Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Special Holiday Shiur
The Three Weeks and the Nine Days
A Student Summary of Rav Mordechai Friedman's Halacha
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
These two units have two different sets of laws, so we will deal with
I. The Three Weeks
During the three weeks, four types of restrictions arise: weddings,
haircuts, shehecheyanu, and striking one's children.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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."
For direct questions or comments to Rav Mordechai Friedman, the list
coordinator, please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
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