Bein Ha-metzarim: Laws of the Three Weeks
Rav David Brofsky
The period of the Three Weeks, from the 17th of Tamuz until the 9th
of Av, is divided into several periods of increasing intensity: 1) from
Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz
and on; 2) from
Rosh Chodesh Av
and on; 3) the week of
Tisha Be-Av; 4)
Tisha Be-Av itself. In this shiur, we will examine the first of these
Prohibitions During the Three Weeks (until
The earliest reference to a three-week period of mourning over the loss of the
Beit Ha-Mikdash appears in
Daniel (10:23), where the prophet
In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three whole weeks. I ate no pleasant
bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at
all, until three whole weeks were fulfilled.
Daniel recalls how he mourned for
three weeks, abstaining from bread, wine, meat, and anointing.
The earliest reference to the unique status of the three weeks between
Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz and Tisha Be-Av appears in
Eikha Rabba (1:29), where the
midrash understands the verse "All
[Zion's] pursuers overtook her between the straits (bein ha-metzarim)” (Eikha 1:3)
as referring to this three-week period of misfortune.
Indeed, some of the earliest sources that record mourning customs of this
time- period attribute them to these verses. For example, the
Shibolei Ha-Leket (263) records, in the name of R. Saadia Ga’on, that
based upon these verses some were accustomed to refrain from eating meat and
drinking wine. Similarly, the Kolbo (62) relates that he “saw precious
women who refrain from eating meat and drinking wine… and they insist that they
received this tradition from their mothers, generation after generation.” He
attributes this to the cessation of the offering of the
korban tamid, which occurred on
Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz, as we learned a
few weeks ago. While this custom was not accepted, we will discuss the
prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine in the context of the Nine Days.
Practically, one can speak of four prohibitions, according to custom,
that begin on Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz. As
we shall see, Ashkenazi practice prohibits holding weddings and taking haircuts
during these three weeks. These prohibitions stem from the obligation to mourn
for the Beit Ha-Mikdash in preparation
for Tisha Be-Av. In addition, it is
customary to refrain from recited the
she-hechiyanu blessing and to avoid unusually dangerous activities. These
practices are due to these weeks being an inauspicious time period for the
Jewish People, as we described a few
What is the nature of the mourning during this time period, and does it
conform to other known models of aveilut?
(see Shiurei Ha-Rav [OU, 1999]
Inyanei Tisha Be-Av, p. 20-21;
Nefesh Ha-Rav p. 191, for example)
insisted that, fundamentally, these customs must conform to some previous
halakhic pattern. In the laws of
aveilut, we generally speak of three periods of mourning:
Shiva (the seven day period after the
burial), Shloshim (the thirty days
after burial), and the Yud Bet Chodesh
(the twelve month period after the death of a parent).
maintained that the mourning over the Beit
Ha-Mikdash, referred to by the Rabbis as “aveilut yeshana” (“old mourning,” commemorating a historic national
disaster), follows the OPPOSITE pattern of “aveilut chadasha” (“new mourning”),
mourning for a parent. The laws of Tisha
Be-Av closely resemble the laws of
Shiva; the laws of Shloshim are
similar to the laws of the Nine Days.
suggested that the customary aveilut
of the Three Weeks, as well as the aveilut
of Sefirat Ha-Omer, conforms to the
halakhic precedent of “Yud Bet Chodesh,” the twelve month
period of mourning for one’s parent. Indeed, the laws which characterize the
Yud Bet Chodesh include the
prohibition of attending a “beit
ha-mishteh” (Mo’ed Katan 22b;
Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah
391) and taking a haircut (Mo’ed Katan
22b, Shulchan Arukh,
Yoreh Deah 390:4; Rema).
Other Acharonim, however, do
not accept the premise that the aveilut
practices of bein ha-mitzarim must be
modeled after pre-existing categories; rather, a new, and of course logical,
custom developed over time. We will see shortly that this difference of opinion
may lead to sharp differences in
The Talmud (Yevamot 43a) teaches:
We learned: During the week in which the Ninth of
Av occurs, it is forbidden to cut the hair and to wash clothes…And [in
connection with this mishna] it was
taught: Before this time, the public must restrict their activities in commerce,
building, and plantings, but it is permissible to betroth, although not to
marry, nor may any betrothal feast be held. That was taught in respect to the
period before that time…
According to this gemara, it is
prohibited to marry during the “period before that time,” that is, during the
entire Nine Days beginning with Rosh
Chodesh Av, and not just during
the week within which Tisha Be-Av
falls. R. Yosef Karo, in the Shulchan
Arukh (561:2), cites this gemara,
and Sephardi Jews are therefore accustomed not to hold weddings during the Nine
R. Isaac Tyrnau (14th–15th
century, Austria), in his Sefer
Ha-Minhagim, records the custom to refrain from marrying during the entire
Three Weeks. The Rema (ibid.) cites this custom, and Ashkenazim follow this
Interestingly, this prohibition to hold weddings was interpreted in the broadest
sense by some Acharonim. The
Magen Avraham (10), commenting on this
halakha, writes: “It seems to me that it is prohibited to hold ‘rikudim u-mecholot’ (dances) from
Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz until
The Acharonim differ as to the
scope and nature of this extension. R. Soloveitchik, as cited above, believed that
the custom prohibits whatever is prohibited during the period of
Yud Bet Chodesh - simchat mere’ut
(Moe’d Katan 22b; Rambam
Avel 6:6). During Yud Bet Chodesh,
the mourner is prohibited from attending social gatherings whose enjoyment is a
function of the participation of one’s friends and acquaintances. According to
playing instruments or listening to music privately would therefore be permitted
during the Three Weeks. However, other public social gatherings, such as a
baseball game, might be prohibited!
Other Acharonim explain that playing
and listening to instruments and music is prohibited, as it is inconsistent with
the sense of sorrow we are supposed to experience during the Three Weeks. Just
as R. Soloveitchik
understood that the periods of Sefirat
Ha-Omer and the Three Weeks follow a similar pattern, many other
Acharonim equate these two time
periods and deal with them together.
In recent year there has been extensive discussion regarding listening to music
from a radio or other electronic devices in regard to both the Three Weeks and
Sefirat Ha-Omer. On the one hand, R.
Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot
Orach Chaim 1:166 and Yoreh De’ah
2:137), who is generally inclined to prohibit all music since the destruction of
the Beit Ha-Mikdash (!), as well as R.
Ovadya Yosef (Yechave Da’at 6:34)
prohibit listen to recorded music during the Three Weeks. R. Eliezer Waldenberg
(Tzitz Eliezer 15:33) even prohibits
recorded songs without musical accompaniment.
The Bi’ur Halakha (551) writes that
one who works as an entertainer for non-Jews at social gatherings or banquets
may continue working until Rosh Chodesh Av.
Similarly, some Acharonim permit
giving or taking instrument lessons until the week within which
Tisha Be-Av falls (Tzitz Eliezer 16:19).
R. Shlomo Daichovsky, former dayyan
(judge) on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, forcefully argues that there is simply
no halakhic source to prohibit
music, whether during the Three Weeks, the Omer, or even during the twelve month
mourning period after the loss of a parent (Techumim 21). He concludes that music that does not lead to “rikudim u-mecholot,” as the
Magen Avraham described, such as
classical music, should certainly be permitted. He also reports that R. Moshe
Feinstein permitted “background music” during the Three Weeks for the same
reason. (See also Maharam Shick, Yoreh
De’ah 368 and Chelkat Ya’akov
It seems that one should determine the type and function of the music.
While the more festive and uplifting the music is, the more inclined we might be
to prohibit it, while music that is not necessarily celebratory, or which serves
as the background for exercising, driving, or in stores and offices, should be
The permissibility of listening to music at all since the destruction of
Ha-Mikdash is an interesting topic,
although beyond the scope of this shiur. Seemingly, however, there might be extra reason to be stringent
during the period of mourning during the Three Weeks.
The gemara (Ta’anit 26b) prohibits taking haircuts during the week in which
Be-Av falls, the
shavu’a she-chal bo. The
Shulchan Arukh (551:3) rules
accordingly, and such is Sephardi practice.
Ashkenazim, however, also extend this prohibition to the entire Three Week
period (Sefer Ha-Minhagim; Rema
The two approaches cited above regarding the mourning customs of the Three Weeks
play a central role here as well.
R. Soloveitchik believed that the mourning during the
Three Weeks was modeled after the twelve month mourning period for a parent.
Therefore, just as we generally permit men to shave during the twelve months of
mourning, as it is only prohibited to take a haircut until “a friend admonishes
him” (until one points out how disheveled he looks), and we assume that every
day or two a regularly clean-shaven person needs to shave again, the Rav
permitted shaving during bein ha-metzarim
until Rosh Chodesh Av. Incidentally,
the Rav also permitted shaving during Sefirat Ha-Omer, as we will discuss next year in our
Some distinguish between haircuts and shaving. Whether one’s hair is longer or
shorter is perceived by most as a question of appearance; shaving, however,
especially for those who shave daily, causes some discomfort and is perceived as
part of one’s personal hygiene.
According to other posekim, however,
even one who shaves daily should refrain from shaving during the three weeks. R.
Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe,
Orach Chaim 4:102) permits shaving in
cases of potential monetary loss, but cautions against shaving in order to avoid
the ridicule of co-workers (Iggerot Moshe,
Choshen Mishpat 1:93).
May one shave or trim one’s beard before
Shabbat? The Rema (551:3) writes that
one may wear laundered clothes for Shabbat
during the Nine Days, and implies that one may wash them as well. The
Magen Avraham (14) cites the
Darchei Moshe (R. Moshe Isserlis’s
commentary to the Tur), who records that the custom is to refrain from
laundering even for the Shabbat. He
adds, however, that if one doesn’t have another shirt, one may wash one’s shirt
for Shabbat. Finally, he concludes
that apparently we do not permit haircuts before
Shabbat, as people are not generally accustomed to taking a haircut
every week, as they are to laundering (and bathing!).
The Chatam Sofer (Yoreh De’ah 348)
suggests that this rationale would imply that one who shaves daily should
certainly be able to shave for Shabbat.
Furthermore, the Biur Halakha
questions whether one should distinguish between laundering and cutting one’s
hair, and cites the comments of R. Akiva Eiger, who notes that according to
Tosafot (Ta’anit 29) one may even take
a haircut for Shabbat during the Nine Days. Based upon the above, some
posekim permit shaving before Shabbat
during the Three Weeks.
A woman may trim hair that protrudes from her hair-covering during the Three
Weeks and even during the week of Tisha
Be-Av (Mishna Berura 551:79). A
woman may also shave her legs even during the Nine Days (R. S. Eider,
Halachos of the Three Weeks, quoting
R. Moshe Feinstein).
The Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (122:5)
writes that one may cut his nails until the week of
R. Yaakov ben Moshe Moellin (1360–1427), known as the Maharil, cites the
Sefer Chassidim (840), who writes
that, when possible, one should avoid recited the blessing of “she-hechiyanu” during the Three Weeks on a new fruit or new clothing.
However, when what obligates the
she-hechiyanu cannot be postponed, such as a
pidyon ha-ben, one may recite the
blessing. The Shulchan Arukh (551:17) cites the Maharil, and the Rama adds that
similarly if a new fruit will not be found after the Three Weeks, one may
partake of it and recite the blessing.
As a result of these rulings, many are accustomed not to purchase or wear
new clothing or other items for which one would ordinarily recite
she-hechiyanu. Furthermore, one should
refrain from purchasing furniture, appliances, or cars during this time, as one
is required to recite she-hechiyanu. One who purchases a
garment that needs to be altered may do so, and then wear the garment and recite
the blessing after Tisha Be-Av. As it
seems to be customary nowadays to recite
she-hechiyanu upon wearing the garment, and not upon buying it, it should be
permitted to shop, without wearing or using what one buys, until
Rosh Chodesh Av. Finally, new clothing that does not require one to
recite she-hechiyanu, such as new
shoes, undergarments, socks, and ordinary shirts, may be bought and worn until
Rosh Chodesh Av.
May the blessing of she-hechiyanu,
according to this custom, be recited on
Shabbat? The Magen Avraham (42)
questions whether this stringency should apply on
Shabbat, and the
Mishna Berura (98) rules leniently,
permitting one to wear new clothing or eat new fruits on Shabbat and to recite
Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun 99).
The gemara (Berakhot 59b), as well as the
Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 223:5)
teach that when one buys an item that may be used by the other members of one’s
household as well, one should recite the blessing of
ha-tov ve-hametiv. Even if one receives the item as a gift, since the
present benefits the giver and receiver, ha-tov ve-hametiv is deemed the appropriate blessing (Yerushalmi
Is the blessing of ha-tov
ve-hametiv essentially the same as
she-hechiyanu, just recited when more than one person benefits from the
item, or is it a fundamentally a different blessing, focusing on the benefit
others receive from the item? The
Semak (cited by Tur, Orach Chaim 223)
and Beit Yosef debate this question. The Semak argues that one recites
ha-tov ve-hametiv in addition to she-hechiyanu, while the Beit Yosef insists that
ha-tov ve-hametiv replaces the other
blessing. Clearly, the Semak views these
berachot as expressing different themes; therefore, both must be recited.
The Beit Yosef may view these two blessings as fundamentally similar, or he may
simply believe that in certain situations the Rabbis only mandated that one of
the two blessings, despite their differences, be recited.
According to the custom cited above to avoid reciting
she-hechiyanu during the Three Weeks,
may ha-tov ve-hametiv be recited? R.
Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe Orach Chaim
3:80) rules that while one should not purchase a car during the Three Weeks, in
order to avoid becoming obligated to recite the
she-hechiyanu, if one purchases the car in a manner that would require
the blessing of ha-tov ve-metiv, it
would be permitted (until Rosh Chodesh Av).
The Sha’are Teshuva (551:18), who
rules that if one is given clothing during the Three Weeks he may recite
ha-tov ve-hametiv, apparently concurs.
Apparently, he believes that she-hechiyanu
and ha-tov ve-hametiv are
fundamentally different blessings. However, one might disagree and view them as
similar blessings, with one simply being more expansive than the other, in which
case one should also avoid reciting ha-tov
ve-hametiv during the Three Weeks.
We may approach this question from a different perspective: Why should one
refrain from reciting she-hechiyanu
during the Three Weeks? The
Magen Avraham (42) explains that the
reason for this custom is not because of mourning, as a mourner may recite
she-hechiyanu, but rather because it
is inappropriate to recite this blessing, which expresses gratitude to God for
bringing us to this time, during the unfavorable time of the Three Weeks. The
Maharil, however, explains that one should refrain from reciting
she-hechiyanu in order to “le-ma’et be-simcha,” to minimize
happiness. One might suggest that while according to the
Magen Avraham, it is specifically the formula of the blessing of
she-hechiyanu, “Blessed are You… who
has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment,” which
causes the problem, according to the Maharil, both
she-hechiyanu and ha-tov
ve-hametiv would be problematic.
Interestingly, the Taz (7), Biur Ha-Gra (17), as well as the Arukh
Ha-Shulchan (38) reject the entire custom and permit the recitation of
Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz, at least until
Rosh Chodesh Av, when all purchases
that generate happiness are prohibited.
When Do these Prohibitions Begin?
When do these prohibitions begin? For example, may one get married on the night
of Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz, as the fast
does not actually begin until the next morning?
Seemingly, this question should depend upon our previous discussions. We
explained that the fast really begins the night before; therefore, one should
really recite Aneinu at night
(according to most Rishonim, with the
exception of the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or), and one who finishes eating and goes to sleep
may not eat afterwards, even if he wakes up before dawn (Ramban,
Milchamot Hashem, Ta’anit 3a).
It would follow that the prohibitions of the Three Weeks should begin at night.
However, the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or, who
believes that Aneinu should not be
recited until morning, believes that the “day” only begins the next morning, at
which point one may not eat. According to this view, the prohibitions of the
Three Weeks should begin only the next morning.
R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe,
Orach Chaim 1:168) rules leniently
regarding weddings. At first, he contends that the matter should depend upon the
debate between the Ramban and Ba’al Ha-Ma’or cited above. He then cites a proof
for the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or from Pesachim
2b, where the gemara implies that the
night before a fast is not considered to be part of the next day. He then writes
that regardless of this debate, the entire prohibition is only based upon
custom; therefore, the Rishonim cited
above who believe that the fast begins at night might still believe that the
mourning practices should only begin when people begin to fast. Furthermore, as
it is “only” a custom, we should follow the lenient opinion.
(Nefesh Ha-Rav, 196) disagreed and
ruled that one should treat the evening before as the day itself. Therefore, one
should not perform a wedding the night of
Shiva Asar Be-Tamuz. Furthermore, he notes that some even suggest that
although one may eat the on the evening before a fast, it is improper to eat
meat (Torat Ha-Shelamim, Hilkhot Nidda 185:10).
Hitting One’s Children and Students During the Three
Weeks - Dangerous Situations
The Beit Yosef (551) cites early Rishonim
who warn against “walking alone between the fourth and ninth hours of the day,
and hitting, even a teacher to his student, even with a belt,” as these days are
inauspicious for the Jewish people. The Rama cites this in the
Shulchan Arukh (551:18).
Leaving the wisdom of striking children and students aside, we mentioned above
that the midrash (Eikha Rabba 1:29) connects the verse "All [Zion's] pursuers overtook her
‘between the straits’ (bein ha-metzarim)"
(Eicha 1:3) to this three week period,
the Bein Ha-metzarim. For this reason,
some Acharonim recommend refraining
from engaging in particularly risky activities during the entire Three Weeks
(see Piskei Teshuvot 551:46 nt. 240).
Furthermore, R. Alexander Susskind ben Moses
of Grodno (d. 1794), in his Yesod
Ve-Shoresh Ha-Avodah (3:9), writes that one should avoid pleasurable
activities during the Three Weeks. Similarly, some cite R. Chayyim Palaggi
(1788-1869), in his Masa Chaim, who
records local legislation prohibiting taking walks in the orchards and along the
river and sea during the Three Weeks. Based on this, some avoid vacations during
the entire Three Weeks.
However, while some are stringent upon themselves regarding risky or pleasurable
activities, the Halakha does not
mention nor prohibit these types of activities during the Three Weeks.