Essential Laws of The Three Weeks and Tisha B’av
by Rabbi J. Maroof
שבעה עשר בתמוז - The Seventeenth of Tammuz
1. Each year we observe a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. We begin on the Seventeenth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz with a day of fasting and prayer. This year, the fast falls out on Tuesday, July 19, 2011.
2. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins at astronomical dawn and continues until nightfall. Sephardim conclude this and all other minor fasts twenty minutes after sundown, whereas Ashkenazim conclude anywhere from thirty to fifty minutes after sundown. This year, the fast will begin in Rockville on Tuesday morning at 4:46 AM and will conclude (for Sephardim) at 8:55 PM.
3. It is preferable not to launder clothing, wear freshly laundered clothing or bathe in warm water during the daytime on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. However, it is permitted to brush one’s teeth with toothpaste or use mouthwash.
4. From the Seventeenth of Tammuz through the Ninth day of the month of Av, it is customary to avoid reciting the blessing of Shehecheyanu on new fruits, clothing, etc.
5. It is the custom of Ashkenazim to avoid shaving, taking haircuts and celebrating weddings beginning with the 17th day of Tammuz. If necessary for business purposes, shaving is permitted until the first day of Av. In particularly dire circumstances, it may be permitted up through the Friday before Tisha B’av. In such cases, a competent Rabbi should be consulted.
6. It is meritorious to avoid listening to most forms of music (with the exception of classical and some religious music) throughout the year as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. However, if one is lenient in this regard most of the time, one should try to be more careful about it during this period.
תשעת הימים ושבוע שחל בו - The Nine Days
1. The first nine days of the month of Av are known as the “Nine Days”, a period of time during which our mourning for the Temple’s destruction intensifies. Beginning with the first day of Av, Sephardim join Ashkenazim in not permitting any celebrations, such as weddings or engagement parties, until the conclusion of the mourning period. Some Ashkenazim also forbid cutting fingernails and toenails during this time.
2. It is customary to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days. Sephardim do not start observing this restriction until the second day of Av (i.e., the night after Rosh Hodesh Av.) Ashkenazim abstain from meat and wine on Rosh Hodesh as well. This year, Rosh Hodesh Av falls out on Monday, August 1st.
3. Ashkenazic custom prohibits drinking wine during the Nine Days even for a mitzvah, such as reciting Havdala or Birkat Hamazon. Sephardim only apply the prohibition to drinking that is done for personal enjoyment. All agree that the restriction on meat and wine is not observed on Shabbat.
4. The Saturday night prior to Tisha B’av marks the beginning of a time period known as the “Week of Tisha B’av”. At this point, the mourning observances are further intensified and remain this way until the conclusion of the fast.
5. Throughout the Week of Tisha B’av, it is prohibited to shave or take a haircut. (As mentioned above, Ashkenazic custom is to avoid shaving, haircuts and cutting fingernails for the entire “Three Weeks” period.)
6. One may not launder clothing (even for someone else) or wear freshly laundered clothing during the Week of Tisha B’av. This restriction extends to linens, towels, etc. During this period, a non-Jew may not be asked to launder clothing on a Jew’s behalf.
7. One is not permitted to bathe with hot water (i.e., for enjoyment) during the Week of Tisha B’av. Rinsing off with cold water or to remove actual dirt is permitted.
8. One may not produce or purchase new garments during this time period, even if one does not plan on using them until after Tisha B’av.
9. The custom of Ashkenazim is to extend the “Week of Tisha B’av” and observe its restrictions - not laundering, wearing fresh clothing, bathing for pleasure, or making/buying new garments - for the entire “Nine Days” period.
ערב תשעה באב - The Eve of the Ninth of Av
1. On the eve of Tisha B’av after midday, it is preferable only to study Torah subjects that are permitted on fast itself. However, if one cannot focus his or her mind on such topics and will end up neglecting Torah study altogether, it is better to be lenient and study the topic of one’s choice.
2. After the Mincha service on the eve of the Tisha B’av, a meal known as the Seuda Hamafseket is held in preparation for the fast. This meal can consist of no more than one cooked dish (not including bread) and should not be eaten in the company of friends.
3. There are no restrictions on the consumption of raw foods like fruits and vegetables at the Seuda Hamafseket. Similarly, there is no limit on the quantity of food that can be eaten.
4. It is customary to eat a hard boiled egg dipped in ashes at the Seuda Hamafseket. However, this should only be done if hard boiled eggs are the only cooked dish being consumed at the meal. Many people have the custom of eating the Seuda Hamafseket on the ground.
5. When concluding the Seuda Hamafseket, one should have the explicit intention not to begin the fast of Tisha B’av yet. This way, if one wishes to eat or drink something more after the meal (before sundown) one may do so. If one did not have this intention in mind and would like to eat some more before sundown,
a competent Rabbi should be consulted.
6. It is important that the Seuda Hamafseket really be a person’s final meal on the day before Tisha B’av. One should not consume a large meal with a variety of foods before Mincha and then eat a ritualistic Seuda Hamafseket afterward.
תשעה באב - Tisha B’av
1. All Jews are obligated to fast on Tisha B’av, even pregnant and nursing women. A woman who has recently (within thirty days) given birth to a child is exempt from the fast. If a person becomes ill from fasting on Tisha B’av, he need not complete the fast.
2. This year, Tisha B’av will begin on Monday, August 8th at sundown and will end at nightfall on Tuesday, August 9th. As mentioned above, depending on one’s custom, one may conclude the fast anytime from 20-50 minutes after sundown on Tuesday.
3. Five pleasurable activities are prohibited on the Ninth of Av:
(1) Eating and drinking
(2) Anointing one’ body with oil or perfume
(3) Washing, including brushing teeth and using mouthwash
(4) Wearing leather shoes, and
(5) Engaging in marital relations.
4. On Tisha B’av, one may only study subjects that are directly related to the destruction of the Temple or to Divine punishment, such as the Book of Eicha, the Book of Iyov, the sections of the Prophetic books and the Talmud that deal with the destruction of the Temple, or the laws of mourning.
5. One is not permitted to inquire about the well being of others on Tisha B’av. This would include greeting friends, asking them how they are doing and otherwise engaging in “small talk” about personal concerns. Answering the phone with “hello” is not considered greeting and is permitted.
6. One is prohibited to work on the night of Tisha B’av. During the day, work is permitted after the recitation of Kinnot. According to some authorities, one must wait until midday before becoming involved in any work. In any case, working at any time on Tisha B’av is strongly discouraged and, if possible, work should be completely avoided during the fast.
7. During the recitation of Kinnot in the synagogue, it is customary to sit on the ground or on a low stool or pillow. Many people refrain from sitting on a regular chair on Tisha B’av from sundown until midday, even in their own homes.
8. Since leather shoes are not worn on Tisha B’av, the blessing of “She-asa Li Kol Tzorki” should be omitted at Shacharit.
9. One may wash one’s hands in the morning with a blessing, but the water may only be poured over the fingertips (up to the first joint of the fingers). This form of washing is also permitted - and, if one plans to pray, recite a blessing, or study Torah, it is required - after one has used the bathroom.
10. One who has actually become dirty may wash the dirt off normally.
11. The custom of the majority of Jews is not to wear a Tallit or Tefillin during Shacharit on Tisha B’av. They are worn at Mincha instead. (However, the custom of some Sephardim in Israel is to wear the Tallit and Tefillin at Shacharit as usual.)
עשרה באב - The Tenth of Av
1. It is customary to recite Birkat Ha-Levana on the night following Tisha B’av.
2. Sephardim should not consume meat or wine until the 11th day of Av (i.e., until nightfall on Wednesday, August 10th this year). Ashkenazim only observe this restriction until midday of the 10th of Av (i.e., until 1:14PM on August 10th this year).
Upon the conclusion of the fast, Sephardim are permitted to launder clothing, shave, take haircuts, and bathe (even with hot water). Ashkenazim generally refrain from these activities until midday of the tenth of Av.