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Some Laws of the Nine Days

By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

Translated by David Silverberg

 

 

I) THE RULING OF THE MISHNA

 

The Mishna (Ta'anit 26b) states:

 

"When [the month of] Av enters, we reduce our joy. During the week in which Tisha Be-Av falls, haircutting and laundry are forbiddenů On Erev Tisha Be-Av, one may not eat two cooked foods, nor may he eat meat or drink wineů "

 

We thus have four different stages with regard to the laws of this period.

a) From the first day of Av we reduce our joy;

b) during the week of Tisha Be-Av we may not cut our hair or wash our clothing;

c) on the day before Tisha Be-Av we may not eat meat or drink wine;

d) and on Tisha Be-Av itself we may not eat, drink, wash, apply ointment, wear shoes, or engage in marital relations.

 

The Bach (beginning of O.C. 551) writes:

 

"Since most of the laws of Tisha Be-Av involve customs practiced by the majority of the Jewish people, and the essential laws are not known among them, because of which the masses err with regard to some of them by acting too leniently or too stringently against the Halakha, I found it appropriate to write the essential laws first, by way of introduction for what will come thereafter."

 

In other words, most of the laws of Tisha Be-Av involve customs, rather than bona fide Halakha. We will address several of the laws and attempt to explain our customs nowadays, and to identify which are required according to the Mishna and Gemara, and which were added in later periods.

 

II) CLOTHING DURING THE NINE DAYS

 

As we saw in the Mishna, haircutting ("tisporet") and laundry ("kibbus") are forbidden during the week of Tisha Be-Av. What does "kibbus" include? The Rishonim debated the precise implication of this term.

 

Rashi (cited in Tosafot, Mo'ed Katan 24b s.v. Birkat Aveilim) explained that a mourner, for whom "kibbus" is forbidden, may wear garments that had been laundered before the mourning period. We may extrapolate from this comment that in our context, too, one may wear garments that had been washed before the week of Tisha Be-Av. The Lechem Mishneh understood this to be the position of the Rambam, as well (in Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 5:6).

 

The Ramban (in Torat ha-Adam), however, writes that the prohibition includes not only washing clothes, but wearing freshly laundered garments, as well. The Ritva (Ta'anit 26b), too, writes that one may not wear garments washed before the prohibition set in. This is the view of the Rosh and Ran as well.

 

The Ri'az notes that the custom had evolved to extend this prohibition as far back as Rosh Chodesh Av.

 

The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 551:3) accepts the majority view, namely, that one may not wear a garment washed before the week of Tisha Be-Av. We should emphasize that this prohibition constitutes not an extension of the essential halakha, but rather the actual halakha established in the Mishna (according to the majority view). The Rema concurs, and adds that we observe this prohibition starting on Rosh Chodesh Av (which is, of course, an extension of the original halakha, which applies only during the week of Tisha Be-Av).

 

Therefore, Sefaradim do not wear freshly laundered clothing during the week of Tisha Be-Av (as ruled by Rav Ovadya Yosef - Yechaveh Da'at 1:39), whereas Ashkenazim refrain from doing so starting from Rosh Chodesh.

 

Leniencies associated with this halakha:

 

A. Tosafot (Mo'ed Katan 24b) record the practice that when a mourner wishes to change his clothing, he first gives the new garment to someone else to wear for a day or half a day. The Orchot Chayim (p.584) records this in the name of Rabbenu Peretz, but writes that the other person would wear it for just a little while. The Rema rules accordingly (Y.D. 389:1).

 

During the nine days, we do not need to give our garments to another person to wear first, since (unlike a regular mourner) we know ahead of time of the approaching period of mourning. It is therefore recommended for one to first wear all his freshly laundered clothing before the nine days. Strictly speaking, one can wear them for just a short while, as mentioned above, but one should act responsibly. If one generally changes his shirt every day, then for a week before the nine days he should change his shirt in the afternoon so that he has enough previously-worn shirts for the nine days.

 

B. The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 551:14) writes that the practice has developed to allow washing "garments used to wrap around small children," or cloth diapers. The Rema extends this leniency to include all children's clothing. The Mishna Berura (84) explains that no joy is involved in washing these clothes; meaning, these clothes are changed for purposes of cleanliness, rather than for comfort or appearance.

 

When dealing with wearing freshly washed clothes (as opposed to actually washing them), we have even more room to adopt this principle. Accordingly, today, all undergarments, which we change frequently because of sweat and dirt, are likely not included in the prohibition. One may therefore change them as needed due to sweat and the like.[1]

 

C. Halakhic authorities debate whether or not one may wear freshly laundered clothing on the Shabbat before Tisha Be-Av (i.e. Shabbat Chazon), but the widespread custom is to act leniently in this regard.

 

III) WASHING

 

The Gemara (Ta'anit 30a) cites a baraita discussing Erev Tisha Be-Av (the day before Tisha Be-Av), which states that at a certain point on this day bathing is forbidden. The baraita then cites the position of Rabbi Yishmael ben Rabbi Yossi, that "whenever one may eat meat, he may wash." Rashi's version of the text, however, reads differently: "Whenever one may eat, he may wash." According to Rashi's version of Rabbi Yishmael, then, no prohibition against bathing applies at all before the onset of the fast.

 

In any event, it emerges that according to all views it is permitted to wash during the week of Tisha Be-Av, not to mention from Rosh Chodesh Av. The Rishonim, however, extended this prohibition. The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 5:6),

 

"All of Israel has already become accustomed to refrain from eating meat on the week of Tisha Be-Av, and they do not enter the bathhouse until after the fast."

 

Thus, the prohibition against bathing begins on the week in which Tisha Be-Av falls.

 

The Ashkenazic Rishonim ruled even more stringently. The Rokeach (312) writes that he asked Rabbenu Kalonymos of Rome when the prohibition against bathing begins. He replied,

 

"One must abstain from washing from Rosh Chodesh Av, and it is forbidden on Rosh Chodesh itself, because it says, '[I will end all her rejoicing:] her festivals, new moons, and sabbaths' [Hoshea 2:13]. Before Rosh Chodesh, however, it is permissible."

 

The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 551:16) cites both opinions. The Sefaradic custom is to refrain from bathing only during the week of Tisha Be-Av, following the ruling of the Sefaradic Rishonim - the Rambam, the Ramban (in Torat ha-Adam), the Ra'a (Pekudat ha-Levi'im, Ta'anit 29a), the Ran (Ta'anit), and others (see Yabi'a Omer, vol. 5, O.C. 41). The Ashkenazim observe this practice already from Rosh Chodesh Av, in accordance with the aforementioned view of Rabbi Kalonymos, as well as the Mordekhai (Ta'anit), the Or Zaru'a (2:414) and others.

 

Leniencies:

 

The Mishna (Berakhot 16b) recounts that Rabban Gamliel bathed the first night after his wife's passing. When questioned by his students as to how he could bathe during his period of mourning, he replied that he is an "istenis" (a particularly sensitive person), and such a person may wash during his period of mourning.

 

In contemporary times, given our hygienic standards, and especially in places with a warm climate (such as Israel),[2] it stands to reason that we all fall under this category of istenis. For us, bathing serves not as a form of physical enjoyment, but rather as a hygienic necessity. It therefore seems that we may - and, inthe interest of kevod ha-beriyot (human dignity), should - shower during the nine days. This is the view of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Pinchas Sheinberg, as cited in Responsa Divrei Chakhamim. Nevertheless, one should limit his showering to that which he requires based on need and circumstances. One should also limit the length of his showers to only the time necessary for his cleanliness. (Preferably, one should shower with cold water; see footnote 3. If this poses great difficulty, one may add some hot water.) Those in military service may certainly be lenient and shower as usual.

 

In summary, nowadays there is certainly room to be permit bathing; however, one should limit the frequency of his showering, the length of his showers, and the comfort of the water temperature. (One should also refrain from using special bathing equipment meant to add to one's enjoyment.)

 

On Erev Shabbat Chazon, one may shower even with warm water (see Shulchan Arukh O.C. 260), as washing on Erev Shabbat constitutes a mitzva (Shabbat 25).

 

Swimming during the three weeks:

 

Swimming clearly violates no prohibition (except during the nine days, when, as we have seen, the custom is to refrain from bathing or swimming,[3] unless one does so for medical reasons; see Rivevot Efrayim 1:363). One must, however, consider the following two factors (this applies to trips in general during the three weeks): 1) simcha (enjoyment); 2) sakana (danger).

 

First, one should avoid events involving fun and enjoyment. Those who go to the beach and on trips should therefore ensure to maintain the proper atmosphere.

 

Secondly, Chazal, in Midrash Eikha Rabba, comment on the verse, "All her pursuers overtook her between the boundaries ['bein ha-metzarim']," that the period of "bein ha-metzarim," what we call "the three weeks," is a time of enhanced danger. This is codified by the Rema. One must therefore make a point particularly during this period to avoid dangerous activities.

 

During the nine days we must "reduce our joy" (especially the Ashkenazim, who prohibit bathing during this period). For this reason, as well as out of concern for the dangerous nature of this period, one should avoid going to the beach and participating in pleasure trips. (In exceptional circumstances, a halakhic authority should be consulted.)

 

IV) A SIYUM CELEBRATION

 

The Rema (551:10) writes that at a siyum, a celebration of the completion of a tractate of Gemara, one may eat meat and drink wine. This applies even to one who has not studied the material but only participates in the siyum. The concept of a siyum appears explicitly in the Gemara (Shabbat 118b), where Abbayei prides himself over his practice of holding a celebration for all the rabbis whenever a scholar would complete a tractate.

 

May one intentionally schedule his siyum for the nine days?

 

The Eliyahu Rabba writes that one should not accelerate his pace of learning or delay the siyum for this purpose. The Mishna Berura (73) rules accordingly. The Kaf ha-Chayim (161), by contrast, allows one to do so as long as his learning will not be adversely affected as a result (i.e. he does not overly rush his study, and he does not waste time because of the delay).

 

It stands to reason that this would depend on the individual's intent. If his motive is the consumption of meat, then clearly it is inappropriate to specifically chart one's learning such that he will conduct a siyum during the nine days. If his purpose is to add the joy of Torah to this otherwise somber period, then one may conduct such a siyum.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] It would seem that this would apply to shirts also; this is indeed the position of Rav Pinchas Sheinberg (cited in Responsa Divrei Chakhamim). Nevertheless, one should try to wear his shirts beforehand in order to avoid wearing freshly laundered shirts. If one did not wear them before the nine days, it stands to reason that he may wear fresh shirts during the nine days, though he should change less frequently than usual.

[2] We should keep in mind that in northern Europe the climate is quite cold, allowing for less frequent bathing.

[3] The Terumat ha-Deshen (150) notes that the Rambam forbade only "entering the bathhouse," indicating that during the nine days one may wash with cold water. He then cites those who disagree, but adds, "However, I seem to recall seeing in my youth that people would bathe in the rivers from Rosh Chodesh Av, and no one objected. But one who is stringent is worthy of blessing." In any event, swimming during the three weeks (until Rosh Chodesh Av) is certainly allowed.

 

 


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