Rosh Chodesh Av: Laws of the Nine Days

Joyous events are forbidden during the Nine Days that begin Monday July 24 this year, but study tours and seminars are permitted. In Israel today, the prohibition of bathing during the Nine Days is not applicable. A primer.

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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Travel and Leisure

Our Sages said in the Mishna: “When the month of Av enters, we diminish our joy” (Taanit 26b). Consequently, during the Nine Days, joyous 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.

The Blessing "Shehecheyanu" on Seeing a Friend after Thirty Days

Q: Should someone who meets a very good friend at one of these 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 should refrain from blessing?

A: He should recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing, because if he does not recite it at that moment – he misses out on the blessing. When the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) wrote that it is proper to be careful not to recite the “Shehecheyanu” blessing during the Three Weeks, they were talking about a situation in which one could postpone reciting the blessing until after Tisha B’Av, but when not reciting the blessing will result in its' loss, one should recite the blessing immediately.

Construction and Renovations

Seeing as we diminish our joy during the Nine Days, it is forbidden to build a ‘biynan shel simcha’ (a building that is expressly built to make people happy and as a luxury), such as expanding one’s house or building a terrace, without any great need to do so. Someone who started to build before the Nine Days should stipulate in the contract from the outset that construction should be terminated during the Nine Days. If one was negligent and did not make such a stipulation, he should ask the contractor to stop work during the Nine Days. If the contractor refuses, there is no need to break the contract with him.

When the expansion of one's house is vital, such as a person who lives with his family in a cramped apartment, he may build an additional room during the Nine Days. One may also do any type of construction that is designed to prevent damage.  For example, if a wall is about to fall, one may knock it down in an orderly fashion and rebuild it, even if he does not need the room in which it is found and there is no danger involved, because doing it this way prevents damage.

Painting and Repairs

It is also forbidden to whitewash or paint one’s house during the Nine Days, because such actions are considered unessential pleasures, for a person could manage to live in an apartment without them. 

During the Nine Days it is also forbidden to make renovations intended for decorative or luxury purposes, such as replacing shutters, cabinets, curtains and other costly, pleasurable, and unessential things.

For the Sake of a Mitzvah

It is permissible to build, plaster, or paint for the sake of a mitzvah, such as building a synagogue or a school. And anything needed for the public- good is considered a mitzvah-need, and is permissible.

Contractors and Construction Workers

Jewish contractors and laborers are permitted to continue building houses and apartment projects during the Nine Days, since they are intended 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

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.

Joyous Transactions

During the Three Weeks we refrain from buying anything over which the blessing ‘Shehechiyanu’ is recited when purchased. When the month of Av enters, we curtail our joy, including limiting the purchase of joyous items. In other words, one may not buy extraneous items such as jewelry, clothing, fancy utensils, new furniture, or a family car, even if in practice one does not receive the items until after Tisha B'Av. Even to begin look into purchasing options is forbidden during the Nine Days because this also entails a certain amount of joy.

However, a person who comes across an opportunity to buy something at a special price that will cause him joy, and has good reason to believe that if he waits until after Tish’a B’Av he will miss out on the deal, may purchase the item during the Nine Days. It is best, however, to bring it home, or begin using it, only after Tish’a B’Av.

It is preferable to curtail even ordinary, non-joyous transactions. For example, one who usually makes a big shopping trip and stocks up on food and household items only once every few weeks should ideally do so before or after the Nine Days.

Transactions for the Sake of a Mitzvah

One may buy joyous items if they are needed for the sake of a mitzvah. Therefore, one may purchase tefillin or holy books during this period, because they are mitzvah accessories, and the standard custom is not to recite Shehechiyanu over them. However, someone who is extremely happy when purchasing such items would be required to recite Shehechiyanu, and consequently, it is forbidden for him to buy them during the Nine Days.

Crocs Shoes are forbidden to be worn on Tisha B'Av

It is forbidden to wear Crocs shoes on Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur. True, the Rishonim and the Achronim were in disagreement about whether the prohibition of wearing sandals also applies to non-leather materials; however, their disagreement concerned times when shoes made of other materials were not comfortable for walking, and only the poor, having no other choice, would wear them in public; therefore, some poskim did not consider them as shoes. But today, when good-quality shoes are produced from various materials, and even people who buy shoes often prefer them, any shoe which people normally wear in public even in rock-strewn places – are forbidden to be worn on Tisha B'Av. This is the halakhic decision of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel shlita.

One who does not have canvas or rubber shoes for Tish’a B'Av is permitted, when necessary, to buy them during the Nine Days.

The Prohibition of Laundering and Shaving for Sephardic Jews

The Rabbis forbade us to wash clothes during the week in which Tish’a B’Av falls. Ironing and dry cleaning are included in this prohibition, and this is the Sephardic minhag (custom).

This year, Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, and the fast is postponed until Sunday. The poskim are in disagreement as far as the din (law) concerning the previous week; in practice, the minhag is to be lenient, and in such a situation, there is no ‘shavua she’chal bo’ (week in which Tish’a B’Av falls), and consequently, Sephardic Jews are allowed to do laundry for the entire week without restrictions.

However, concerning haircuts and shaving, it is appropriate for all Sephardic Jews to be machmir (stringent) this year, and not shave during the week before Shabbat (see, Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:23, footnote 7).

The Prohibition of Laundering According to Ashkenazi Custom

Ashkenazi Jews follow a stricter custom and refrain from washing clothes during all of the Nine Days, and only the clothing of babies and children who customarily get their clothes dirty are permitted to be washed.

Just as it is forbidden to wash clothing during this period, it is also forbidden to wear laundered clothing. This prohibition also includes spreading fresh linens on a bed, and putting a freshly laundered tablecloth on a table.

Since the prohibition against wearing laundered garments lasts several days, it is customary to prepare a sufficient amount of “used” clothing for this period, as follows: Before the prohibited time begins, one wears a number of different articles of clothing, each one for an hour or more. In this way, the garments lose their status of “freshly laundered” and may be worn during the prohibited period. One who failed to do so, may take a laundered garment, place it on the floor and even step on it, and by doing so, it is no longer considered freshly laundered, and may be worn.

During this period one may wear clean underwear and socks and change filthy hand towels. Since people are accustomed nowadays to changing these articles frequently, changing them does not entail any aspect of pleasure; rather, simply the removal of something repulsive. A person who wishes to be machmir can place them on the floor before wearing them.

In a time of need when one has no clean underwear left to wear, they may be washed – even for adults. When possible, it is preferable to add them to a load of laundry being done to wash clothing for young children.

Bathing During the Week of Tisha B’Av

Although the Sages determined that bathing on Tish’a B’Av alone was forbidden, the Rishonim were custom to refrain from bathing on the days preceding Tish’a B’Av as well. In Spain (Sfarad), many were strict not to wash themselves with hot water during the week of Tish’a B’Av, while in Germany (Ashkenaz), where the climate was cooler and people perspired less, the custom was not to bathe at all during the Nine Days –even in cold water. Only in preparation for Shabbat Chazon would they partially bathe themselves in cold water.

Thus, according to the Sephardic custom, l’chatchila (from the outset) one may bathe during the week of Tish’a B’Av, provided one uses lukewarm water that causes neither suffering nor pleasure.

It seems that today, even according to the Ashkenazi minhag, one is permitted to bathe. First, because one may rely on the Sephardic minhag, because their custom was established in a similar climate to that of Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, in our times hygienic and washing habits have changed completely. In the past, when people did not have running water in their homes, bathing was considered a special occasion of pleasure and indulgence. Nowadays though, most people are accustomed to bathe regularly, and it has become a routine practice, devoid of any special pleasure or pampering.

Therefore, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are permitted to bathe normally during the Nine Days and the week of Tisha B’Av, including shampooing one’s hair as usual, provided it is done in lukewarm water that is not a pleasure to remain in for a longer period of time, but on the other hand, the water is not so cold that the bather will suffer from them.

A person who smells from foul body odor due to a lack of bathing is obligated to shower, and should be careful not to be machmir in this minhag, so as not to cause a desecration of God’s name.

Bathing in a Pool or Ocean

If the objective of bathing in a pool or ocean is for pleasure, it is forbidden from Rosh Chodesh because we are required to curtail our joy.

But when bathing or swimming is intended primarily for health purposes, such as people accustomed to swimming every day in a pool for half an hour, according to Sephardic custom it is permitted until Shabbat Chazon, and according to Ashkenazi custom one should be machmir for all of the Nine Days, but someone wishing to act leniently, has authorities on which to base being lenient.

However, if a person's doctor instructs him to swim for health reasons, he may do so l'chatchila until the eve of Tisha B’Av.

Reposted from 2016