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42. Tisha B'Av and the Three Weeks

April 2, 2015 | by

Mourning the destruction of the Holy Temple.

Historically, the "Three Weeks" between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av are days of misfortune for the Jewish people. During this time, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, amongst other tragedies.

These days are referred to as the period "within the straits" (bein hametzarim), in accordance with the verse: "All her oppressors have overtaken her within the straits"
(Lamentations 1:3).

On Shabbat during the Three Weeks, the Haftorahs are taken from chapters in Isaiah and Jeremiah dealing with the Temple's destruction and the exile of the Jewish people.

During this time, we minimize joy and celebration. And since the attribute of Divine judgment is acutely felt, we avoid potentially dangerous or risky endeavors. Also, various aspects of mourning are observed by the entire nation. Read on for details...

Seventeenth of Tammuz

The three-week period begins with the Seventeenth of Tammuz, a day on which five catastrophes occurred in Jewish history:

  1. Moses broke the tablets at Mount Sinai, in response to the sin of the Golden Calf. (1312 BCE)
  2. The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusalem, after the Kohanim could no longer obtain animals.
  3. Jerusalem's walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
  4. Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.
  5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple – a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.

The Seventeenth of Tammuz is a fast day, where no eating or drinking is permitted from dawn until dusk. (Bathing, anointing, and wearing leather shoes are all permitted.) The purpose of the fast is to awaken our sense of loss over the destroyed Temple, and the subsequent Jewish journey into exile.

The Three Weeks

During the weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av (i.e. beginning from the Seventeenth of Tammuz), we gradually increase the intensity of our mourning. During this time there are a number of laws and customs:

  • Weddings: It is Ashkenazi practice to not hold weddings during the Three Weeks.1 (Sefardim begin this restriction from the first of Av.)2 In fact, one should not convene any event with music or dancing.3
  • Haircuts and shaving are forbidden during the three weeks prior to Tisha B'Av, according to Ashkenazi custom.4 Sefardim need to only refrain from doing so from the Sunday of the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.5 If failure to shave daily may cause a financial loss (e.g. possible loss of a client, etc.), even Ashkenazim may follow the latter (more lenient) approach.6
  • She'hecheyanu: It is forbidden to say the She'hecheyanu blessing during the three weeks. Thus if one wants to wear new clothes or eat a new fruit, it should be saved for Shabbat, when the She'hecheyanu blessing is permitted.7

The Nine Days

The period commencing with Rosh Chodesh Av is called the "Nine Days." During this time, a stricter level of mourning is observed, in accordance with the Talmudic dictum: "When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy."8 Restrictions include:

  • Home improvements, construction and decorating for pleasure purposes are forbidden.9 This includes building a vacation home, patio, etc. It is permitted to build a home or an extension that is needed for dwelling purposes. It is also permitted to build a synagogue10 or a mikveh.11

  • Planting trees or flowers in a home garden is forbidden.12

  • Eating meat or foods containing any meat (including poultry), as well as drinking wine or grape juice is forbidden during this time.13 But when the meal is for a mitzvah (i.e. a Shabbat meal, a bris milah meal or a siyum), it is permitted to eat meat and drink wine.15 Meat may also be eaten by one who needs to do so for health reasons, such as pregnant or nursing women who have particular difficulty with such dietary limitations.15

  • Washing clothes: According to Ashkenazi custom, one may not clean or launder clothes from the beginning of Av. (Sefardim begin this restriction from the Sunday of the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.)16 If a child frequently soils his clothes, they may be laundered.17

  • Clean clothes: Freshly laundered clothing may not be worn from the beginning of Av. (Sefardim begin this restriction from the Sunday of the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.)18 Young children may wear freshly laundered clothing.19 In any case, freshly laundered underclothes and socks may be worn by anyone.20 Further, it is permitted to wear any freshly laundered clothing for Shabbat.21

  • New clothes: In general, it is forbidden to purchase or make new clothes.22 It is permitted to repair torn clothing.23

  • Bathing and swimming for pleasure is forbidden.24 Bathing for medical purposes or to remove perspiration is permitted, but one should minimize the comfort by limiting the length and warmth of the shower/bath to whatever is necessary.25 On Friday, it is permitted to take a warm shower in honor of Shabbat.26 (According to the Sefardic tradition, this restriction begins in the week in which Tisha B'Av falls.)27

  • Litigation: One should avoid litigation with non-Jews, since fortune is inauspicious at this time.28 Activities that have an element of danger should be avoided during this time.29 Similarly, many people curtail pleasure trips during this time.30

Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av ("the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av") is the Jewish national day of mourning, which marks a series of calamities:

  1. During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 12 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
  2. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. Some 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
  3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some 2 million Jews were killed, and another million were exiled. (70 CE)
  4. The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Beitar – the Jews' last stand against the Romans – was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
  5. The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city – renamed Aelia Capitolina – and access was forbidden to Jews.

The Temple's destruction, and the subsequent dispersion of the Jews from Israel, left a scar on the Jewish people that has not healed. Indeed, other grave misfortunes throughout Jewish history occurred on Tisha B'Av, including:

  1. The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B'Av in 1492.
  2. World War I broke out on the eve of Tisha B'Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
  3. On the eve of Tisha B'Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.

Erev Tisha B'Av

On the afternoon prior to Tisha B'Av, it is customary to eat the Seudah Hamaf'seket – a meal consisting only of bread, water and hard-boiled egg. The food is dipped in ashes, symbolic of mourning.31 The meal should preferably be eaten alone, while seated on the ground in mourner's fashion.32

Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is the Jewish national day of mourning, marking the destruction of the first and second Temples. In order to instill an appreciation of this great loss, the laws of Tisha B'Av are generally stricter:

On other rabbinic fast days, it is forbidden to eat and drink from dawn until nightfall. On Tisha B'Av, however, the fast begins from sundown, and continues for approx. 25 hours until nightfall the next day.

Tisha B'Av has a number of additional restrictions, starting from sundown:

  • Rinsing out your mouth is forbidden, except in situations of great distress.33 If done, one must be careful to spit out and not swallow any of the water/toothpaste.

  • Washing for pleasure is prohibited.34 In the morning, one may wash netilat yadayim only until the knuckles.35 Even after using the restroom, one may wash the hands only until the knuckles.36 If one's hands (or other part of the body) became dirty, one may wash the unclean portion and nothing else.37 Washing for medical purposes is always permitted.38

  • Wearing leather footwear is forbidden on Tisha B'Av.39 Even if there is a bit of leather on any part of the shoe, it may not be worn.40

  • Applying substances to the body such as soap, ointment, perfume, cologne and the like are forbidden.41 This prohibition is only in effect when done for pleasure, but is permitted for any health reason.42 It is permitted to use a deodorant whose purpose is to remove or prevent a bad odor.43

  • Marital intimacy is forbidden.44 This includes any physical form of affection on the night of Tisha B'Av.45

  • Studying Torah is forbidden on Tisha B'Av, because it naturally gladdens the soul.46 However, one may study Torah sections that relate to the theme of the day (such as the Book of Job, portions of the Book of Jeremiah, the Talmudic and midrashic accounts of the Temples' destruction, the laws of Tisha B'Av, laws of mourning, etc.)47

  • Greeting people with terms such as "good morning," etc. is forbidden,48 as is offering gifts.49

  • Sitting on an ordinary seat is forbidden until halachic midday.50 It is always permitted to sit on the floor or on a low seat that is lower than 12 inches.51 After midday, one may sit on any seat.52 Additionally, we try to limit our comforts on the Tisha B'Av. For example, it is proper to sleep with less pillows than usual.53

  • Going to work, engaging in business or other distracting labors is generally prohibited before halachic midday, unless it will result in a substantial loss.54 For special circumstances, a rabbi should be consulted.

Prayers on Tisha B'Av

At the evening service, lights in the synagogue are dimmed, candles are lit, and the curtain is removed from the ark. The cantor leads the prayers in a low, mournful voice. The Book of Lamentations (Eicha), Jeremiah's poetic lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, is read.55 Although it portrays a gloomy picture of the state of the Jewish people, it ends on an uplifting note, reminding us that when we do teshuva, God will return us to our former glory.

At Shacharit, as an expression of mourning, one does not wear tallit or tefillin. Instead these are worn later in the day at Mincha.

At the end of Shacharit, we recite Kinot. This is a book of elegies over the loss of Jerusalem and other Jewish tragedies. The heartbreaking poetry was written by various authors than span a millennium. Kinot should not be read after halachic midday.56

On Tisha B'Av, we recite the special Aneinu prayer that is said on other fasts. Tachanun and Avinu Malkeinu are omitted.

Another insertion, called Nacheim, is added by Ashkenazim to the Amidah of Mincha,57 and by Sefardim to both Shacharit and Mincha. This is a moving plea to the Almighty to console those who mourn the Temple, and to rebuild Jerusalem.

After Tisha B'Av

Since the burning of the Temple continued through the 10th of Av, the following restrictions continue until midday of the 10th: haircuts, washing clothes, bathing, eating meat and wine, and listening to music.58

Following Tisha B'Av are the "Seven Weeks of Consolation" ​(Nachamu), where special Haftorahs are read on Shabbat.

The prophets teach us that in the End of Days, all of our fasts will turn into days of celebration, as the Messiah will herald a new era for the Jewish people.59 Through the process of teshuva – self-introspection and a commitment to improve – we have the power to transform tragedy into joy.

To the extent that we appreciate the loss of the Temple, is the extent that we hasten our redemption. For as the Talmud says: "He who mourns for the destruction of Jerusalem, will merit to see its rebuilding."60

Photo credit: Temple Institute –

Review Chart: Restrictions during the Three Weeks

If some of these guidelines seem unduly strict, we may need to more properly appreciate of the loss the Holy Temple – where the presence of God was most tangibly felt, where the Jewish people were united, and where Torah ideals spread to the world. In any case, if there are special circumstances, discuss them with a rabbi, as there may be room for leniency.

Review Chart: Comparison Restrictions on the Various Fast Days

  1. Rema Orach Chaim 551:2
  2. Orach Chaim 551:2
  3. Mishnah Berurah 551:16
  4. Mishnah Berurah 551:82
  5. Orach Chaim 551:12
  6. Rabbi Shimon Eider’s “Halachos of the Three Weeks” [Feldheim], pg. 3
  7. Mishnah Berurah 551:45
  8. Ta'anit 26
  9. Orach Chaim 551:2
  10. Mishnah Berurah 551:12
  11. Kaf HaChaim 551:32
  12. Orach Chaim 551:2
  13. Mishnah Berurah 551:58
  14. Rema – Orach Chaim 551:10
  15. Mishnah Berurah 551:61; Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 551:26)
  16. Orach Chaim 551:3
  17. Orach Chaim 551:14. Opinions differ until what age this leniency applies: Some are strict only to wash the clothing of children who wear diapers (Levush 551:14, Aruch HaShulchan 551:15, and Chayei Adam 133), while others extend this to children of any age who constantly soil their clothing with dirt and mud (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, cited in Halachos of the Three Weeks by Rabbi Shimon Eider).
  18. Orach Chaim 551:3
  19. Orach Chaim 551:14
  20. Eider, pg. 9
  21. Mishnah Berurah 551:6
  22. Orach Chaim 551:7
  23. Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 3:79)
  24. Orach Chaim 551:16
  25. Mishnah Berurah 551:88; Aruch HaShulchan 551:37
  26. Rav Moshe Feinstein , as quoted by Eider, pg. 13
  27. Yalkut Yosef (#18)
  28. Talmud – Ta'anit 29b; Orach Chaim 551:1.
  29. Orach Chaim 551:18.
  30. Orach Chaim 553:2.
  31. Orach Chaim 552:6
  32. Orach Chaim 552:7
  33. Mishnah Berurah 567:11
  34. Orach Chaim 554:1
  35. Orach Chaim 554:10
  36. Mishnah Berurah 554:20
  37. Orach Chaim 554:9
  38. Mishnah Berurah 554:26
  39. Orach Chaim 554:1
  40. Mishnah Berurah 554:31
  41. Orach Chaim 554:1
  42. Orach Chaim 554:15
  43. Biur Halacha 554:15
  44. Orach Chaim 554:1
  45. Mishnah Berurah 554:37
  46. Orach Chaim 554:1
  47. Orach Chaim 554:1-2
  48. Mishnah Berurah 554:41
  49. Orach Chaim 554:20
  50. Orach Chaim 559:3
  51. Eider, pg. 24
  52. Orach Chaim 559:3
  53. Rema – Orach Chaim 555:2
  54. Orach Chaim 554:22
  55. Orach Chaim 559:2
  56. Orach Chaim 559:3
  57. Orach Chaim 557:1
  58. Talmud – Ta'anit 29a; Orach Chaim 558:1.
  59. Zechariah 8:19
  60. Talmud – Ta’anit 30b

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