The Laws of the Three Weeks
Beginning with the 17th of Tammuz and continuing through the 9th of Av is the period in the Jewish calendar known as “The Three Weeks”. These weeks correspond to the time when the walls of the city of Jerusalem were first breached until the burning and final destruction of the Temple. Accordingly, we relive this historical experience by adopting certain symbolic behavior commonplace to a state of mourning. As we approach that final destruction our symbolic mourning grows more pronounced. It is most intense on the day of Tisha B’av itself.
Jewish Law and tradition have established a pattern of behavior for this period of the year. This pattern of behavior clearly parallels behavior during the period of mourning following the loss of a family member. The motivating idea behind this is that our emotions are often controlled by the things that we do and ultimately bring about a sense of mourning and loss. The extent to which we are able to follow these patterns of behavior will determine the extent to which we will experience the destruction of our Temple.
Because of the historical implications of this time of year marriages are forbidden during the Three Week period. It seems that the prohibition stems not from the change in personal status, but rather from the celebration which is an intrinsic part of the marriage. Therefore celebratory parties would also be inappropriate during the three weeks. There are several different customs concerning listening to music during the three weeks. Although there is no prohibition to be found in the Shulchan Aruch, this is because music in general was frowned upon after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Its prohibition during the three weeks might be seen as either an intrinsic part of our mourning for the Beit HaMikdash, or as an extension of the prohibition of celebratory events. Many permit music for a functional purpose, such as exercise or staying awake while driving (a good night’s sleep is also recommended). Wearing of new garments which would require the blessing of shehecheyanu is avoided during the three weeks (buying them is permitted). This is because that blessing allowed us to reach this time, a blessing inappropriate for this time of national calamity. New fruits and the like whose eating would also require the blessing of shehecheyanu, are not eaten until Shabbat when a shehecheyanu may be recited. New clothing purchased during the week may also be worn on Shabbat. In keeping with the customs of mourning, hair cutting is avoided during the three weeks, and there are many who refrain from shaving as well.
Rosh Chodesh Av ushers in the period known as the nine days. Following the dictate of the Talmud which specifies that rejoicing is suspended when the month of Av begins, the eating of meat and drinking of wine are avoided during this time. In Jewish tradition meat and wine have always been associated with celebrations and therefore, with the exception of Shabbat or a festive meal associated with a mitzvah (Brit Milah, siyum, etc.), these foods are now avoided. Additionally the avoidance of meat and wine bring to mind the sacrifices which were ended with the destruction of the Temple. Of course, meat and wine are permitted on Shabbat. This applies even to kiddush being made when Shabbat is accepted early, and to havdala at the end of Shabbat. The custom is to either give the wine from havdala to a child who is not yet old enough to appreciate mourning, but old enough to require a bracha on the wine, or to use grape juice. The Shulchan Aruch records that bathing is prohibited during the nine days. Since this refers to a time when bathing was done at a bath house and took on certain elements of a social event, modern authorities permit washing for purposes of cleanliness. Showers during this time period should be shorter and cooler than usual. There are many people who avoid the pleasure of swimming during these nine days unless it is done for medical reasons or in order to remove perspiration or dirt. Freshly laundered garments should not be worn during the nine days. In keeping with the theme of increased mourning, the Shulchan Aruch prohibits building and and planting for pleasure. This is understood today to refer to decorating (painting, wallpapering, etc.) and landscaping. Necessary house repairs and lawn maintenance are permitted.