The Three Weeks & Nine Days: Laws & Meaning | Aleph Beta

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What Are The Three Weeks & Nine Days?

The fast of Tammuz begins the three-week period of mourning known as Bein HaMetzarim (“between the straits”), a phrase taken from the book of Eicha, or simply “the three weeks.” The Three Weeks start on 17th of Tammuz (or 18th of Tammuz if the 17th is on Shabbat), also known as the fast day Shiva Asar B’Tammuz. This period begins and ends with fasting, and throughout the three weeks, Jewish practice serves to reduce the joy and comfort experienced during this time. 

After the first of Av, on Rosh Chodesh, the nine days before Tisha B’Av are observed with particularly strict mourning and sadness. These days of intense mourning are often referred to as “The Nine Days”. The Mishnah says that “When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy”, and therefore several additional restrictions and mourning practices are adopted during this time.

The three weeks and the nine days commemorate the loss of the First and Second Temples, and atone for the sins – like sinat chinam, baseless hatred – that led to the collapse of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Exile and diaspora followed the destruction of the Holy Temples, and began the exile ("galut") that will one day be brought to an end in the days of Moshiach. Rabbi Fohrman inspects several interesting connections in the Torah that hint at a messianic era that almost happened.

In 2024 (5784), the Three Weeks will start at dawn on Tuesday, July 23, and end at sundown on Tuesday, August 12. The Nine Days will start on Sunday, August 4, at sundown.

Laws Of The Three Weeks & Nine Days

During the Three Weeks, many Jews adopt practices of mourning. These can include refraining from holding public celebrations, haircuts and shaving, and buying new clothes, similar to mourning practices observed during the Omer period.

The Three Weeks are considered a time of tragedy on the Jewish calendar. Therefore, many Jews refrain from potentially dangerous activities like swimming or adventure sports during this time.

Listening to music and attending performances such as theater or concerts is prohibited during Jewish times of mourning. Some Jews do listen to music that is performed a cappella, without instruments or percussion.

During the Three Weeks and Nine Days, it is traditional to recite “Al Naharot Bavel” (“By the Waters of Babylon”), a mournful song about the loss of the Temple and Jerusalem, before saying grace after meals.

It should be noted that many of these customs are held primarily by Jews of Ashkenazic descent. Sephardic Jews often observe these practices only during the week of Tisha B’Av itself.

There aren’t halachot during the three weeks like there are during the nine days or Tisha Ba’v itself.

Halachot of the Nine Days

The laws of the Nine Days, which begin on Rosh Chodesh Av, intensify the prohibitions of mourning.

During the Nine Days, many Jews do not eat meat or meat products (except on Shabbat) to deprive themselves of that pleasure. Laundry is not washed except in extreme need, and many Jews take short, cold showers to avoid the comfort of bathing.