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The Three Weeks and the Nine Days: Yevamot 43a

One does not have to be superstitious to recognize facts. It is a historical fact that the period between the 17th of Tamuz and the 10th of Av was plagued by recurring tragedies. The door to our troubles first opened on that 17th day of Tamuz, when Moses walked in on the worshippers of the golden calf and shattered the tablets of the law. On the same date, both in the era of the First Temple and Second Temple, the daily sacrifice, known as the Tamid, which expunged the sins of the Jews and granted them divine amnesty, was brought to a halt. On the 17th of Tamuz, the walls of the Second Temple were breached by the enemy that ultimately razed the Temple to the ground on Tisha B’av. Again, on the same date, the city of Beitar was captured and Apustomus, (circa 150 BCE), one of the Syrian leaders, with whom the Hellenists collaborated in the persecution of religious Jews in Israel, publicly torched a sefer Torah. And on the 17th of Tamuz, Menasheh, king of Judah, erected an idol in the Temple. For these reasons, this period is called bein hametzarim, between the straits, based on the verse in Lamentations “All [Israel’s] persecutors overtook her between the straits.”

Thus, based on the laws of personal mourning, the Three Weeks, from the 17th of Tamuz to the 10th of Av, are observed as a period of national mourning. In the case of a personal tragedy, such as the death of a relative, the mourning commences after the death, with the observance of the most severe restrictions of the shiva, followed by the less severe restrictions of the shloshim, followed by the least severe restrictions of the 11 months. In the case of Tisha B’av, the reverse is true. The mourning commences before the event, with the observance of the least severe restrictions (akin to the 11 months) during the first period between the 17th of Tamuz and Rosh Chodesh Av. Stricter restrictions of mourning follow during the second period between Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’av. The strictest restrictions of mourning are observed on Tisha B’av itself.

Accordingly, commencing with the first period, between the 17th of Tamuz and Rosh Chodesh Av, the following are some of the activities which should be avoided: weddings, playing musical instruments for pleasure and reciting the blessing shehecheyanu, for new things, in connection with the wearing of new garments or the tasting of new fruit. Some practice the custom of refraining from shaving or cutting hair even during the first period. The following activities may be indulged in during the first period: engagements, with or without a festive meal, until Rosh Chodesh Av, a pidyon haben ceremony of redemption of a first born, even after Rosh Chodesh Av and attending a brit with a festive (milk or meat) meal up to noon on Erev Tisha B’Av. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, the first period commences on the morning of the 17th of Tamuz, rather than the night following the 16th of Tamuz..

Commencing with the second period of the Nine Days, between Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’av, the following are some of the additional activities which should be avoided: consumption of meat and poultry, drinking wine, laundering or wearing freshly laundered clothing, swimming, painting or other forms of home decorating, planting flowers and plants, as well as any risky activity (such as lawsuits, scheduled surgery and travel, to the extent it can be postponed without adverse effect). On Shabbat during the Nine Days, one may don freshly laundered clothes, eat meat and drink wine, including Havdala wine. Similarly, the usual Shabbat songs should be sung both in the synagogue and at home. The Munkatcher responsa criticize the Ashkenazi custom followed by some, of singing “Lecha Dodi” to the dirge of “Eli Zion.” A commonly employed and permissible device regarding the prohibition of wearing fresh clothes during the Nine Days, is to don them for a moment or two before the Nine Days.

Tradition has it that the Temple was destroyed due to petty hatred. Accordingly, it is particularly important during the bein hametzarim, as always, to set the record straight with kindness and consideration.

Note to the reader: The last Daf Yomi topic article entitled “Civil Divorce and Innocent Lives, the definition of Mamzer” contained the following sentence: “The Torah lists twenty-one Mamzer -producing marriages, including the union of a married woman with a married man who is not her husband.” Thank you to David Eisenman of Spingfield for correctly pointing out that it should not be inferred from this sentence that child of a union between a married woman and an unmarried man is not a Mazer. Such a child too would be a Mamzer.


Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received Semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, Zt”l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerai’m” available for purchase at www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X or by e-mailing Raphael at [email protected].

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