Judaism: Laws for "The Nine Days"
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Washing During the Week of Tisha B’Av
Q: Can I wash and shampoo during the week of Tisha B’Av (the Fast of the Ninth of Av), and what is the halakha when refraining from bathing causes real distress?
A: According to the ruling of our Sages, the prohibition of bathing applies only to Tisha B’Av itself, however, the Rishonim were customary to be stringent and avoid bathing in hot water during the week of Tisha B’Av. In Sephardic countries, it was the custom of many Jews to act stringently and not bathe in hot water during the week of Tisha B’Av, while in Ashkenaz, where the weather is cooler and people perspire less, the custom was not to bathe at all – not even in cold water – during the Nine Days, and only before Shabbat Chazon (the Shabbat immediately preceding the fast, named for the first word of the Haftarah read in the synagogue, ed.), would they bathe a little in cold water.
Thus, according to the ‘minhag’ (custom) of the Sephardim, ‘l’chatchila’ one can bathe during the week of Tisha B’Av, providing the water is lukewarm – neither pleasurable, nor painful.
Apparently, in Israel today, even according to the Ashkenazi custom, one is allowed to bathe. Firstly, because in this matter one can rely on the customs of the Sephardim, for they were founded in areas with similar climate to that of Israel.
Furthermore today, cleanliness and washing habits have changed completely. In the past, when there was no running water, bathing was considered a special occasion of pleasure and indulgence. But today, most people are used to bathing every day, and it has become routine. If a person who bathes every day doesn’t do so, he will feel distressed; others may even find it hard to fall asleep at night.
Therefore, anyone who feels distressed about not having bathed is allowed to wash as he normally does, during the nine days and the week of Tisha B’Av. If one normally shampoos his hair, he can do so. All this, provided he washes in lukewarm water – where on the one hand, it is not a pleasure to remain in the water longer, but conversely, he does not have to really suffer from the cold water.
In regards to one who has body odor due to an un-bathed body, although he does not suffer from it, he should wash during the Nine Days and the week of Tisha B’Av, because of ‘gadol kevod habriyot’ (human dignity). Nowadays, many people are sensitive to body odor, and if one does not bathe, God’s name will be desecrated as man is in the image of G-d.
Vacation and Travel
Our Sages said in the Mishna: “When the month of Av enters, we diminish our joy” (Taanit 26b). Consequently, during the Nine Days, happy events such as trips, vacations at hotels, and friendly gatherings, should not be held. Only events whose primary purpose is educational or public-oriented may be held. Therefore, it is permitted to organize study tours and seminars, even though they are somewhat joyful. A person who needs to rest for health reasons is permitted to go on vacation to a hotel or health resort during these days.
Reciting the ‘Shehecheyanu’ Blessing
Q: Should someone who meets a very good friend at one of the seminars held during the nine days, whom he hasn’t seen for thirty days and is happy to see, recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing, or, perhaps since it’s the nine days, he shouldn’t?
A: He should recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing, because if he does not recite it at that moment – he misses out on the blessing. As explained in the ‘Shulchan Aruch’ (551:17), that it is proper to be careful not to recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing during the three weeks on fruit or clothing, because one can postpone reciting the blessing until after Tisha B’Av. However, R’ma writes that if one is unable to recite a blessing over the fruit after Tisha B’Av, such as if the fruit will rot by then, he should recite the blessing immediately, in order not to miss out on the mitzvah (see, Mishna Berura 551:101).
Q: Is one allowed to go swimming during the Nine Days for pleasure or for health reasons?
A: If one’s goal is to have a good time, it is forbidden to go swimming in a pool or in the ocean from Rosh Chodesh Av, because this falls under the category of “When the month of Av enters, we diminish our joy”.
Someone who swims everyday for health reasons, to freshen-up, or to keep in shape, since refraining from swimming for a couple of days will not damage his health, according to the Ashkenazi minhag, one should refrain from swimming for all of the Nine Days. According to Sephardic minhag, one should avoid swimming only during the week of Tisha B’Av.
Someone whose doctor instructed him to swim every day in order to rehabilitate himself, may swim up until the eve of Tisha B’Av.
Q: Is it permissible to hold an induction party in honor of a friend who is about to enlist in the army?
A: An induction party should not be held during these days, for they are days in which we diminish our joy, and an induction party, as its name implies – is a happy occasion. But it is permitted to gather and speak words of Torah and encouragement in honor of a friend enlisting in the army. However, if in any case his enlistment is only a few days after Tisha B’Av, such a gathering during the Nine Days should not be held, because it is similar to holding a friendly party.
Construction and Renovations
Seeing as we diminish our joy during the Nine Days, it is forbidden to build a ‘biynan shel simcha’ (luxury building), such as expanding one’s house or terrace, without any great need to do so.
It is also forbidden to whitewash or paint one’s house, because such actions are considered unessential pleasures, for a person could manage to live in the apartment without them (Shulchan Aruch 551:2).
During the Nine Days it is also forbidden to make renovations designed for decorative or luxury purposes, such as replacing shutters, cabinets, curtains, and other costly, pleasurable and unessential things.
Contractors and Workers
Contractors and Jewish laborers are allowed to continue building houses and apartments up for sale, because they are designed for residential purposes and not for luxury. In addition, construction is their livelihood. Also, in Eretz Yisrael, it is a mitzvah to build houses. Nevertheless, plastering and painting should be postponed until after the Nine Days, but if doing so will cause a great loss – it is permitted.
Moving into a New Apartment
Q: Can one move into a new apartment during the nine days?
A: In general, one should not move into a new apartment, whether purchased or rented, during the Nine Days – partly because of the happiness it entails, and also because there is not a ‘siman tov’ (good sign) during these days. But if delaying entry will cause a large loss, one is permitted.
Redemption through Torah Study in Israel
During these days, as we mourn the Destruction, we should arouse and strengthen our efforts in matters that bring the Redemption closer. It is written in Tana D’bei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Zuta 14): “Israel is not redeemed out of sorrow, or out of slavery, or out of wandering, or out of madness, or out of duress, or out of a lack of food, but out of ten people sitting together, each one reading and learning with his partner, their voices heard, as it is written: “But upon Mount Zion there will be refuge, and there will be holiness” (Ovadiah 1:17).
Suffering alone can not bring Redemption. Redemption will come by way of deep study, guiding the lives of the individual and the collective, the spiritual and the physical, the sacred and the secular, to live complete, Torah lives. And even if only ten people learn together sincerely, for the sake of bringing the Redemption and ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world), their voices will be heard by the multitudes, and will merit bringing the Redemption.
Building the Land of Israel Brings Redemption
It is well known that in the words of the Prophets and our holy Sages, settling the Land of Israel is the foundation and key to the Redemption, as cited in the book ‘Kol HaTor’, chapter 5: “And who is as great in all previous generations as Rabbeinu HaGra (Gaon of Vilna), Kadosh Yisrael, who, in his passionate oratory fire, urged his students to go to Eretz Yisrael and engage in the Ingathering of the Exiles, relentlessly encouraging his students to hasten the ‘Revealed End of Times’, to bring the Final Redemption by settling the Land of Israel.
Almost every day, Rabbeinu spoke to us emotionally and excitedly, that ‘In Zion and Jerusalem will there be refuge’, and not to delay the point in time. Who can put into words the magnitude of Rabbeinu’s apprehension as he spoke of these matters to us, in his holy spirit and with tears in his eyes.”
Furthermore, we have learned that the ‘Sin of the Spies’ – those who despised the cherished Land – occurred on Tisha B’Av, and it was decreed that if they did not correct their sin, the First and Second Temples would be destroyed on Tisha B’Av, and the galut would begin.
Therefore, during these days we must awaken to the importance of the mitzvah of settling the Land, and every single Jew who is able, has the sacred duty to go up and settle in holy center of Eretz Yisrael – in Judea and Samaria.
Torah Study on Shabbat Expresses Our Right to the Land
“The Torah said before God: Master of the Universe! When Israel enters the Land, one person will run to [toil in] his vineyard, while another will run to [toil in] his field. What will be with me? God said to the Torah: I have a partner for you, and Shabbat is its name – for on that day, Israel will cease to work, and can engage in you” (Midrash, cited in Tur, Orach Chaim 290). And as we have learned in the Gemara (Pesachim 68b) and Rishonim (Or Ze’rua, S’mag, and others), half the time of Shabbat should be dedicated to Torah, that is to say, at least six hours.
The more we strengthen our Torah study on Shabbat, the stronger our right to the Land will be, for the main objective of Eretz Yisrael is for holiness to reveal itself in everyday life as well, and in all various occupations; but this, provided one learns a lot on Shabbat, for by doing so, holiness and blessing spreads to all our accomplishments during the six workdays.
The Mitzvah ‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’ Leads to Redemption
Additionally, during these days we must awaken to what our Sages have said (Eliyahu Zuta 14): “And just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of proliferating, so too will they be redeemed in the future. How do you know? Know for sure that this is the case, for Israel will be redeemed only if they proliferate and fill the entire the world, as it is said: “For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited” (Isaiah 54:3).