July 7th, 2009


three weeks: more Jewish legalistic stuff

Continuing an occasional series in this journal...

"The Three Weeks" refers to an annual period of mourning in the Jewish ritual calendar. It begins with the minor fast of the 17th of the month of Tammuz, heightens during a period called "the Nine Days" starting with the first of the month of Av, and culminates in the fast of Tisha B'Av (literally "The Ninth of Av"), which is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. This period all originally commemorates the destruction of both of the Temples in Jerusalem, which were both destroyed on the same date 655 years apart. (The fast of the 17th of tammuz commemorates when the walls of the second temple were breached leading up to its destruction three weeks later.) It's said that lots of other tragic things have befallen the Jews on the 9th of Av over the years as well.

The practices for these periods vary a lot, and at their strictest can be quite complicated and restrictive. As an example, below the cut you'll find an email that an Orthodox rabbi recently sent to a list I'm on, as an informative explanation preceding the start of the Three Weeks on Thursday. I don't know which aspects of this are followed by which friends of mine. I probably have a couple of friends who follow this to the letter, or attempt to, or attempt to follow something similar from their local rabbi to the letter. I have a bunch of other friends who attempt to follow much of it, but dismiss other aspects of it based on their own knowledge of Jewish law (for example, there's much less support in the tradition for the Three Weeks than for the Nine Days and for Tisha B'Av itself). And, of course, many people don't follow it at all. Personally, I tend to observe Tisha B'Av much as it says below (but not entirely; I don't sleep with a stone under my pillow), but I never do anything for the Three Weeks (without worrying about it) and tend not to do much for the Nine Days (but I feel a bit guilty about it).

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Comments welcome, please. Curious to hear your thoughts. And please feel free to ask me to translate any terms you're curious about but not familiar with.