Halachot Pertaining to the weeks before Tisha Be'av, and the week of Tisha Be'av

Whereas Ashkenazic custom is not to get a haircut or shave for the entire three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the ninth of Av, Sephardic custom is to permit this during the first part of the three weeks, until the week of Tisha Be’av. What does this translate to? The week of Tisha Be’av this year – from Saturday night, July 13th until Tuesday night, July 16th, one is not allowed to shave or cut hair. Rav Ovadia Yosef notes that the prohibition to shave ends immediately on July 16th when the fast is over (9:32 pm). Some Sephardim, along with all Ashkenazim, wait until midday on the 10th of Av (July 17th this year) to shave or cut hair.

Another major halacha for the week of Tisha Be’av relates to laundry and wearing freshly laundered clothing. Mirroring the laws of private mourning, we are not allowed to wash clothes, even if we want to wear them after Tisha Be’av. The prohibition of wearing freshly laundered clothing can be “lightened” somewhat by deciding what you are going to wear from Saturday night till Tuesday night, and by Friday July 12th, wearing each of these garments for a half hour or so. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef notes that this can even be done on Shabbat, and is not an issue of “preparing from Shabbat to the week day.” What does this accomplish? It reclassifies the clothes you wear during the week of Tisha Be’av as “already having been worn”. They are no longer considered “freshly laundered”. Clothing of children under the age of three, that quickly becomes dirty (I know this from experience!) can be laundered even during the week of Tisha Be’av.

Parallel to the laws of private mourning, we are restricted from washing or bathing in hot water during the week of Tisha Be’av. This contrasts with Ashkenazic custom, where this restriction is in force from Sunday night July 7th, ie Rosh Hodesh Av.

A long standing custom – rooted in the Rambam’s version of the Jerusalem Talmud – is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during this period of time. Regarding this, there are three customs: a) from the 17th of Tamuz; b) from Rosh Hodesh Av; c) the week of Tisha Be’av. Even Ashkenazic custom is strict only from Rosh Hodesh Av. Although the custom in Jerusalem, according to Rav Ovadia Yosef, is to be strict on this from Rosh Hodesh, it is acceptable to refrain only during the week of Tisha Be’av, and this seems to be the common Sephardic custom outside of Jerusalem. Even those adhering to a more stringent view – eat meat and drink wine on Shabbat.

Poultry and chicken soup and the like are considered “meat” as far as this custom goes. The custom is based on the fact that it was during this period that the “korbanot”/ sacrifices and wine libations in the Bet Hamikdash ceased.  It's Ashkenazic custom and the custom of some Sephardim to continue refraining from meat and wine until mid-day on the tenth of Av (Wednesday July 17th @ around 1:15 pm). For Sephardim, washing and doing laundry is permitted as soon at the fast is over.

Shabbat Hazon: The Shabbat of July 12 & 13th
The Shabbat prior to Tisha Be’av is called “Shabbat Hazon” - the Shabbat of foretelling – as we read the Haftara portion from the prophecy of Isaiah (1:1-27), as the final of the “three of affliction,” readings. Isaiah does not lament because the Bet HaMikdash (The Temple) was destroyed; rather he laments over the underlying causes of that destruction. It’s not enough to bemoan the great loss suffered by our people with the destruction of our Land, Jerusalem and the Mikdash. We must use our mourning as a way of initiating an examination of our present-day feelings, thoughts and deeds. What have we done to eliminate the attitudes and practices that thousands of years ago sent our ancestors into exile – not once, but twice? (courtesy of ou.org)

Erev Tisha Be'av - Monday, July 15th
An important custom on Erev Tisha Be’eav – Monday afternoon – is the “Seuda Hamafseket” – the final meal before the fast. It is a simple meal whose focus is the somber, mournful mood prior to the fast. It consists of one cooked dish. Eggs or lentils are commonly eaten at this meal. Many people wash Netilat Yadayim, say Hamotzi and eat a bread roll as part of the meal. One should sit in a low place, such as a pillow on the floor, during the Seuda.

Once the fast starts at sunset on Monday evening July 15th (9:02 pm) one should not eat, drink, wash, anoint oneself, wear leather shoes, or have marital relations.

Washing in both cold and hot water is forbidden on Tisha Be’av. It is of course permitted to “spot clean” dirt that has adhered to your hands or another part of your body in the course of Tisha Be’av. Ritual washing of the hands, such as the morning Netilat Yadayim, cannot extend beyond one’s knuckles.

It is also forbidden to learn Torah “as usual” on Tisha Be’av, since Torah study is joyful. Sources that deal with the destruction of the Temple, such as the accounts of the Destruction in the Talmud, commentaries on “Eicha” – the book of Lamentations, and the like, can be learned on Tisha Be’av. For a more thorough discussion of the prohibition of learning Torah on Tisha Be’av and its philosophical basis, see my article called “Mourning Through Bitul Torah” @ http://ezrabessaroth.net/leadership/rabbi-s-blog/entry/tisha-be-av-mourning-through-bitul-torah Even pregnant and nursing women, who generally do not fast on the rabbinic fast days, do fast on Tisha Be’av. There are of course exceptions and anyone curious about their own halachic obligation should contact me by email or on my cell @ 206-948-8244

Elderly people who feel too weak to fast, and whose doctor advises that they eat, are permitted to eat on Tisha Be’av. Children are not required to fast until they are Bnai or Bnot Mitzvah (13 for boys and 12 for girls). However, to educate them about the nature of the day, we do not give children treats like ice cream, chocolate, etc.

One is not allowed to sit in a regular chair on Tisha Be’av until midday Tuesday July 16th (1:15 pm). We do not greet each other on Tisha Be’av, in the same manner that one does not greet a mourner. How do we respond to someone who may not know this custom and who greets you anyway? Answer back softly….