Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Special Holiday Shiur
The Aveilut of Tisha be-Av
By Rav Moshe Taragin
As previously noted (shiur entitled "The issur for an avel to
attend a simcha"), the aveilut of Tisha be-Av itself is patterned, in scope
and intensity, after the period of shiv'a which a person experiences immediately
after the loss of a loved one. To this end the gemara in Ta'anit
(30a) composes a list of items which are forbidden on Tisha be-Av proper.
The list of forbidden activities is reminiscent of the week of shiv'a:
skin ointments, leather shoes, sexual activity and Torah study. At
first glance, no disparity between this catalogue and individual aveilut
is noticed. Closer inspection, however, reveals significant differences
both in what is mentioned and what isn't cited in this register.
These differences might help focus upon the essence of Tisha be-Av aveilut
and how it differs from individual aveilut.
Though Torah study is listed as prohibited during Tisha be-Av,
the beraita does include two significant qualifications. One is permitted
to study topics which sadden rather than provide joy to a person; studying
from Iyov, Ekha and the somber prophecies of Yirmiya are permissible. Similarly,
according to R. Yehuda's position, one is allowed to study unfamiliar sections
of Torah. He reasons that, given the unfamiliarity with these segments
and the initial difficulty in comprehension, no tangible pleasure will
be received (we certainly acknowledge this analysis: Despite the
incomparable relish we experience when we finally master a topic or text,
we all undergo an initial struggle in grappling with that which initially
appears unyielding). As such, studying in this manner will not produce
delight and isn't disallowed. In fact, R. Yehuda's position is adopted
by several Rishonim (primarily the Rambam Ta'anit perek 5). To summarize:
what is striking about the Tisha be-Av issur are its qualifications: studying
lamentable sections as well as (according to R. Yehuda) studying unfamiliar
By stark contrast, the issur of Torah study for an individual
avel is stated without any exemptions. The gemara in Mo'ed Katan
(21a) declares an issur for an avel to study Torah; no permits are allowed
for learning sorrowful sections or unfamiliar topics. Tosafot notices
this discrepancy and shares with us the lifelong deliberations of Rabenu
Tam. Initially, he prohibited an avel from studying these depressing sections,
in light of the unconditional prohibition which the gemara in Mo'ed Katan
imposes for a personal avel. Subsequently, though, as an old man, Rabenu
Tam reconsidered and permitted this type of learning based upon the 'heter'
which already exists on Tisha be-Av; why, after all, should they be different!!!
In truth, if we accept this discrepancy and discriminate between
personal aveilut and Tisha be-Av we must closely examine the source for
the issur for an avel to learn Torah. The gemara in Ta'anit (30a) bases
this halakha upon the principle that an avel may not experience enjoyment
or happiness. As Torah learning represents the highest state of happiness
(pekudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev - see Tehillim 19), its study and
the resultant joy is forbidden. In this respect, learning Torah can be
compared, "le-havdil," to taking a bath or wearing leather shoes; all these
experiences are proscribed because of the pleasure they will induce.
Given this view we would certainly concur with the gemara's ruling that
Torah study which dispirits rather than rejoices, should be permissible.
The gemara, however, in Mo'ed Katan (15a) presents a second source for
the prohibition of Torah study. The gemara cites a prophecy given
to Yechezkel (Yechezkel 24) that he will conduct himself as an avel and
he will "sigh in silence (ha'anek dom)". As part of his silence he
cannot learn Torah (since silence is taken not just in the verbal sense
but also in the overall experiential manner - a complete shutdown of creative
or cognitive activity). By ceasing to engage in Torah study, an avel
punctuates the overall shutdown of human activity. This pasuk provides
a drastically different theme for the issur of Torah study. Torah
study is not banned because of the resulting emotions but INHERENTLY.
If Torah study were prohibited only to prevent pleasure, certain tragic
segments would not be included within the issur. However, the process
of halting this study to insure complete 'silence' encompasses all areas
of Torah. Essentially there are two issurim which apply to an avel
in the study of Torah. Though, in general, they overlap, in some
instances only one clause applies.
In fact, these two strands seem to reflect two distinct dimensions
of aveilut. On the one hand, aveilut is commonly associated with
the privation of pleasure. The principle of "ha'anek dom", however,
seems to demand much more. An avel must also actively display his
PERSONAL SENSE of aveilut primarily by distinguishing and distancing himself
from the rest of society. This is accomplished to some degree by
his 'code of silence'. The texture of aveilut is not limited to refraining
from delightful or pleasurable practices. Indeed, it includes active
displays of mourning to highlight the unique condition of the avel and
to 'segregate' him. The issur of Torah partakes of each of these
two aspects. It causes happiness and therefore is forbidden.
In addition, it reflects the normal and common intellectual and emotional
'routine' of a Jewish person and desisting from this exercise underscores
the shutdown of the avel's lifestyle.
Finally, to reflect again on the discrepancies between Tisha
be-Av and personal aveilut, one might question to what degree each of these
'aveilut factors' are equally relevant to individual aveilut and to Tisha
be-Av. Clearly, avoiding simcha is equally applicable to them both.
When it comes to the second strand - the active displays of aveilut - one
calls into serious question its relevancy to Tisha be-Av. After all,
on Tisha be-Av we are all considered mourners and distinguishing one person
is just as futile as distinguishing them all. Though the 'issur simcha'
might apply, the 'Nihugei Gavrah' (the active display of mourning) might
not. As a result, Torah on Tisha be-Av is only forbidden because
of the simcha which is caused in its wake; hence, gloomy segments of Torah
are permissible. There is no purpose in outright silence and therefore
Torah is not universally forbidden. By contrast, Torah study for
an individual avel is forbidden so that he may be silent and no distinction
is drawn between joyous segments and mournful ones.
The discrepancy in the scope of the issur Talmud Torah might reflect
a fundamental disparity in the aveilut of Tisha be-Av and that of an individual
avel. An avel must remain absolutely silent and hence cannot engage
in any Torah study. On Tisha be-Av we must merely avoid rejoicing through
Torah study; mournful segments may still be studied.
Can this fundamental difference be discerned in additional halakhic
incongruities between Tisha be-Av and individual aveilut? We have
focused above upon an issur which, though it applied to each, exhibited
some slight differences. A quick glance at the Tisha be-Av list provided
by the gemara in Ta'anit (30a) demonstrates more dramatic discrepancies
between the two. Quite striking is the complete absence from the
Tisha be-Av list of several aspects of individual aveilut. Within
the list of Tisha be-Av issurim there is no mention of not greeting or
answering others, of not wearing tefillin, nor of turning one's bed upside
down. All these however, apply to a personal avel. Might this confirm
an essential gap between the two experiences?
The gemara in Mo'ed Katan (21a) describes the prohibition for
an avel to don tefillin for the first three days of his aveilut.
Though no mention of tefillin is made regarding Tisha be-Av (and one might
interpret this reticence as indicating its permissibility) the Rishonim
debate this issue.The Maharam Mi-Rotenberg (Teshuva 51) equates Tisha be-Av
and individual aveilut, concluding that on Tisha be-Av we refrain from
tefillin. By contrast, the Ritva in Ta'anit (30a) distinguishes between
the two, accepting the simple reading of the gemara that there is no prohibition
of tefillin on Tisha be-Av. Presumably this distinction, as well,
is a product of the aforementioned basic difference between Tisha be-Av
and individual aveilut. Though one may not rejoice during Tisha be-Av,
no concept of publicly displaying aveilut entails. Tefillin is forbidden
for an avel because Hashem told Yechezkel to 'bind his turban' as part
of exhibiting his mourning. In this respect it is aligned both in
spirit and textually with the second facet of the issur Talmud Torah (they
each appear in the same directive to Yechezkel) - they are each geared
to actively demonstrate the state of aveilut. As such, on Tisha be-Av when
no PERSONAL PUBLIC display is implemented this is not necessary and tefillin
may be donned.
In a similar vein, there is some discrepancy between individual
aveilut and Tisha be-Av regarding whether one can leave the house.
The gemara in Mo'ed Katan (23a) rules that a mourner may not leave his
house during the week of shiv'a. A similar halakha does not appear
regarding Tisha be-Av. Tosafot (Mo'ed Katan 21b), considering this difference,
expresses some uneasiness about our practice of attending shul on Tisha
be-Av. "Why not", they ask, "pattern it exactly after personal aveilut?"
Their only answer is based on a parallel text which limits the prohibition
of an avel to the first three days of shiv'a, which are the most intense.
Since Tisha be-Av is likened to the latter phase of shiv'a one need not
be sequestered on Tisha be-Av. Essentially, though, Tosafot feel
that Tisha be-Av and personal aveilut are comparable.
In theory, one might have concluded differently from Tosafot based
upon the stated differences between the kinds of aveilut. Leaving
the house, it would seem, is not forbidden because of simcha. This
prohibition vividly highlights the requirement of an avel to publicly display
his mourning and separate himself from the rest of society. This
obviously has no relevance to Tisha be-Av and therefore we may all leave
1. Oftentimes comparisons between halakhot are incomplete. These 'equations'
should be carefully studied for their discrepancies.
2. These disparities can be of two forms. Sometimes there exist
elements which do not apply to each of the compared halakhot. Alternatively,
there are aspects which apply to each halakha but to different degrees.
Though Torah study is assur on Tisha be-Av as well as during shiv'a, certain
exceptions might apply to Tisha be-Av and not during shiv'a.
3. Are these differences incidental or do they reflect a fundamental
1. This article addresses primarily the treatment of Tisha be- Av at
the level of the gemara and Rishonim. I suggested that at this level,
while simcha is prohibited, there is no attempt, at the private level,
to actively display aveilut through the standard acts which a personal
avel engages in. Clearly, at the public level, aveilut is very much projected.
In addition, by and large halakha has developed many displays of aveilut
EVEN at the private level. The Shulchan Arukh rules that we may not
greet each other on Tisha be-Av. Indeed some aspects of turning over
one's bed also applies to Tisha be-Av. Again at the level of the
gemara most of these aren't applied to Tisha be-Av.
2. See the Me'iri and Mikhtam to Mo'ed Katan 15 for a clear formulation
of the issur Talmud Torah. Each attaches the issur not just to the
production of simcha but as part of an attempt to create utmost silence.
Compare to the pasuk of Va- yidom Aharon (Vayikra 10:3).
3. See the Rambam in Hilkhot Ta'anit 5:11 who distinguishes between
tefillin shel yad and shel rosh on Tisha be-Av. In light of the aforementioned
analysis, how might we explain the difference?
4. I assumed that donning tefillin was not prohibited because of simcha
but to display aveilut. See Rashi in Sukka (25) who provides a slightly
5. See also the 'Ritz Gei'ut' (a Geonic work) who quotes Rabenu Hai
Gaon that leaving the house is prohibited for an avel because of the simcha
it will produce. Whoever mourns Jerusalem will be zokheh to share
in the joy of its rebuilding (Ta'anit 30b).