The Three Weeks – Bein HaMetzarim (July 11 – August 1)
The three weeks between the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz and the Fast of the ninth of Av divide into three distinct parts: The three weeks give way to the nine days from Rosh Chodesh Av until the Ninth, and then those days give way to the Ninth itself. There are different degrees of mourning which apply to each part. (For Sephardim, the restrictions don’t begin until Rosh Chodesh Av.)
R’ Yosef Baer Soloveitchik, Ztz’l, use to say that these three levels could be understood like the three levels of personal mourning for a parent–the three weeks are like the year of mourning, the nine days are like the 30 days immediately after the death, and the Ninth itself is like the week of Shiva. This is a helpful way of thinking about the Halachot associated with this time, which can be divided up into three parts, each with a different degree of severity.
The Three Weeks
- For Ashkenazim, already from the 17th of Tamuz, certain kinds of happy occasions are avoided.
Weddings are not performed although people can announce their engagements. Playing and listening to live music is also prohibited, although professional musicians can play for non-Jews, and amateurs can practice, until Rosh Chodesh Av.
- Haircuts and shaving are also prohibited during this time, although anyone who shaves daily for work-related reasons is allowed to shave during this period.
The Nine Days (from Rosh Chodesh Av until the Fast)
- The Talmud says that Simcha should be curtailed during the first part of the month of Av. Any construction not connected to an actual dwelling-place should be suspended, i.e. a vacation home or a patio; also, home decorating should be put off until after the Ninth of Av. If the construction is meant to prevent damage, it is permitted. Building connected to a Mitzva such as a Mikva or a Beit Knesset is permitted.
Also, purchases of items which bring Simcha, such as silver or gold objects, should be put off unless they won’t be available at the same price after the Ninth of Av.
Planting for pleasure–for shade or beauty or fragrance–should also be put off until after the Nine Days.
Eating meat (including chicken) and drinking wine is forbidden during the Nine Days because they bring Simcha. (One may cook in meat utensils, however.) They may be eaten on Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah like a Bris.
For Havdalla, one is permitted to drink the wine but some give it to a child who has reached the age of Chinuch but still does not know what it is to mourn for Yerushalayim.
- Cleaning and laundering clothes, bed linen, and tablecloths is forbidden during the Nine Days. If one has no clean clothes, then one can clean them until the actual week in which the Ninth of Av occurs. During that week, there is no alternative. One may wash clothes for a child.
Wearing freshly laundered outer clothes (as opposed to clothes like undershirts which are only meant for absorbing perspiration) or using freshly cleaned linen is also forbidden. One can wear clean clothes for even a small amount of time before the Nine Days begin in order to avoid this issue. These restrictions do not apply on Shabbat.
- During the Nine Days, showers are permitted only to remove dirt or perspiration. (This does not apply to women preparing to go to the Mikva.) Swimming, except for medical reasons, is therefore also forbidden. On Erev Shabbat, the custom is still to bathe as one would on every Erev Shabbat.
- Because we refrain from saying a Shehecheyanu on new fruit or new clothes during this time, it is customary not to buy or wear a new garment or eat a new fruit from Rosh Chodesh Av. This Halacha is not aimed at mourning so much as it is aimed at this time of year, which was full of calamitous events for the Jewish people. It is not a time which we want to mark with a Shehecheyanu. Also, because of the nature of this period, it is recommended that parents and teachers should refrain from hitting children during this time.
The Ninth of Av
- On the afternoon before the Fast, the last meal is called the Seuda HaMafseket
(the meal of ceasing to eat) and is intended to inaugurate the mourning of the next day. The meal should have just one dish unlike meals of honor or pleasure. The custom is to eat only bread, hard-boiled eggs and water and it should not be eaten as a social meal between lots of friends. One is allowed to eat after this meal, unless one had in mind that this should be the last meal before the Fast.
During the Fast, many Poskim consider smoking off limits unless one is absolutely compelled to smoke. In the latter case, it is allowed only after noontime on the Ninth and only in private.
- Several customs associated with Shiva are in force during the Ninth. Leather shoes are prohibited unless one must wear them because one would otherwise suffer ridicule. Cohabitation between husband and wife is forbidden. Also, washing of any kind is forbidden except for one’s fingers after one comes out of the bathroom.
Learning Torah brings one to Simcha, and therefore one can only learn subjects on the Ninth which are connected to mourning such as Eicha, Job, or the stories about the destruction of the Temple.
Greetings are forbidden, although one can answer if greeted. Also, at least until noontime, one should sit on at least a low chair or on a pillow on the ground.
Even after the Fast on the ninth, restrictions associated with the Nine Days continue until noon on the tenth (August 2).
These are the Mitzvot Bein Adam L’Makom (between man and HaShem) which are unique to this time of year. This is also a very important time to be careful about LashonHaRah. The Spies whose Lashon HaRah about the Land of Israel sealed the fate of the Jews in the Desert performed their mission during this time of year and returned on the Ninth of Av. Also, the Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred, making this a perfect time for causeless love between Jews.