"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).
*The 3 weeks, 9 days, & Tisha B'Av *
By Rabbi [I wasn't sure whether to leave the rabbi's name, to properly credit him, or to omit it out of respect, in case parts of this end up being critiqued in this journal. Erring on the side that's not irrevocable, and removing it.]
The "three weeks", or "bein hamitzarim" begins after the fast on the 17th of
Tamuz. This period of time was established as a period of mourning over the
destruction of both temples. The Talmud tells us that only one who
properly mourns the temple will merit to see it rebuilt, hence these laws
are taken with utmost seriousness. As an aside, the "three weeks" is a
general term used to connote three different stages. The first stage is a
lower level of mourning, commonly referred to as the three weeks. The
second stage - the Nine Days, is a higher level of mourning with more
restrictions; which is climaxed by the third stage - the fast of Tisha B'av,
which has the most concentrated and intense mourning and restrictions.
*3 Weeks (Ashkenazik custom)*
1. Weddings should not be performed during this period, nor should one
participate in a wedding.
2. Engagements may take place with a meal until the 1st of Av. From the 1
st of Av until after Tisha B'Av they may take place with refreshments
3. Dancing and playing or listening to music is prohibited (live or
recorded). A musician who earns his living by playing for non-Jews may do so
until the 1st of Av. [For camps and kiruv one should consult a Rav].
4. Listening to background music, like when exercising, driving or
studying, is permitted according to some authorities during the three weeks,
not the nine days.
5. Large public get-togethers for the sake of celebration and joy, other
than that for a mitzva, should generally be avoided (such as group outings
to the movies - which also inevitably has music).
6. The custom is to refrain from reciting the blessing "sh'hecheyanu" on
new garments or fruit, except on Shabbat. Pregnant women or ill people who
need the fruit may eat it normally. New garments that don't require this
blessing may be purchased and worn until the 1 st of Av.
*Haircuts, Shaving, Cutting Nails*
1. The custom is to refrain from taking a haircut, or shaving one's
beard, as they are classic signs of mourning. An adult may not even give a
haircut to a child.
2. Trimming the mustache is permitted if it interferes with eating.
Combing and brushing the hair is permitted.
3. A person who usually shaves daily (in a permitted manner) and would
suffer business or financial loss by not shaving, may do so until the 1st
of Av, or at most until the Friday before Tisha B'Av. In any case, one
should consult a rabbi.
4. A married woman may remove hair that protrudes from under her hair
covering, and all women may remove facial or body hair.
5. Cutting the nails is permitted until the Friday before Tisha B'Av.
Even then it is permitted for a woman before immersion, or for a man as
well, in honor of the Shabbat (for example if Tisha B'Av is on Shabbat and
postponed to Sunday, or if it is on Sunday itself).
In addition to the restrictions during the 3 weeks, during the nine days
between the 1st of Av until after Tisha B'Av the following restrictions on
pleasure and joy are intensified:
*(The following is according to the Ashkenazic custom, for the
Sephardiccustom please consult an appropriate rabbi.)
*Activities of Pleasure and Joy*
1. Shopping: One should not purchase an object of joy (this does not
include food) that will be available after Tisha B'Av for the same price
(even if one does not intend to use or wear them until after Tisha B'av).
2. Building for beauty or pleasure not required for dwelling should be
suspended, whereas building for a mitzvah like a synagogue, place of Torah
study, or a mikva is permitted.
3. Painting, wallpapering and general home decoration should not be done.
Similarly, one should not plant for pleasure.
*Eating Meat and Drinking Wine*
1. The custom is to refrain from eating meat and poultry or drinking wine
and grape juice during the nine days, as they are also classic signs of
mourning. This also pertains to children.
2. The prohibition of meat includes foods cooked with meat or meat fat.
However, foods cooked in a clean vessel used for meat may be eaten.
3. Eating meat and drinking wine is permitted on Shabbat. Even one who
has ushered in the Shabbat on Friday afternoon before sunset, or extends the
third meal of Shabbat into Saturday night may also eat meat and drink wine
at those times.
4. Similarly, one may drink the wine of Havdallah. Some have the custom
to give the wine to a child of 6-9 years old, or to use beer for Havdallah.
5. Meat and wine are permitted at a meal in honor of a mitzvah like brit
milah, redemption of the first born, and via a Siyum - completing a tractate
(consult a rabbi for details).
6. A person who requires meat because of weakness or illness, including
small children and pregnant or nursing women who have difficulty eating
dairy, may eat meat. However, whenever possible poultry is preferable to
1. *Laundering is prohibited even for use after Tisha B'Av. One may not
even give clothing to a non-Jewish cleaner*. (Although one may give it to
him before the 1st of Av, even though he may wash it during the nine days.)
2. The prohibition of laundering includes linens, tablecloths, and
3. A person who has no clean clothes may wash only what he needs until
the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av.
4. Children's diapers and clothing that constantly get dirty may be
washed by need even during the week of Tisha B'Av, in private.
5. Laundering for the purpose of a mitzvah is permitted.
6. One may polish shoes with liquid or wax polish, but should avoid
*Wearing Freshly Laundered Clothing*
1. *It is forbidden to wear freshly laundered clothing during the nine
days*. This includes all clothing except that which is worn to absorb
2. *Therefore, one must prepare before the nine days by wearing freshly
laundered suits, pants, shirts, dresses, blouses and the like for a short
time so that they may be worn during the nine days. Socks, undershirts and
underwear need not be prepared. *
3. Here too, the prohibition of using freshly laundered items applies to
linens, tablecloths, and towels.
4. One may wear freshly laundered Shabbat clothing, as well as use clean
tablecloths and towels. Changing bed linen though is prohibited.
5. Since one may wear freshly laundered garments on Shabbat, if one
forgot or was unable to prepare enough garments before the nine days, he may
change for Friday night and then change again on Shabbat morning. These
garments may then be worn during the week. This will apply only to
clothing that is suitable to wear on Shabbat, since wearing a garment on
Shabbat for the sole purpose of wearing it during the week is forbidden.
6. Fresh garments and Shabbat clothing may be worn in honor of a mitzvah
for example at a brit milah for the parents, mohel, and sandek.
*Wearing, Buying and Making New Clothes, Repairing Garments *
1. While wearing new clothing that doesn't require the blessing
"sh'hecheyanu" is permitted until the 1st of Av, during the nine days it is
prohibited even on Shabbat.
2. *One may not buy new clothes or shoes even for use after Tisha B'Av*,
except in a case of great necessity, for example for one's wedding.
3. If one forgot or was unable to buy special shoes needed for Tisha
B'Av, he may do so during the nine days.
4. Making new garments or shoes for a Jew is permitted until the Sunday
before Tisha B'Av. Afterwards it is permitted only for a non-Jew.
5. Repairing torn garments or shoes is permitted.
*Bathing and Swimming*
1. *The custom is not to bathe for pleasure during the nine days, even in
2. Being that it is the summer, and most of us are in warm
climates where one sweats and smells, a shower is not as much a form of
physical enjoyment but a hygienic necessity (and in the interest of kavod
habriot) one may take a shower under the following conditions [As per Rav
Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Pinchas Scheinberg]:
1] Limit the comfort and water temperature of the shower by
using cold water (if this poses great difficulty, one may add some warm
water, but not too much)
2] Limit the frequency of one's showering
3] Limit the time and duration of the shower to a minimum.
4] One may not use special bathing equipments, or special soaps
and oils, which are meant solely for enjoyment.
3. Soaping or shampooing and washing with hot or warm water are
prohibited - unless it is required for medical reasons or to *remove the
dirt and perspiration. Even in this case, the water should be luke-warm, not
4. Swimming (or going to the beach) is prohibited except for medical
reasons. Similarly, one may take a quick dip in a pool to remove dirt or
sweat. [Those invovled in summer camps should consult the local Rav to
determine their behavior.]
5. Bathing for a mitzvah is permitted, therefore a woman who needs to
bathe for her immersion should consult a competent rabbi.
6. A man who immerses in a mikva every Friday may do so in cold water
this Friday. But one who omits immersing occasionally because he is too busy
or because of the cold may not.
7. One who bathes every Friday in honor of Shabbat with hot water, soap
and shampoo may do so on the Friday before Tisha B'Av.
*The Day Before Tisha B'Av*
1. If a brit or redemption of the first-born occurs on the day before
Tisha B'Av, if meat is being served the meal must be held before noon.
2. Since the heart rejoices in the study of Torah, from noon some people
refrain from learning topics other than what is relevant to Tisha B'Av or
mourning. However, many people learn all topics of Torah until sunset.
3. Since Tisha B'Av is called a *moed* (holiday or appointed day,
Lamentations 1:15), no *tachanun* is said at mincha in the afternoon
before Tisha B'Av (nor on Tisha B'Av itself).
4. The custom is to eat a final meal after mincha and before sunset,
consisting of bread, cold hard-boiled eggs and water. The meal is eaten
while seated on the ground, a portion of the bread should be dipped in ashes
and eaten, and no *mezumen* is said in the blessing after the meal.
5. After the meal, one may sit normally until sunset. Shoes may be worn
all day until sunset.
*Special Rules when Tisha B'av Falls out on Sunday*
One may eat normal Shabbat meals Friday night and Shabbat day (i.e. with
wine, meat and zemirot). But, one must end the third meal (seudah
shelishit) before sunset. In addition, eating with company other than
one's family should be avoided, but a mezumen is said. In other words, there
is no special Seuda Hamafseket before the fast, hence there is no eating of
an egg or bread dipped in ashes (as we do not observe signs of public
mourning on Shabbat)
Av haRachamim is said in the morning prayers; tzidkatcha tzedek in not
said at mincha.
The laws of Tisha B'Av begin only at nightfall on Saturday night, instead
of at sunset.
Attah Chonantanu is recited as usual in the evening prayer. However, the
customary Havdalah is not said. Rather, the blessing over seeing candlelight
is recited after the evening prayer and before reading Lamentations. After
Tisha B'Av, on Sunday night, Havdallah is recited over a cup of wine (or
grape juice), however the blessings on fire and spices are omitted. In
any case, one should say *"Baruch haMavdil ben Kodesh leChol" *privately
after Arvit is completed.
Marital relations are prohibited on Motzei Shabbat except for the evening
of her immersion.
Finally, if anyone, for whatever reason, has to eat on Tisha b'av, please
remember to first make havdalah before you eat (hagefen & hamavdil) – as one
is not allowed to eat before making havdalah!
*Eating and Drinking***
1. All eating and drinking is forbidden. This includes rinsing the mouth
and brushing teeth, except in a case of great distress. Rinsing with
mouthwash or brushing teeth without water is questionable and generally
2. Swallowing capsules or bitter tablets or liquid medicine without water
3. The ill or elderly as well as pregnant and nursing women are required
to fast if they can, unless a doctor says that fasting may injure their
health - a Rabbi should be consulted) It is advisable for a woman in such a
condition to talk to her Rabbi BEFORE Tisha B'av to discuss how to act.
4. A woman within thirty days of childbirth may not fast.
5. Boys up to twelve years old and girls up to eleven are not required to
fast the entire day. There are various opinions as to whether they should
fast part of the day.
6. Those not required to fast should eat only what is needed to preserve
7. When Tisha B'Av is observed on Sunday, one who must eat recites
Havdallah over beer, coffee or tea.
*Bathing and Washing***
1. All bathing for *pleasure* is prohibited even in cold water including
the hands, face and feet.
2. Ritual washing upon waking, after using the bathroom, touching covered
parts of the body or before praying is permitted, but only up to the
knuckles. [One may take one's wet fingers and rub them on their eyes]
3. One may wash dirty or sullied portions of the body (including cleaning
the eyes of glutinous material), and if necessary may use soap or warm water
to remove the dirt or odor.
4. Washing for cooking or for medical reasons is permitted.
5. A woman may not immerse on Tisha B'Av since relations are prohibited.
Washing to commence the clean days is permitted.
1. Anointing for *pleasure* is prohibited including oil, soap, alcohol,
cream, ointment, perfume, cosmetics, etc.
2. Anointing for medical reasons is permitted, as well as using deodorant
to remove bad odor.
1. Since cohabitation is prohibited, a husband and wife should not come
in contact during the night of Tisha B'Av and should not sleep in the same
*Wearing Leather Shoes***
1. Even shoes made partially of leather are prohibited. Shoes made of
cloth, rubber or plastic are permitted.
2. Under dire circomstance, if a permitted substitute is not found, some
allow one may wear leather shoes. He should deprive himself of comfort by
placing sand in the shoes and must remove them when they are no longer
needed for walking outside and go barefoot.
3. Wearing leather shoes is permitted for medical reasons.
1. Since the heart rejoices in the study of Torah, it is prohibited to
learn topics other than those relevant to Tisha B'Av or mourning.
2. One may learn: Lamentations with its *midrash* and commentaries,
portions of the Prophets that deal with tragedy or destruction, the third
chapter of Moed Katan (which deals with mourning), the story of the
destruction (in Gittin 56b-58a, Sanhedrin 104, and in Josephus), and the
halachot of Tisha B'Av and mourning.
1. One should deprive himself of some comfort in sleep. Some reduce the
number of pillows, some sleep on the floor, or place a stone under one's
pillow. Pregnant women, the elderly and the ill are exempt.
2. Sitting on a normal chair is forbidden until midday. One may sit on a
low bench or chair, or on a cushion on the floor.
3. Greeting someone with "good morning," "hello" and the like is
prohibited. One who is greeted should answer softly and, if possible, inform
the person of the prohibition.
4. One should not give a gift except to the needy.
5. Things that divert one from mourning such as idle talk, reading the
newspaper, taking a walk for pleasure, etc. are prohibited.
6. Smoking is prohibited until afternoon, and then only for one who is
compelled to and in private.
7. The custom is to refrain until midday from any time-consuming work
that diverts one from mourning. In a case of financial loss, consult a
1. Ashkenazim do not wear *tefillin* at *Shacharit*, nor is a blessing
made on *tzitzit*. At *Mincha*, *tefillin* is worn and those who wear a *tallit
gadol* make the blessing then.
2. Sepharadim wear the *tallit* and *tefillin* at *Shacharit* as usual.
3. At *Mincha*, the prayers *Nacheim* and *Aneinu* are added to the
Shmonah Esrei during the blessing "*Veliyerushalayim*" and "*Shma Koleinu
*" respectively. " *Sim Shalom *" is said in place of "*Shalom Rav*." If
one forgot them and completed that *bracha*, he need not repeat the
*The Day After Tisha B'Av*
1. The limitations of the "Three Weeks" and the "Nine Days" continue
until midday of the 10th of Av. This includes the prohibition of music,
haircuts, meat and wine, laundering and bathing.
2. When Tisha B'Av was observed on Sunday, Havdallah is recited over a
cup of wine (or grape juice) or beer but no spices are used.
3. When this Sunday was the 10th of Av (for example the 9th was Shabbat
and observance of Tisha B'Av was postponed to Sunday the 10th), haircuts,
laundering and bathing are permitted Sunday night, the 11 th of Av.
However, meat and wine are prohibited until Monday morning.
4. When Tisha B'Av is on Thursday so that the 10th of Av is on Friday, in
honor of Shabbat laundering may be permitted Thursday night; haircuts and
bathing Friday morning; and music in the afternoon.
5. The custom is to sanctify the new moon the night after Tisha B'Av,
preferably after having eaten something. When Tisha B'Av is on Thursday, the
custom is to wait until Saturday night when the service can be said with
In the merit of mourning properly over Jerusalem, may we be rewarded to
rejoice in its rebuilding!
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.