LAWS OF THE "THREE WEEKS” 5777
LAWS OF THE "THREE WEEKS” 5777
Compiled by Rabbi Shimon Golan
Seventeenth of Tammuz
i. The 17th of Tammuz is one of the four fasts whose source is in the prophetic writings (Zekharia 8:19) and which were instituted in memory of the destruction of the Temple.
ii. According to the tradition of our Sages, five calamities took place on this date at various times during our history: "The (first) tablets were broken, the daily sacrifices ceased, the wall of Jerusalem was breached, and the wicked Apostemus burned the Torah and placed an idol in the Temple. "
iii. The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 18b teaches that with regard to our observance of the fast days, aside from Tish'a B'Av "when many disasters took place," we draw a distinction between three different situations: "At a time of peace – these are days of happiness and rejoicing. At a time of destruction – they are fast days. If there is neither destruction nor peace then if they wish to, they fast, and if they do not wish to, they do not.” The early commentators are divided in their definition of the terms "peace" and "destruction," but most maintain that our situation today falls under the category of "neither destruction nor peace." Therefore, in principle, "if they wish to, they fast, and if they do not wish to, they do not," but the Mishnah Berurah rules that "the whole of Israel have accepted these fasts upon themselves throughout the generations, and it is forbidden to depart from accepted custom." The Shulhan Arukh accordingly rules that "everyone is obligated to fast on these four fast days, and it is forbidden to depart from accepted custom."
iv. Since the obligation of fasting on the 17th of Tammuz arises from its voluntary acceptance by the nation, "while they willingly accepted upon themselves to fast on all of these four fast days, they did not accept the degree of severity of the public fast that is associated with Tish'a B'Av.”
v. One of the differences in this regard is the duration of the fast: while Tish'a B'Av is observed from one evening to the next night, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz starts at daybreak (04:07) and concludes at nightfall (20:07). It is permitted to eat before daybreak if one made this condition before going to sleep. According to the Rama, one need not make a condition in order to drink before daybreak.
vi. Another difference concerns the prohibitions involved on the fast day. On Tish'a B'Av five activities are prohibited: eating and drinking, bathing, anointing, wearing of leather shoes, and marital relations. On the 17th of Tammuz only eating and drinking are prohibited. However, the Mishnah Brurah (550:6) writes "One concerned for his soul will be strict in regard to all these matters [on the 17th of Tammuz] just as on Tish’a B’Av” and there are some authorities who prohibit bathing in hot water, however, the fundamental halakha permits all of this.
vii. With regard to brushing teeth and rinsing one's mouth, the Shulhan Arukh rules: "Someone who usually rinses his mouth on a public fast it is not appropiate to do so," while the Arukh Ha-Shulhan adds: "It seems to me that this refers to one who takes water deep into his mouth, lifts his face and gargles the water in his throat. But someone who takes water in his mouth and remains bent over, with the intention only of cleaning his teeth, such that there is no danger that he will swallow the water - this is permitted, except on Tish'a B'Av and Yom Kippur."
viii. A further difference between Tish'a B'Av and the other three fasts concerns the categories of those exempted from fasting. On the 17th of Tammuz someone who is ill – even if not dangerously so (such as someone who suffers intolerably from heat or has aches and pains that rack the whole body even though there is no danger to his/her life. However, someone who suffers from minor aches and pains such that his/her general ability to function is not hampered, is not exempted from the fast) – is exempted from the fast. Pregnant and nursing mothers are exempted from fasting but there is a difference between Sefaradim and Ashkenazim. According to the Shulhan Arukh (554:5) they are exempt by the fundamental halakha. According to the Rama it would seem that only women who suffer greatly are exempt. The accepted practice is for pregnant woman and for nursing mothers not to fast.
Between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Hodesh Av
i. The Mishnah in massekhet Ta'anit, teaches: "Upon entering (the month of) Av, we diminish our joy" – but there is no explicit measure of how much we are to diminish our joy. The Shulhan Arukh rules similarly. The Rama adds, "It is customary to be strict in this regard and not to marry from the 17th of Tammuz onwards until after Tish'a B'Av." This custom spread throughout Ashkenazi communities, but not among Sefardi ones.
ii. Additional signs of mourning are adopted starting from the 17th of Tammuz:
1. The Rama teaches, "It is customary to be stringent with regard to laundry only from the beginning of Rosh Hodesh, but haircuts are to be avoided even from the 17th of Tammuz." This custom, too, is prevalent only among Ashkenazi communities. Even amongst Ashkenazim there are some who are stringent about haircuts but lenient about shaving (for those who shave daily) prior to the actual week in which Tisha B’Av occurs.
2. The Shulhan Arukh teaches, "It is good to be careful and refrain from reciting the blessing "shehehiyanu" for a new seasonal fruit or a new garment throughout the "three weeks," but the blessing may be recited at a Brit Milah and Pidyon Ha-Ben in order that one not miss the opportunity for this mitzvah." This custom is observed among Sefaradim as well. Many authorities permit the recitation of "shehehiyanu" on the Shabbatot that fall between the 17th of Tammuz and Tish'a B'Av.
3. The Magen Avraham writes, "It seems to me that it is forbidden to dance from the 17th of Tammuz onwards" – from which we derive the prohibition of playing or listening to music during this period. There are Achronim who are lenient in permitting listening to background music or classical music. Rav Ovadiah Yosef says, “At a celebration of a mitzvah such as a brit or pidyon haben or a siyum for a tractate of Talmud or a bar mitzvah one may listen to Jewish songs with musical accompaniment, for as long as it is a mitzvah we can be lenient.”
iii. People frequently ask about the permissibility of going to movies or watching television. Without addressing the question of the "kashrut" of movies and television in general, it would seem that the medium of the entertainment is less important than the content. Hence it would appear permissible to watch programs about current events, nature etc. or a film with a plot; however, one should avoid programs that are clearly for entertainment, as well as musical concerts (either classical or with singers). There would also seem to be a difference between private/family viewing of television and going to the cinema, which might fall under the category of a "public gathering for enjoyment" (simchat mereim). In this regard it should be noted that this ruling reflects not only the halakha but also educational considerations: it reinforces our consciousness of the Temple's destruction – a tragedy whose commemoration is undoubtedly more important than one movie in the year!
From Rosh Hodesh Av to the Week in Which Tish'a B'Av Falls
i. As stated above, the Mishnah teaches, "Upon entering (the month of) Av, we diminish our joy," without any specification of which activities are consequently prohibited. The Shulhan Arukh lists a number of customs reflecting mourning which are observed from Rosh Hodesh:
1. Business dealings: The Mishnah Berurah quotes two different opinions in this regard: a. One should not engage in negotiations over joyous matters, but regular business may be conducted as usual; and b. All business dealings should be limited during this time. The conclusion there is that "nowadays we are lenient in this regard because everything is considered as necessary for one's livelihood."
2. Construction for joyous purposes: The Mishnah Berurah rules that "this applies to any construction activities not necessary for one's habitation... but rather for pleasure." This includes painting a private house (but not a synagogue). Building contractors and builders may continue to build houses during this period.
3. Marriages are not conducted, but one may become engaged (erusin). There are differing opinions regarding the permissibility of a festive meal to celebrate the engagement.
4. A festive meal may be held for a bar-mitzvah (if it is held on the exact birthday), and one may even eat meat and drink wine, but music may not be played. The same applies to a bat-mitzvah event celebrating the girl's reaching the age of mitzvot.
ii. According to the Mishnah, a number of prohibitions apply to the week in which Tish'a B'Av falls, but according to Ashkenazi custom these are observed starting from Rosh Hodesh:
1. Washing and ironing of garments, even if one intends to wear them only after Tish'a B'Av, and wearing of clean garments even if they were washed prior to Rosh Hodesh. Clothing of very young children, which is generally soiled and washed with great frequency, may be washed during this period. Clothing required urgently by adults may be added to the same load of washing. One should point out that most people today are in considered “istenis” (delicate) and are more particular about the cleanliness of their bodies and clothes. Similarly, due to humidity and heat people perspire more and also because laundering clothes is much easier than in previous generations, people change their clothes more frequently than in the past. As a result, certain leniencies have become popular: permission to change underwear and socks for laundered ones, and some are lenient to change shirts as well. (It is advisable to wear a number of shirts for a short while prior to Rosh Hodesh or Shabbat Hazon; it would then be permitted to wear them again during these days.
2. There are differing opinions concerning changing clothes, just prior to Shabbat Hazon (the Shabbat preceding Tish'a B'Av), with the intention of wearing them during the week. The generally accepted custom today is that only Shabbat clothes should be worn, as usual.
3. Bathing: The Shulhan Arukh describes two different customs in this regard: "There are some whose practice is not to bathe from Rosh Hodesh, while others refrain only during this week (in which Tish'a B'Av falls)." Ashkenazi custom follows the first opinion, while most Sefaradim follow the second. According to both the Mishnah Berurah and the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, this prohibition makes no distinction between washing with warm or cold water, but Rav Ovadia Yosef maintains that only warm water is prohibited, while washing with cool water is permissible. He rules that one may likewise bathe in the sea or in a swimming pool. Even according to the more stringent Ashkenazi view there is room for leniency in our times (when daily hygiene is generally considered a necessity) and in our hot summer climate, and one may therefore shower using cold or lukewarm water (but not take a bath, nor swim in the sea or a pool). On Erev Shabbat Hazon many authorities permit warm water for washing one's body and hair.
4. Immersion in a mikveh: A woman who needs to visit the mikveh during this time is permitted to perform all the usual preparations, including bathing in warm water, washing hair, cutting nails etc. Differing opinions apply if she visits the mikveh on motzei Tish'a B'Av: The Rama rules that she should preferably prepare herself on that night itself, and only if this is impossible should she bathe just prior to the fast. The Shakh maintains that all the necessary preparations should preferably be performed on Erev Tish'a B'Av. Men who regularly use the mikveh (every morning, or on Erev Shabbat, etc.) may also continue to do so.
5. Meat and wine: The Shulhan Arukh quotes three customs in this regard: "Some do not eat meat nor drink wine on this Shabbat..., some refrain from Rosh Hodesh until the fast, and some refrain from the 17th of Tammuz." The accepted custom among most Sefaradi and all Ashkenazi communities is that we refrain from eating meat and drinking wine from Rosh Hodesh Av (not including Shabbat Hazon). Customs differ with regard to eating meat on the day of Rosh Hodesh itself. This prohibition does not apply to those who are required to eat meat for medical reasons, or to participants in a festive meal (conclusion of the study of a massekhet, brit milah, bar-bat-mitzvah, pidyon ha-ben).
Drinking wine for havdalah on motzei Shabbat Hazon: There are some who are lenient and use wine for havdalah like the rest of the year. There are others who give the wine to a minor to drink. And there are those who use beer or some other drink appropriate for havdalah.
6. Sewing etc.:
a. Sewing new clothes is prohibited, including crocheting or knitting.
b. Repair of old clothes – There is room to be lenient here if the article of clothing is absolutely needed.
c. Some women follow the custom of not working with wool.
Erev Tish'a B'Av
i. According to the Mishnah, "On Erev Tish'a B'Av a person should not eat two cooked foods, nor should he eat meat or drink wine." The custom with regard to meat and wine is observed starting on Rosh Hodesh )see above). The prohibition of eating two cooked foods together applies to the final meal (se'udah mafseket) before the fast. It is acceptable to have a normal lunch (without all the halakhic restrictions noted above) and then close to sunset to have a “light” meal with the above restrictions. It is customary to eat hard-boiled eggs (or other “mourner’s foods") at this meal. We do not do zimun (before birkat hamazon) at this meal.
ii. According to the Rama we do not study Torah starting from midday on Erev Tish'a B'Av (except for those parts which may be studied on Tish'a B'Av itself), but the Mishnah Berurah quotes a number of authorities who disagree, and their opinion may be followed.
iii. One should not walk outside (or drive around unnecessarily) on Erev Tish'a B'Av, and certainly not during the fast itself.
iv. We do not recite "Tahanun" during minha.
v. All the prohibitions of Tish'a B'Av come into effect from before sunset, at 19:35.
Prohibitions on Tish'a B'Av:
i. Eating and drinking: Every healthy person is obligated to fast. According to the Shulhan Arukh a person who is ill, even if not dangerously so, is not required to fast, nor a woman who has given birth within the last 30 days. The Rama, however, is lenient only concerning a patient who is genuinely weak and a new mother who herself feels that she has to eat. Pregnant and nursing mothers should fast unless they experience genuine weakness.
ii. One may not wash oneself for pleasure, but if one's hands are dirty he may wash them.
iii. Washing of hands upon waking in the morning and after using the toilet: one should wash fingers only up to the knuckles. While the fingers are still somewhat wet one may wipe his eyes.
iv. One may not use creams or lotions for pleasure, but these are permissible for medical purposes.
v. Shoes: Shoes made of leather, or covered with leather, may not be worn.
vi. Marital relations: This prohibition includes any type of physical intimacy (as during the time when one's wife is niddah). Some authorities are lenient concerning touching etc. during the day (but not at night).
vii. Greeting: one should not greet another person.
viii. Sitting on chairs: one should not sit on a regular chair until after midday (12:44 pm).
ix. Torah study: Regular Torah study, which arouses joy, is forbidden. One may study only those sections which describe punishment and destruction.
x. Work: The Shulhan Arukh maintains that whether one may engage in regular work depends on custom. The Rama adds that one may be lenient in this regard after midday.
xi. Talit and tefillin: It is customary not to wear talit or tefillin on the morning of Tish'a B'Av, but rather in the afternoon. A talit katan (tzitzit) may be worn as usual. According to the Ari, Shacharit is prayed with tefillin, and they are removed for the recitation of the kinot. Some Sefaradim don tefillin in the morning in their homes prior to Shacharit and then take them off before going to shul to pray there without the tefillin.
xii. Prayers: There are certain changes on Tish'a B'Av, and each person should follow his custom as set down in the siddur.
xiii. Children There are certain laws that pertain to children (boys and girls)
1. Shulchan Aruch (Takana 14): Children, as adults, may not cut their hair (according to the different traditions). In the Mishna Brura (Takana yud dalet) it states that: For children it is for education.
2. Torah Learning: In the Mishna Brura (Takana samech kuf - bet) it states that one should not learn the regular learning but "it is permissible to teach him about the destruction of the temple… that breaks the child's heart")
3. Fasting: Despite the aforementioned, there are poskim who say that children should not fast and there are poskim who say that here also there is an issue of education. Most act according to the second opinion and in order to educate them have children above the age of nine fast for part of the day (this is not necessary for other fasts pertaining to the destruction of the temple).
Important note: A large part of the day is about remembering the destruction of the Temple. Therefore it is commendable to spend the day reading and discussing the importance of the day and not in activities just to pass the time. Each should act according to his understanding.
Conclusion of Prohibitions:
1. As stated above, the prohibition against sitting on a chair and performing work concludes at midday.
2. The prohibition against eating and drinking concludes at 20:04
3. Regarding the consumption of meat and wine – the Shulhan Arukh states that “it is a commendable custom to refrain from meat and wine on the night of the tenth and during the tenth day.” The Rama writes that the custom is to prohibit meat and wine until midday, and no longer, and that there are those who permit consumption that very night, immediately upon the conclusion of the fast.
4. Regarding bathing, laundry and cutting one's hair – the Mishnah Berurah writes, regarding the Rama’s statement prohibiting meat until midday on the tenth: “And this is the law, that one should not take a bath, cut one's hair or launder one's clothing until midday.” The Shulhan Arukh, however, stipulates (551:4) that “upon the conclusion of the fast one may cut one's hair and launder ones clothes immediately.” In practice, the custom of most Sefardic groups is to permit washing and cutting one's hair immediately following the conclusion of the fast (though some wait until morning), while Ashkenazim refrain from these actions until midday on the 10th of Av. This year, however, even Ashkenazim may bathe, cut their hair and launder as soon as the fast is over.
5. It is customary to recite the Kiddush Levanah on Motzaei Tish’a B’Av. Some believe it is more commendable to do this only after breaking one's fast.
An Explanation for the Schedule
1. The conclusion of the fast was calculated according to the view of Rav Tukachinsky in his book, “Bein HaShemashot.” In his view, on the 17th of Tammuz (as well as on the 10th of Tevet and on the Fast of Gedaliah) the fast concludes 17 minutes after sunset, and on Tisha B’Av, 27 minutes after sunset. Sunset is calculated according to the horizon as seen in Jerusalem.
2. This approach is not unanimous amongst halakhic authorities and therefore times will differ on other calendars. Some will calculate the end of the fast using a later time for sunset (taking into consideration the altitude of Jerusalem), while others prolong the time between sunset and the conclusion of the fast.
3. The Shulhan Arukh (562:1) rules: “Any fast that did not have the sun go down on it, i.e., it was not maintained until nightfall, is not a fast.” Rama adds: “I.e., either he should see three medium-sized stars or the moon should be shining brightly and lighting up the earth.” The Mishnah Berurah continues: “In Section 293 regarding Motzaei Shabbat, the Shulhan Arukh ruled that one should not perform any work until seeing three small-sized stars close together, and [the reason for that is] so we are strict with the [observance of] Shabbat. The same law should apply to the end of Yom Kippur. But in our topic (the fasts) medium-sized stars are enough, and even if they are spread out.” Despite this, Rav Tukachinsky reasons that on fasts that are of rabbinic origin (excluding Tisha B’Av where the rabbis were stringent and Yom Kippur which is of Biblical origin), following the time of bein hashemashot (during which time there is a doubt about whether it is day or night) we can argue that one may be lenient regarding all rabbinic matters in which there is doubt and therefore say that as soon as bein hashemashot is concluded one may eat.
4. The Shulhan Arukh (235:1) rules: “The time for reciting the Shema begins with the appearance of three small-sized stars…If one recites earlier than that one must repeat the recitation (when the proper time arrives) [but] without the blessings (preceding and following the Shema).” The explanation for this is that reciting the Shema is a biblical obligation and therefore we are strict so that we are sure that we are reciting it when it is already night. Therefore, at the end of the 17th of Tammuz, the fast, according to Rav Tukachinsky, will conclude before the time for reading the evening Shema begins. This is a further consideration in scheduling the time for Maariv (which can be prayed from Plag HaMinchah on) at the same time as the conclusion of the fast. Praying at this earlier time will obligate people to repeat the recitation of the Shema following nightfall.