The Three Weeks

Background

Our understanding of the laws and customs of the Three Weeks begins in the Book of Eichah (Lamentations). The verse says over there:

All of her pursuers caught up to her between the walls (Eichah 1:3)

Our sages teach us that the phrase “between the walls” is meant to refer to two walls in time. The first wall is the 17th of Tammuz and the second is the 9th of Av. It is between these two walls of time that all of the pursuers of the Jewish people have caught up to us and caused us tremendous harm. In this vein the Mishnah in Taanis1)Taanis 26a-b teaches the following:

Five tragedies befell the Jewish people on the 17th of Tammuz and five on the 9th of Av.
On the 17th of Tammuz:

  1. The first tablets were broken when the Jews worshipped the golden calf,
  2. The daily offering in the temple ceased when the Romans prohibited it,
  3. The walls of First-Temple Jerusalem were breached by the Babylonians,
  4. Apostomus publicly burned the Sefer Torah, and
  5. An idol was erected in the Holy of Holies.

On the 9th of Av:

  1. It was decreed on our forefathers that they would not enter the land,
  2. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians,
  3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans,
  4. Beitar (the great Jewish city) was captured, and
  5. Jerusalem was razed.

The Midrash, on the above-mentioned verse in Eichah, teaches that throughout our history, even the days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av were days of decrees and persecution.

All of her pursuers caught up with her between the walls” – this refers to the days of tragedy from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av, that during them the demons called Ketev and Merari are found [wreaking havoc]2)Eicha Rabba 1:29

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Customs and Laws of the Three Weeks

As a result of all this, our sages instituted a system of laws reflective of what happened to our people during these days. These laws and customs are intended to reduce pleasure and joy, and to invoke a sense of mourning which intensifies as we get closer and closer to the 9th of Av. The aim is for us to take to heart the graveness of our situation in exile and to arouse us to do our best to rectify what we can in ourselves and amongst our people.

Special Communal Readings

During the shabbosos of the Three Weeks, we read special haftarah portions which contain prophecies of the tragic exile that occurred towards the end of the First Temple Period. After Tisha B’Av, we read seven haftaros of consolation which contain prophecies of the future redemption from exile along with messages of hope and our people’s salvation from suffering3)Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 428:8. This custom of inserting special haftarah readings during the three and subsequent seven weeks is accepted and practiced both by Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewry.

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Differences Between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Custom

There are a number of customs during the three weeks like like getting married, dancing, listening to music, haircuts, making the blessing of Shehechiyanu, etc. However, on a very fundamental level there is a difference of custom between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jewry. Ashkenazim refrain from all of these practices starting from the 17th of Tammuz4)Hagahos HaRema to Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 551:2. Sephardim do not refrain from any of them from the 17th of Tammuz5)Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 551:2-3, rather they begin to refrain from certain things starting at Rosh Chodesh Av and certain things only during the week in which the 9th of Av falls out. We will discuss the exact details of the Sephardi custom ahead when we talk about the customs of the Nine Days.

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When Do the Customs of the Three Weeks Actually Start for Ashkenazim?

We will now discuss a number of different customs that apply to the period of the three weeks. However, with regards to all of the matters we will discuss there is a question as to whether they begin from nightfall of the 17th of Tammuz or from the morning of the 17th of Tammuz.

Rav Moshe Feinstein says that this question is actually a disagreement amongst the Rishonim (early commentaries) and based on that he says that since all of these matters are issues of custom we can be lenient in a time of need to consider the morning of the 17th of Tammuz as the beginning of the three weeks6)Igros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. 1 Siman 168and also Even Haezer Vol. 1 Siman 166. In unique situations this would allow certain things to be done on the 17th of Tammuz at night like making a wedding, getting a haircut, etc.

However, most poskim disagree7)Chidah Shut Chaim Sha’al Vol. 1 Siman 24;  Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 10 Siman 26; Divrei Moshe Vol. 1 Siman 33; Rav Avraham M’butcatch OC 551:7 and say that these customs begin from nightfall on the 17th. In the land of Israel this is the prevailing custom.

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Making Weddings During the Three Weeks

It is forbidden for Ashkenazim to make a wedding during the three weeks8)Hagahos HaRema to Shulchan Aruch Siman 551:2. This is true even when there is no festive meal associated with the wedding9)Mishnah Brurah Siman 551:15.

Sefardim are permitted to make weddings during the three weeks up until Rosh Chodesh Av10)Shulchan Aruch 551:2. However, even amongst the various Sefardic communities some are more strict and don’t make weddings during the three weeks11)Sdei Chemed Vol. 6 Mareches Bein Hametzarim Siman 1#10; Shiarei Kenesses Hagedolah; Ben Ish Chai Parshas Devarim (Although his custom was to allow this, he mentions that it is better to be strict like the shiarei Kenesses Hagedolah).

Although it is forbidden for Ashkenazim to make a wedding during the three weeks, it is still permitted to finalize a shidduch arrangement during the entire three weeks. Similarly it is permitted to make an Eirusin or finalize a Tenaim agreement during the entire three weeks12)Mishnah Brurah 551:16 and 551:19.

From the 17th of Tammuz until Rosh Chodesh Av it is even permissible to make a festive meal at these events. However from Rosh chodesh Av until Erev Tisha B’av only light refreshments should be served13)Mishnah Brurah 551:16.

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Celebrating Other Joyous Occasions During the Three Weeks

In general it is permissible to celebrate other joyous occasions during the three weeks if they naturally fall out during that time. However, as we will see ahead there may be various leniencies and/ or stringencies that pertain to the preparations and celebrations of these occasions with regards to matters such as music, dancing, getting haircuts, and purchasing new garments.

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Dancing and Listening to Music During the Three Weeks

In general it is forbidden to dance during the three weeks14)Eliyah Rabbah 551:6; Mishnah Brurah 551:16.

As an extension of this prohibition to dance it is also forbidden to play and listen to the live playing of musical instruments. However, in a case where a person needs to dance or play a musical instrument for their livelihood they may do so in order to not incur a financial loss15)Pri Megadim Eshel Avraham 551:10. This is parallel to the concept called “davar ha’aved” by the laws of Chol Hamoed.

Contemporary poskim have agreed that even listening to the playing of musical instruments that are being broadcast over the radio or that have been recorded through various recording technologies is included in this prohibition16)Igros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. 1 Siman 166; ibid Vol. 3 Siman 87; Minchas Yitzchak Vol. 1 Siman 111; Yechaveh Da’at Vol. 3 Siman 30.

The prevailing custom is to be lenient with regards to listening to a cappella music on tape or broadcast. Nevertheless, there are opinions that forbid this practice as well and therefore it is praiseworthy to refrain unless there is a particular need17)Shevet Halevi Vol. 8 Siman 127 #2.

Just singing along with others is permitted if the purpose is simply to arouse the feeling of closeness to Hashem. However if the particular type of singing involved will bring to dancing it is prohibited18)Rav Shlomo Zalman Aeurbach quoted in the sefer Bein Pesach LaShavuos Chapter 15:5. It is interesting to note that it seems the Trumas Hadeshen had a custom not even to sing by himself during this time, but apparently his practice was not adopted by Klal Israel.

It is forbidden to have live music or play recorded music even during joyous occasions that are permissible to celebrate during the three weeks19)Magen Avraham 551:10; Eliyah Rabbah 551:6; Mishnah Brurah 551:16.

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Haircuts and Grooming During the Three Weeks

In general it is forbidden for Ashkenazim – men, women, and children – to cut their hair during the three weeks20)Hagahos HaRema 551:4. For Sefardim this prohibition of cutting hair only applies during the actual week in which Tisha B’av falls out21)Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 551:3.

This prohibition includes cutting or grooming the hair on the head, the beard, the side-locks, and all other body hair22)Ramban Sefer Toras Ha’adam (Harav Kook Edition, pg. 346); Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah Siman 390:1.  The one exception is that a man may trim the hair of his mustache even during the three weeks if it is so long that it is preventing him from eating normally23)Ramban Sefer Toras Ha’adam (ibid).

As mentioned above his prohibition applies to children. The Trumas Hadeshen24)Trumas Hadeshen Siman 142 explains that there are two reasons why this applies to children. One is the idea of chinuch. The other is the idea of “agmas nefesh” which means the feeling of anguish for the Churban. According to the second reason this prohibition applies even to young children who haven’t reached “gil chinuch” (the age of education for mitzvos)25)Chayeh Adam Klal 133:18; Mishnah Brurah 551:81; Shar Hatziyun 551:91.

Although in general this prohibition applies to women, nevertheless there are three leniencies afforded to married women with regards to this matter. The first is that they are permitted to cut the hair when it looks so unkempt under their head covering that it would bother her husband26)Pri Megadim Mishbetzos Zahav 551:13; Mishnah Brurah 551:79. The second is when it is a matter of hair being so long it is hard to keep it covered in public and poses a tznius issue27)This is obvious because it is forbidden for her to go that way and therefore to avoid transgression she certainly may cut that hair.. The third is when she needs to cut certain hair in order to prepare herself for immersion in the mikvah28)See Mishnah Brurah 551:20; This also follows from above because a woman is obligated to cut and trim any hair which could be a chatzitza. This overrides the custom to refrain..

It is nevertheless permitted to comb out and style the hair during the three weeks29)Eliyah Rabbah 551:7; Sharei Tshuvah 551:12; Mishnah Brurah 551:20; Aruch Hashulchan 551:15.

Cutting nails, cuticles, and the like is permitted during the three weeks. This permission applies up until the week in which Tisha B’Av falls out30)Mishnah Brurah 551:20 based on the Taz. Even during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls out one can cut their nails on Friday in honor of Shabbos31)Ibid., Mishnah Brurah. He is lenient here based on the fact that it is necessary, and the Magen Avraham allows cutting nails for anyone even during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls out. Similarly, a mohel, or a woman going to the mikvah may cut their nails all the way up until Tisha B’Av.

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Making the Blessing of Shehechiyanu During the Three Weeks

It is praiseworthy to avoid making the blessing of Shehechiyanu during the Three Weeks32)Shulchan Aruch 551:17. The reason behind this is because the essence of the blessing is praise and thanks to Hashem “for bringing us to this time”. This is inappropriate to say during the Three Weeks since this has historically been a time of tragedy for the Jewish people33)ibid., Magen Avraham ibid.

However, on Shabbos when it alls out during the three weeks it is permitted to make this blessing. This is based on the fact that some authorities disagree altogether with the problem of making the Shehechiyanu blessing during the Three Weeks. Therefore, even though we refrain in general from making this blessing during the three weeks, it is not necessary to refrain on Shabbos34)Mishnah Brurah 551:98.

The custom is nevertheless to make the blessing of Shehechiyanu on the performance of a mitzvah even if it falls out during this time35)Shulchan Aruch 551:17; Tshuvos HaMaharil brought here in Beis Yosef Siman 551; Siddur HaYavetz. Therefore, if a Pidyon Haben or a Bris Milah were to fall out during this time the Shehechiyanu blessing would still be made.

There are no restrictions on making the blessing of “Hatov V’hameitiv” during the three weeks. Here since the words of the blessing don’t mention praise relating to the time period it is not a problem36)Sharei Tshuvah 551:4; Siddur HaYavetz.

Based on the above principles it follows that one should refrain during the three weeks from buying the types of items that we customarily make the blessing of Shehechiyanu on (for example a new suit, a new talis, or the like). However, there would be no reason to avoid buying the types of vessels that require the blessing of Hatov V’Hameitiv since there is no problem to make that blessing during this time.

Our custom is to make the blessing of Shehechiyanu on a fruit only when we eat it not at the time of purchasing it. It would therefore be permissible to buy a fruit that requires Shehechiyanu during the Three Weeks if one plans to eat it after the three weeks37)Based on the Mishnah Brurah 551:45. Similarly, our custom is to make the blessing of Shehechiyanu on garments only once we have gotten them back from the tailor for alterations. Therefore, it would be permissible to buy a new suit during the Three Weeks (between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Chodesh Av) if you plan to have it altered and only wear it after the three weeks38)Ibid.. We will see ahead that there is a separate prohibition to buy any type of new garments between Rosh Chodesh and Tisha B’Av39)Ibid. We will learn more about this when we deal with the laws of the Nine Days..

It goes without saying that for items that don’t require any blessing (like socks, undergarments, shirts, and the like) that one may purchase them without any problem during the Three Weeks. However, we will learn ahead that even still these types of items are prohibited to purchase during the Nine Days

Doing Things that are Potentially Dangerous During the Three Weeks

  • One should avoid scheduling surgery during the Three Weeks unless the doctors feel there is a real medical reason to do it earlier.
  • One should avoid potentially dangerous places, journeys, and activities during the entire Three Weeks and even more so during the Nine Days.
  • One should avoid starting major new endeavors during the Three Weeks because the blessing from Heaven is lacking at this time.
  • One should not discipline students and children during this time.

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 Photo Credit: Patrick McKay

References   [ + ]

1. Taanis 26a-b
2. Eicha Rabba 1:29
3. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 428:8
4. Hagahos HaRema to Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 551:2
5. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 551:2-3
6. Igros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. 1 Siman 168and also Even Haezer Vol. 1 Siman 166
7. Chidah Shut Chaim Sha’al Vol. 1 Siman 24;  Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 10 Siman 26; Divrei Moshe Vol. 1 Siman 33; Rav Avraham M’butcatch OC 551:7
8. Hagahos HaRema to Shulchan Aruch Siman 551:2
9. Mishnah Brurah Siman 551:15
10. Shulchan Aruch 551:2
11. Sdei Chemed Vol. 6 Mareches Bein Hametzarim Siman 1#10; Shiarei Kenesses Hagedolah; Ben Ish Chai Parshas Devarim (Although his custom was to allow this, he mentions that it is better to be strict like the shiarei Kenesses Hagedolah)
12. Mishnah Brurah 551:16 and 551:19
13. Mishnah Brurah 551:16
14. Eliyah Rabbah 551:6; Mishnah Brurah 551:16
15. Pri Megadim Eshel Avraham 551:10
16. Igros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. 1 Siman 166; ibid Vol. 3 Siman 87; Minchas Yitzchak Vol. 1 Siman 111; Yechaveh Da’at Vol. 3 Siman 30
17. Shevet Halevi Vol. 8 Siman 127 #2
18. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aeurbach quoted in the sefer Bein Pesach LaShavuos Chapter 15:5
19. Magen Avraham 551:10; Eliyah Rabbah 551:6; Mishnah Brurah 551:16
20. Hagahos HaRema 551:4
21. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 551:3
22. Ramban Sefer Toras Ha’adam (Harav Kook Edition, pg. 346); Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah Siman 390:1
23. Ramban Sefer Toras Ha’adam (ibid)
24. Trumas Hadeshen Siman 142
25. Chayeh Adam Klal 133:18; Mishnah Brurah 551:81; Shar Hatziyun 551:91
26. Pri Megadim Mishbetzos Zahav 551:13; Mishnah Brurah 551:79
27. This is obvious because it is forbidden for her to go that way and therefore to avoid transgression she certainly may cut that hair.
28. See Mishnah Brurah 551:20; This also follows from above because a woman is obligated to cut and trim any hair which could be a chatzitza. This overrides the custom to refrain.
29. Eliyah Rabbah 551:7; Sharei Tshuvah 551:12; Mishnah Brurah 551:20; Aruch Hashulchan 551:15
30. Mishnah Brurah 551:20 based on the Taz
31. Ibid., Mishnah Brurah. He is lenient here based on the fact that it is necessary, and the Magen Avraham allows cutting nails for anyone even during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls out
32. Shulchan Aruch 551:17
33. ibid., Magen Avraham ibid
34. Mishnah Brurah 551:98
35. Shulchan Aruch 551:17; Tshuvos HaMaharil brought here in Beis Yosef Siman 551; Siddur HaYavetz
36. Sharei Tshuvah 551:4; Siddur HaYavetz
37. Based on the Mishnah Brurah 551:45
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid. We will learn more about this when we deal with the laws of the Nine Days.