Laws of the 9 Days and Tisha B'av

Also includes discussion of the "Three Weeks."

By Rabbi Noah Gradofsky

5769/2009 Dates and Times:
17th of Tamuz Fast: Thursday, July 8.  Fast begins 3:46 AM, ends 9:09PM. (Start of the "Three weeks")
Rosh Chodesh Av: Tuesday, July 21st (evening) - Wednesday, July 22nd.  (Start of the "Nine Days")
Tisha b'Av: Wednesday, July 29th - Thursday July 30th.  Fast begins Wednesday 8:12 PM, ends Thursday  8:57 PM.

Laws of the 9 days: Tisha B'av (the 9th of Av) commemorates the destruction of both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The Mishnah (Ta'anit 26b) says "When Av comes in, we reduce our happiness," but does not prescribe any particular prohibitions (besides some advice to avoid legal proceedings, Ta'anit 29b). Babylonian Talmud Yevamoth 43b indicates that during Av we reduce business pursuits, engagements, building, and planting. 

The Mishnah (Ta'anit 26b) indicates that laundering clothing and hair cuts (probably including shaving - Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 551:12) are forbidden for the week in which Tisha B'av falls (e.g. if Tisha B'av is on Wednesday, these restrictions would apply from the preceding Saturday night through Tisha B'av). The Mishnah also indicates that laundered clothing should not be worn during this week week.  The Talmud (Ta'anit 29b-30a) discusses, but rejects, some opinions that would extend these prohibitions to the beginning of the month of Av.  Thus, the Talmud only forbids  laundering clothing/wearing laundered clothing and haircuts/shaving, and only applies these restrictions from the Saturday night before Tisha B'av through Tisha B'av. This is the extent of the law. 

The Shulchan Aruch (551:9) notes a practice of some not to eat meat or drink wine during the week in which Tisha B'av falls, or for all of the 9 days (Sefardi practice is generally for the week, Ashkenazi for the 9 days). This restriction is kept through the day of the 10th of Av (according to Rabbi Isserless in the Shulchan Aruch the restriction ends at midday of the 10th, 1:01 PM on July 31st in Long beach this year). Eating meat or drinking wine on the Sabbath is not restricted. Note that the Mishnah (Ta'anit 26b) says one may not eat meat or drink wine at the meal before the fast, indicating that eating meat during the 9 days was permissible (note that based on this, the practice of making havdallah over wine during the 9 days seems proper). 

The Shulchan Aruch (551:16) also indicates a practice of not bathing either during the week in which Tisha B'av falls, or for all of the 9 days (general Ashkenazi practice is 9 days). This practice is generally understood as restricting only bathing in hot water for purposes of pleasure, but allowing bathing in cold/warm water for cleanliness purposes. Finally, Shulchan Aruch mentions trying to avoid having to say shehecheyanu for the 3 weeks.

Ashkenazi minhag (see Rabbi Isserless's glosses in Shulchan Aruch) adds certain restrictions: 

  1. Weddings during the 3 weeks between the fast of the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha B'av, (more modern practices have begun to spring up to avoid other celebratory activities during these three weeks) (551:2); 
  2. Extending the Talmud's restrictions of laundering to the beginning of Av. Wearing laundered clothes on Shabbat is not restricted (551:4).   
  3. Extending the prohibition of hair cuts to the 17th of Tamuz (551:4).

We should, however, remember that the Talmud (Ta'anit 29b) says that when Tisha B'av falls on Friday (which does not happen in our calendar), we would be allowed to wash (and it seems to cut hair/shave) on the Thursday before Tisha B'av in honor of Shabbat, even if that means we will be doing so before Tisha B'av.  Obviously, the Rabbis placed greater priority on being presentable on Shabbat than they did on their rituals pertaining to the week before Tisha B'av.  Therefore, I believe it is particularly appropriate to shave etc. for shabbat during the three weeks and nine days, even for those who avoid such grooming otherwise during these periods.

Laws of Tisha B'av: The Mishnah says that on the day before Tisha B'av, we only eat one form of cooked foods, and we do not eat meat or drink wine. The Talmud (30b) understands this as referring only to the last meal before the fast. 

On Tisha B'av itself, restrictions go well beyond eating (See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 554). The restrictions include: (a) Washing any part of the body, with hot or cold water, except to get off dirt. Maimonides says this even includes of prohibition of the ritual hand-washing before prayer. (See e.g. Maimonides Laws of Prayer 7:8); (b) using lotions/oils for pleasurable purposes (i.e. medicinal purposes are permitted); (c) wearing leather shoes; (d) marital relations; (e) greeting one another; and (f) Learning Torah (written or oral), except the book of Job, certain negative prophecies of Jeremiah, and the Book of Lamentations.

*** MOST IMPORTANT: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FAST IF IT WILL CAUSE POTENTIAL DANGER. ***