The Mishnah teaches that “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim b’simchah,” “When Av enters, we decrease our happiness,” (Taanis 26b). Although the Mishnah does not clarify exactly how we demonstrate our decreased happiness, the Gemara (Yevamos 43a) includes four activities that are banned: (1) one should decrease one’s business activities, (2) one should refrain from construction and planting intended for joyous reasons (Yerushalmi Taanis, cited by Tosafos to Yevamos 43a s.v. Milisa), (3) one should not conduct weddings and (4) one should not make a festive meal to celebrate an engagement. (This is the interpretation of the Gemara as explained by the Tur Orach Chayim 551 and by the Ramban in Toras Ha’adam; cf. Rashi ad loc., who explains the Gemara differently.)
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN CONSTRUCTION AND PLANTING FOR “JOYOUS REASONS”?
The Mishnah Berurah rules that any construction not necessary for one’s dwelling, but performed for expansion, is prohibited (551:12). Similarly, an improvement to the appearance of a house such as painting, hanging new drapes, wall papering and all house decorating cannot be done during the Nine Days (Piskei Teshuvos). Gardening to enhance the appearance of the property is also forbidden. However, it is permitted to weed, water or mow the lawn during the Nine Days, since these activities are not for enhancement. It is also permitted to plant and maintain a vegetable garden during the Nine Days.
MAY I EXPAND MY HOUSE DURING THE NINE DAYS TO CREATE AN ADDITIONAL APARTMENT?
While writing this article, I was asked the following shaylah: A family is expanding their residence to accommodate an additional apartment for a married daughter and her family. For the apartment to be ready on schedule, the contractor needs to work during the Nine Days. Is this permitted? It would seem that it is permitted to do this expansion during the Nine Days, since its purpose is to provide normal living accommodations, and not for enhancement.
MAY ONE ENHANCE A SHUL DURING THE NINE DAYS?
Renovations and enhancements for purposes of a mitzvah are permitted during the Nine Days. Therefore, it is permitted to beautify and enhance a shul, yeshivah, or mikvah building or grounds during the Nine Days (Rama 551:3). All repair work on existing structures is permitted during the Nine Days (Shulchan Aruch 551:1).
MAY ENHANCEMENT WORK BE PERFORMED BY A NON-JEW?
There is a halachic difference between a non-Jew working as a Jew’s employee, or as a contractor who is paid for the job. One may not hire a non-Jewish employee to do work that a Jew himself may not do. However, a non-Jewish contractor may build an addition on a Jew’s property during the Nine Days (see Bach; Eliyahu Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah). One should offer the contractor some financial compensation to refrain from working on your property during the Nine Days, but one is not required to offer a significant amount of money to get him to wait until after Tisha B’Av (Mishnah Berurah).
WEAVING DURING THE NINE DAYS
The Talmud Yerushalmi cites an early custom not to weave during the Nine Days. The reason for this custom is fascinating. The Hebrew word for “warp” (the lengthwise threads on a loom) is “shesi.” This word reminds us of the “shesiyah” stone, which is the foundation stone of the world on which the aron rested in the Beis HaMikdash. In order to remind ourselves that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, we refrain from weaving during the Nine Days (cited by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch 551:8).
WHAT PROHIBITIONS APPLY TO CLOTHING DURING THE NINE DAYS?
One may not wear new clothes during the Nine Days, nor may one tailor or purchase new clothes or shoes (Shulchan Aruch 551:6-7). Similarly, it is prohibited to dry clean clothes or iron them (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). We also refrain from changing tablecloths, towels, and bed linens (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). However, it is permitted to repair shoes and clothes during the Nine Days (Piskei Teshuvos 551:ftn. 157). Although the Mishnah and the Gemara (Taanis 26b and 29b) prohibit doing laundry and wearing freshly laundered clothing only from the Motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av, the Ashkenazic custom is to refrain from Rosh Chodesh (Rama 551:3). Because we do not wear freshly laundered clothes during the Nine Days, one should prepare before Rosh Chodesh sufficient clothing already worn since it was last laundered. Towels should also be used at least once before Rosh Chodesh in order to allow their use during the Nine Days. If one’s clothing becomes sweaty or soiled during the Nine Days, one is permitted to change into clean clothes (see Aruch HaShulchan 389:7). It is permitted to launder children’s clothes and linens until the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av (Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Odom). There is a dispute among poskim until what age this applies. The Rama is lenient and implies that one may launder all children’s clothing, whereas several later poskim are stricter (see Piskei Teshuvos ftn. 232, and Chanoch Lanaar, 21:2). It is permitted to spot-clean a garment if one is concerned that the stain will set. Furthermore, it is permitted to soak a garment that is dirty without completing its laundering in order to make it easier to clean after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 511:18).
WHAT DO I DO IF I AM IN A HOTEL DURING THE NINE DAYS?
If I am forbidden to use freshly laundered bed linens during the Nine Days, what do I do if I am staying in a hotel or as a guest in someone’s home during the Nine Days? May I use the freshly laundered sheets? The poskim permit guests to use fresh bed linens, since most people are very uncomfortable using unlaundered bed linens slept on by someone else (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 10:44; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 13:61). The Minchas Yitzchak suggests dirtying the linens on the floor a little before using them. Depending on circumstances, one might also be able to bring one’s own used linens. In any instance, one should instruct the hotel not to change the linens once he has used them (until after Tisha B’Av) since the basis to be lenient no longer applies.
PLEASURE BATHING DURING THE NINE DAYS
The Gemara does not mention any prohibition regarding bathing during the Nine Days. To quote the Ran, “Washing one’s body is permitted whether in hot water or cold – and even the entire body – for Chazal only prohibited washing on Tisha B’Av itself. However, meticulous people have the custom not to bathe the entire week.” On the other hand, the Tur, quoting Avi Ezri, writes that the widespread custom is to forbid bathing from Rosh Chodesh until after Tisha B’Av. Furthermore, he states that one who violates this custom is in violation of “al titosh toras imecha,” – do not forsake the teaching of your mother, here referring to the customs of the Jewish people. The Shulchan Aruch records two customs; one to refrain from bathing from Rosh Chodesh and the second to refrain only during the week of Tisha B’Av. The accepted Ashkenazic custom is to not bathe for pleasure during the entire Nine Days, but bathing for hygienic and health purposes is permitted. A rav should be consulted as to when and how this applies.
WHY IS OUR PRACTICE TO BE MORE STRINGENT THAN THEY WERE AT THE TIME OF THE GEMARA?
In the times of chazal, the memories of the Beis HaMikdash were still very fresh and a shorter period of mourning was a sufficient reminder. Unfortunately, with the golus continuing for so long, we require a longer period of mourning to bring us into the frame of mind of mourning for the loss of the Beis HaMikdash.
WEARING SHABBOS CLOTHES
One may not wear Shabbos clothes or other unusually nice clothing during the weekdays of the Nine Days. (In most places, the custom is to wear Shabbos clothes on Shabbos Chazon.) A notable exception is that the celebrants of a bris are permitted to wear Shabbos clothes, since for them the mitzvah is a bit of a Yom Tov. In some places, the accepted custom is that they do not do so when the bris falls between Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’Av.
WHO IS CONSIDERED A CELEBRANT REGARDING THESE HALACHOS?
According to all opinions, the baby’s parents, the sandek, the mohel, and the woman who brings the baby to the bris (the kvaterin) may wear Shabbos clothes (Rama 551:1). Other opinions extend this heter to include the grandparents and other relatives (Shaarei Teshuvah end of 551:3; see also Piskei Teshuvos), as well as the people who are honored with placing the baby on the kisei shel Eliyahu, those who bring the baby closer to the bris (“cheika”), and the man who functions as the kvatter (Eliyah Rabbah). One should ask one’s rav for directions as to what to do. (Incidentally, this discussion is a source on which the ruling that family members attending a bris the rest of the year should wear Shabbos clothes is based!)
EATING MEAT AND DRINKING WINE
Although the Gemara prohibits eating meat and drinking wine only on the day before Tisha B’Av, the accepted Ashkenazic practice is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine or grape juice from Rosh Chodesh. (Many Sefardim permit eating meat on Rosh Chodesh itself, while others permit this until the Motzei Shabbos before Tisha B’Av.) Early poskim rule that someone who ignores this minhag violates the prohibition of “al titosh toras imecha,” (Mordechai Taanis #639). In addition, some poskim rule that a person who eats meat or drinks wine during the Nine Days violates a Torah law, since the Jewish people have accepted this custom as a vow (Aruch HaShulchan 551:23). IF A MOURNER IS PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT, WHY IS ONE NOT PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT DURING THE NINE DAYS?
This is a very good question. Indeed, the halachos of mourning do not prohibit a mourner from eating meat or drinking wine. The reason one refrains from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days is to remind one of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, where Hashem was served by offering korbanos of meat and wine. This reason does not apply to mourning for the loss of a close relative. An alternative reason given is that the mourning of the Nine Days is so one does not forget the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, and by forgoing meat and wine, we are more likely to remember this loss (Tur Orach Chayim 552). A mourner will not forget his loss during the week of shivah, and therefore there is no need to forbid meat as a reminder. It is permitted to eat meat at a seudas mitzvah such as on Shabbos or at a bris, pidyon haben, or siyum. People who would usually attend the seudah may join and eat meat. During the week of Tisha B’Av, only a small number of people may eat fleishig at a seudas mitzvah. For example, eating fleishig is restricted to close family members, the sandek and mohel, and an additional minyan of people. A sick person is permitted to eat meat during the Nine Days. Similarly, someone who has a digestive disorder but can tolerate poultry may eat poultry during the Nine Days. Also, a woman who is nursing or pregnant and is having difficulty obtaining enough protein in her diet may eat poultry or meat during the Nine Days. In these situations, it is preferable for her to eat poultry rather than meat, if that will satisfy her protein needs (Aruch HaShulchan 551:26). A person who eats meat because he is ill or attending a seudas mitzvah will not violate either the vow discussed above or “al titosh” because klal Yisroel accepted the minhag of not eating meat with these exceptions in mind (Aruch HaShulchan 551:26).
AT WHAT TYPE OF SIYUM IS IT PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT?
One may serve meat at a siyum where the completion of the learning coincides with the Nine Days and where one would usually serve a festive fleishig meal. One should not deliberately rush or slow down the learning in order to have a fleishig siyum during the Nine Days (Eliyah Rabbah 551:26; Mishnah Berurah 551:73; Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). However, it is permitted to deliberately schedule a seder of learning in advance so that its siyum falls during the Nine Days if this will encourage more Torah to be learned (Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). Some poskim record that they deliberately delayed siyumim that fell during the Nine Days and celebrated them after Tisha B’Av (Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). One may not eat fleishig leftovers of a seudas mitzvah during the Nine Days (Eliyah Rabbah 551:26; Mishnah Berurah 551:73). Incidentally, one sees from these sources that a bris should be celebrated with a fleishig meal, because if not, why are allowances made to eat meat at a seudas bris during the Nine Days? This proves that the seudas bris is not complete without serving fleishigs.
IS ONE PERMITTED TO USE WINE VINEGAR IN A RECIPE DURING THE NINE DAYS?
Yes, it is permitted to use wine vinegar since it tastes totally different from wine (Rama 551:9). It is also permitted to drink beer, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages during the Nine Days (see Rama 551:11).
MAY ONE TASTE THE FOOD ON EREV SHABBOS CHAZON?
In general, it is a mitzvah of kavod Shabbos to taste the food being cooked for Shabbos to make sure that it tastes good (Magen Avraham 250:1, quoting Kisvei Ari). On Erev Shabbos during the Nine Days, one may also taste the food. However, one should try not to swallow food containing meat ingredients (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 42:61). No bracha is recited when tasting a small amount of food, unless one swallows it (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 210:2).
IS IT PERMITTED TO FEED CHILDREN MEAT ON EREV SHABBOS?
In general, it is not permitted to feed children meat during the Nine Days, including erev Shabbos. Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that if the children are fed their Shabbos evening meal before the rest of the family has accepted Shabbos, one may feed them meat at this meal because this is their Shabbos meal (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:21:4).
HOW DOES ONE MAKE HAVDALAH DURING THE NINE DAYS?
One recites Havdalah on wine or grape juice. If a young child present is old enough to make brachos but not old enough to understand that we do not eat meat during the Nine Days, that child should drink the Havdalah cup. If there is no such child available, the person reciting Havdalah should drink the wine or grape juice himself.
MAY ONE HAVE A FLEISHIG MELAVA MALKA DURING THE NINE DAYS?
Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one may not, since it is not a universal practice to have a fleishig melava malka (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:21:4).
WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMEONE RECITES A BRACHA ON MEAT AND THEN REALIZES THAT IT IS FORBIDDEN TO EAT THE MEAT?
A person who recites a bracha on meat and then realizes that it is the Nine Days, should eat a little of the meat so that his bracha is not in vain, a bracha levatalah. Eating a tiny bit does not provide any simcha and therefore does not conflict with mourning (Sdei Chemed 5:278:5 and 5:368:4). Furthermore, the person is eating the meat only in order to avoid reciting a bracha in vain.
MAY ONE EAT FLEISHIG SOUP DURING THE NINE DAYS? Although it is a dispute among poskim whether this is prohibited, Ashkenazim are strict not to eat soup made with meat or chicken. However, it is permitted to eat food cooked in a fleishig pot that contains only pareve ingredients (Mishnah Berurah 511:63).
LITIGATION DURING THE MONTH OF AV
The Gemara (Taanis 29b) teaches that a Jew who has litigation with a non-Jew should avoid scheduling the adjudication during Av, since this is a month in which the mazel for Jews is bad. Should one avoid litigation for the entire month, or only until after Tisha B’Av? Some poskim assume that one should avoid litigation the entire month of Av because the entire month has the same mazel (Magen Avraham). Other poskim rule, however, that the bad mazel is only until the 10th of Av, when the mourning period for Tisha B’Av ends, or until the 15th, which is considered a Yom Tov. The Chasam Sofer (commentary to Shulchan Aruch) explains that Av has two different mazelos, one before Tisha B’Av and another one afterwards. While the earlier mazel is bad for the Jews, after Tisha B’Av a new mazel begins that is good for the Jews. Thus according to these opinions, there is no problem with scheduling the litigation for shortly after Tisha B’Av.
THE REWARD FOR OBSERVING THE NINE DAYS
The Midrash (Midrash Rabbah, Shmos 15:21) teaches that Hashem will bring forth ten new creations in the era of Moshiach: 1. He will create a new light for the world. 2. He will bring forth a freshwater spring from Yerushalayim whose waters will heal all illness. 3. He will create trees that every month will produce new fruits that have curative powers. 4. All the cities of Eretz Yisroel will be rebuilt, including even Sodom and Amora. 5. Hashem will rebuild Yerushalayim with sapphire stone that will glow and thereby attract all the nations of the world to come and marvel at the beauty of the city. 6. The cow and the bear will graze together, and their young will play together. (See Yeshaya 11:7). 7. Hashem will make a covenant with all the creatures of the world and banish all weapons and warfare. (See Hoshea 2:20.) 8. There will be no more crying in the city of Yerushalayim. 9. Death will perish forever. 10. Everyone will be joyful, and there will be an end to all sighing or worry. The Kaf HaChayim (551:1) states that everyone who meticulously observes the halachos of the first ten days of Av, thereby demonstrating his personal mourning over the churban of Yerushalayim, will merit to witness these ten miracles. May we all merit to see these miracles speedily and in our days.