Dear Bnai Shalom members, families, and friends:
I am hoping that, in spite of ongoing COVID-19 fears, everyone is doing well.
While summertime is NORMALLY a time of great joy, pleasure, and relaxation for many people, there is a portion of the summer that does not match the joyfulness that often accompanies the summertime.
As you will be reading this, on the Jewish calendar, we will be approaching the “Drei Vochin”, the “Three Weeks”. Obviously, these are not just ANY three weeks. This specific period of time spans from the fast day of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz — the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz – and culminates in the most calamitous, tragic day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’av, The 9th day of Av.
During this period of time, many restrictions are put on us as a Jewish people to commemorate a catastrophic, heartbreaking episode in our history that led to our expulsion from our homeland, Eretz Yisrael, and our dispersion all over the globe.
Shiva Asar B’Tammuz marks the beginning of the three weeks and as we progress further into the period, the intensity of mourning also increases. Weddings are not performed during this time. Playing musical instruments and listening to music is prohibited. (there are certainly exceptions for professional musicians). Music practice is permitted until Rosh Chodesh Av. Singing niggunim (songs) without instruments is also permitted. One should refrain from saying the blessing of “shehechiyanu“ during the three weeks. This includes making the blessing on new clothes and fruits. One should, therefore, not wear any new clothes or eat any new fruits during this period. However, on the Shabbatot during this time, it is permissible. New clothes that do not require the blessing “shehechiyanu“ (e.g., shoes, socks, undergarments, etc.) may be worn until Rosh Chodesh Av. Purchasing new clothes during this time is also permitted. One should not get a haircut or shave during the three weeks. This prohibition includes cutting the hair of a child. It is permissible for a woman to shave her legs during this time. Someone who must be clean-shaven or have a well- trimmed beard for work may shave during the three weeks. Cutting fingernails or toenails is permitted except for the week of Tisha B’Av.
As we approach the last nine days of this gloomy period of time, beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av, (the first day in the Hebrew month of Av), because of the escalating suffering thrust upon us by our enemies, the level of prohibition becomes significantly stricter. During the “Nine Days”, remodeling, decorating, painting, wallpapering and general construction are questionable. Each situation should be judged on an individual basis. Planting flowers or trees is prohibited. One should not eat meat or drink wine during the nine days. On Shabbat or at a Seudat Mitzvah (brit milah, pidyon haben) it is permitted. The prohibition against eating meat includes any fowl or even food cooked with meat. Food cooked in a meat pot without meat is permitted. If someone finishes a masechta (section) of Gemara, a Seder of Mishnayot, or a Sefer in Tanach with commentators, a Siyum can be made and meat and wine may be served. For Motzei Shabbat, (bidding farewell to the Shabbat), the custom is to say Havdalah on a cup of wine or grape juice and have a child (at least 5 or 6 years old) drink the wine or grape juice. If there are no children, an adult may drink the wine or grape juice. Some have the custom to use beer for Havdalah during the nine days. (One then says the blessing of “shehakol nihyeh bidvaro” instead of “borei pri ha-gefen”).
It is prohibited to wash clothing during the nine days. This prohibition includes linens, towels and tablecloths. Laundering of clothes or money is forbidden during this time. Washing children’s clothing (until the age of bar/bat mitzvah) is permitted. Wearing freshly pressed clothing (i.e., from the cleaners) is prohibited. According to most authorities, this prohibition applies to freshly machine washed clothing (i.e., shirts and pants) as well. If however, if one wore them for a short period of time before Rosh Chodesh Av, it is permissible to wear them. This prohibition does not apply to undergarments. Freshly pressed clothing may be worn on Shabbat. It is prohibited to wear any type of new clothing, even on Shabbat. Likewise, it is prohibited to purchase any type of new garment during the nine days.
Swimming, bathing or showering for pleasure is prohibited during the nine days. For medical reasons all of these activities are permitted. Instructional swim is also permitted. It is permissible to shower or bathe to remove dirt or perspiration provided that the water is not as hot as usual and one does not linger any longer than necessary. Bathing for a mitzvah (such as Erev Shabbat or a woman going to the mikvah) is permitted.
As we prepare ourselves for the three weeks and we review the restrictions thrust upon us, we might begin to view them as harsh and, combined with the recent seven-week mourning period of Sefirat Ha-Omer (between Passover and Shavuot), one might get the impression that Judaism is all about tragedy and suffering. Putting all of this into perspective, we see that the ten combined weeks of the “Three Weeks” plus the (not as restricted) period of Sefirat Ha-Omer comes to a total of ten weeks. So, if in our lives, ten weeks of fifty-two, less than 1/5 of our calendar, 20% of the time, we are directed to recall with sadness the misfortunes of our past, then to put a positive spin on our experience, 80% of our waking moments can, and should, be filled with joy, pleasure, and celebration.
With G-d’s help, we hope and pray to be able to fill our daily lives with this type of positive energy and happiness, and escalate our joy to the highest form of celebration possible at all times.
With Torah blessings to all,
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Dvorin