. Moshe Rabbenu broke the Luchot.
2. The sheep supply for the sacrifices ran out as a result of the siege.
3. The outer walls of Jerusalem were breached during the Second Temple.
4. Apostramus (1) burnt a Torah scroll.
5. An idol was erected in the Beit Hamikdash.

The period from this fast to the fast on the ninth of Av can be split into two basic units: the first unit goes from the seventeenth of Tamuz until the ninth of Av and is generally referred to as "The Three Weeks," and the second goes from the first of Av to the ninth of Av, and this is generally referred to as "The Nine Days." As we have noted above, the Sephardim do it differently: the first basic unit in the Sephardi tradition begins on the first of Av and the second basic unit begins on the Sunday before the ninth of Av, both concluding on the tenth. The ninth of Av concludes the period of national mourning, because on that day both Batei Mikdash were destroyed.(2)

These two units have two different sets of laws, so we will deal with them independently.
 

I. The Three Weeks

During the three weeks, four types of restrictions arise: weddings, haircuts, shehecheyanu, and striking one's children.

1. Marriage

The basic problem with marriage is not the change of marital status itself but the celebration that generally accompanies that sort of thing. Thus, all parties are prohibited. Rav Lichtenstein, though, has told people that if their Sheva Berachot extends into "the three weeks" they can fully celebrate all the remaining berachot.

A gathering of friends in a restaurant without levity is not considered a party.

Listening to music may be considered an extension of the prohibition regarding a marriage party, because in the times of the Gemara one of the only places music was heard was at a wedding. However, it might also belong to the general category of mourning for the Beit Hamikdash, as the other place that music was heard was in the Beit Hamikdash. Both these reasons would preclude circumventing the prohibition by listening to sad music. If the prohibition is the logical way to mourn for the Beit Hamikdash, then whether the music is in a major key or minor key has nothing to do with it. Even if, as the first reason suggests, music was prohibited because it's a happy thing, trying to define something as sad music would be impossible because of the subjectivity of the issue. How are Chazal supposed to know whether a certain piece of music makes you happy or not? Do people really listen to music in order to make them sad?

Most authorities agree that, at least during "the three weeks," there is no difference between live music and recorded music.

Singing is not included in this prohibition because people sang in many places even during the times of the Gemara.

You won't actually find this prohibition in the Shulchan Aruch or any of the Rishonim, because music was generally frowned upon, in reaction to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. The poskim in our times have basically been lenient about this latter issue, although some try to retain it as much as possible.

According to Rav Lichtenstein, one may utilize music for a functional purpose, such as aerobic exercise or to keep oneself up during a long car drive. This does not seem to allow for background music while engaging in some other task.

2. Haircuts

Rav Soloveitchik zt"l maintained that Chazal structured the laws of national mourning to parallel the mourning for a parent. Accordingly, the three weeks parallel the year after a parent dies. In the year after one's parent dies, one is allowed to get a haircut when "his friend rebukes him" about his appearance. The Rav zt"l held that with regards to shaving this happens in about two days. Also taking into consideration the presentability that the honor of the Torah requires of a talmid, the Rav held that one should shave every two days during "the three weeks." After making aliyah, Rav Lichtenstein decided that it takes a little longer for someone in Israel to reach this point, so he began to shave every three days. Soon afterwards, Rav Auerbach zt"l told him that if he really felt he should, he could shave for Shabbat during Sefira, but never during "the three weeks." In a social environment where being unshaven during the three weeks is unexceptional, the heter would not apply.

3. Shehecheyanu

The Shulchan Aruch says saying shehecheyanu is prohibited. The Vilna Gaon disagrees. The Mishna Berura says you can say shehecheyanu on Shabbat.

The Magen Avraham derives from the issur of saying shehecheyanu that is is prohibited to enter into a situation in which one should be saying shehecheyanu, such as buying new clothes. In the times of the Magen Avraham, people made shehecheyanu when they bought the clothes. Nowadays, we say shehecheyanu when we put on the clothes, if they are special enough to warrant it. Rav Lichtenstein holds that nowadays, if the piece of clothing is one which shehecheyanu applies to, you can buy it on a weekday and wear it on Shabbat (saying shehecheyanu when you put it on.)

4. Striking One's Children

Since traditionally, this period(3) is viewed as "tragedy prone," the Shulchan Aruch (based on Midrash Eichah and Rishonim) warns against striking students.(4) Even if this particular practice is outdated, it gives us a sense of precaution during this historically proven, tragedy prone period.

Those are the issurim of "the three weeks."
 

II. The Nine Days

During "the nine days", four more categories of issurim come up: laundry, bathing, consuming meat or wine, and business.

1. Laundry

Two separate issurim are actually at work here. It is, firstly, prohibited to wash clothes; and, secondly, it is prohibited to wear newly washed clothes. It is also prohibited to make new clothes, but it is permitted to fix old clothes.

A) If you give your clothes to a non-Jewish laundry for a period including a day not in "the nine days," the non-Jew can, on his own prerogative, wash the clothes during the nine days.

B) It is prohibited to wear any freshly washed clothes, including underwear, even on Shabbat. It is customary to wear the clothes needed for the nine days for several minutes before Rosh Chodesh. If a person does not have any "unwashed" clothes, he may wear fresh clothes on Shabbat. This allows you, if you have no clothes for the week, to wear clothes that you haven't prepared beforehand on Shabbat. However, you should wear them for at least fifteen to thirty minutes, and only clothes you would normally wear on Shabbat.

Although underwear falls under the same prohibition, Rav Feinstein zt"l felt a person who does not have a "worn" supply may wear freshly laundered underwear.

2. Bathing

It is prohibited to take baths and showers or swim during "the nine days." However, washing your hands and feet alone, in cold water, is permitted.

In fact, washing in order to remove dirt is permitted. This creates a certain amount of room for poskim to be makil nowadays, because when people bathed, in the times of the Gemara, they really went to a bathhouse. It was like a night at the movies or a long game of bridge. Nowadays the main goal of a shower is to get clean. Thus, some poskim say that regular showers to wash off sweat are permitted as long as they're taken at uncomfortable temperatures. Rav Lichtenstein is wont to be machmir, but he would definitely agree that it is permitted for Shabbat. Just don't prolong the shower.

3. Meat and Wine

It is prohibited to eat meat and to drink wine, because, in the words of the Gemara, "there is no happiness other than with meat and wine." Furthermore the meat and wine were prime ingredients in the Temple sacrifices..

On Shabbat, both these foods are permitted. This includes the hours before and after Shabbat which one adds on through an early kiddush and a late havdalah. Can this late havdalah be done on wine? The basic answer is yes. However, the Rama says that our custom is to use a child who is not old enough to mourn but is old enough to require a beracha. Since grape juice may be used for havdala, it is preferable during this period.

A second heter is the "mitzvah meal," e.g., a brit milah or siyum. A siyum can be made upon finishing a masechet of Gemara, a seder of Mishna, or even a book of Tanach b'iyun (Rav Feinstein). You can not maneuver a siyum into "the nine days." Only friends and relatives who would normally be invited to this meal can come. This is something that a lot of people have missed somewhere along the way; some restaurants in New York, for example, have been known to advertise "Siyum Nights" throughout "the nine days." The only people you can invite are your relatives and friends. During the week (beginning on Sunday) in which Tisha b'Av falls, one may invite only relatives and up to ten friends.

The prohibition of meat and wine normally extends until noon on the tenth (nightfall for Sephardim). When the fast is postponed from Shabbat to Sunday this prohibition extends only through the night following the fast.

4. Business

It is prohibited to expand business activities during the nine days.

It is prohibited to build what the Gemara refers to as a "binyan shel simcha." It is clear from the example that the Gemara gives, a house built for a newlywed couple for them to live on their own for a while until they would go back to their in-laws, that a "binyan shel simcha" is a building that is expressly built to make people happy and as a luxury. Because of this, Rav Feinstein zt"l holds that, although according to the letter of the law, you really are allowed to wallpaper your house, you should not do so. Wallpapering is a type of luxury, even if it is not a joy. One can conclude that building for a basic housing need is permitted.

It is also prohibited to plant a "netia shel simcha" (joyful planting). In the times of the Gemara, only the very wealthy kept flowers for aesthetic purposes. Thus, basically any aesthetic planting is included in this issur.

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1. Apostramus only appears in the Mishna; some scholars connect Apostramus to a character in Josephus' historical record called Stephanus. Stephanus, so Josephus informs us, was traveling from Jerusalem to Lod and got robbed. He blamed the Jews and sent soldiers to punish the nearby settlements. One soldier got excited and burnt a Torah scroll.

2. Because the actual destruction and burning continued for at least a day, many have the minhag of keeping the restrictions of the nine days until the tenth of Av. Ashkenazim conclude the period of mourning at noon of the tenth, whereas Sephardim continue until night fall.

3. Here the Shulchan Aruch refers to the entire period of seventeenth to the tenth of Av.

4. The Taz adds: "Even with a strap."

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coordinator, please send email to [email protected] .

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