Do the Clothes Make the Man?
Not If They Are Washed During the Nine Days!
The Mishnah teaches that “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim b’simcha,” “Once Av enters, we decrease our happiness” (Taanis 26b). Although the Mishnah does not clarify what we must do to decrease our happiness, the Gemara (Yevamos 43a) lists four activities that are banned during these days:
(1) We decrease our business activities.
(2) We refrain from construction and planting intended for joyous reasons (Yerushalmi Taanis, cited by Tosafos to Yevamos 43a s.v. Milisa).
(3) We do not conduct weddings.
(4) We do not make a festive meal to celebrate an engagement. (This interpretation of the Gemara Yevamos follows the Ramban in Toras Ha’adam and the Tur Orach Chayim 551, but is not the approach used by Rashi ad loc.)
So, why don’t we launder clothes during the entire Nine Days, if the Gemara does not prohibit it?
The Mishnah prohibits laundering from the motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av until Tisha B’Av. (The days from the motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av until Tisha B’Av are called “the week in which Tisha B’Av occurs.”) However, these laws do not apply at all this year, since Tisha B’Av falls on Sunday.
Similarly, during these days, one may not launder bed linens, tablecloths, or clothes belonging to a gentile. One may also not wash children’s clothing, although there is a dispute why the prohibition was extended to children. Some contend that this is because of chinuch — to train children to be aware of the loss of the Beis HaMikdosh, while others contend that adults feel increased mourning by seeing children in unwashed clothes.
DOES ANY HALACHIC DIFFERENCE RESULT FROM THIS DISPUTE?
Indeed it does. According to the reason that we are training children to feel the mourning, the prohibition applies only to clothes of children old enough to appreciate the mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdosh, but not to younger children. Thus, some poskim permit washing clothing of children under the age of eight (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 551:38, based on Rama). However, other poskim prohibit washing all children’s clothing (Shulchan Aruch 551:14), while a third opinion permits washing garments of children, but only until the age of four (Ben Ish Chai, Devorim 6). The two latter opinions hold that children do not wear freshly laundered clothes, so that adults should feel increased mourning by seeing children in unwashed clothes.
NINE DAYS WITHOUT FRESH LAUNDRY
At some point in Jewish history, Ashkenazim extended the prohibition against laundering or wearing fresh laundry earlier, prohibiting these practices from Rosh Chodesh Av (Rama 551:3). Most Sefardim do not follow this practice, but launder and wear fresh laundry from Rosh Chodesh until Shabbos Chazon. (Although the Kaf HaChayim is more stringent and follows the Rama’s approach [551:64], the Ben Ish Chai [Devorim 6] and most other Sefardic authorities disagree.)
WHY ARE ASHKENAZIM MORE STRINGENT THAN THE MISHNAH?
If the Mishnah permits laundering before the week in which Tisha B’Av occurs, why did Ashkenazim ban laundry from Rosh Chodesh?
The reason is that in the times of Chazal, the memories of the Beis HaMikdosh were still very fresh in people’s minds, and a shorter period of mourning was a sufficient reminder of the Churban. But now, after our long golus, we require a longer period of mourning to arouse our feelings and mourn properly for the Beis HaMikdosh.
Some commentaries point out that this public mourning follows the exact opposite procedure of private mourning. Whereas private mourning moves from the more intense mourning periods to less intense, the public mourning begins with the Three Weeks, then to the Nine Days, the week in which Tisha B’Av occurs, Erev Tisha B’Av, and finally the intense mourning of Tisha B’Av itself. By gradually increasing the intensity of the mourning, we should be able to reach the appropriate sense of loss on Tisha B’Av, itself.
ARE THERE ANY HALACHIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FIRST PART OF THE NINE DAYS AND THE SECOND PART?
Since the days from Rosh Chodesh until Shabbos are prohibited only by custom, whereas the days after Shabbos are prohibited because of Takanas Chazal, do any halachic differences result from this distinction?
Yes, they do! Many poskim contend that one may wash children’s clothes until the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 551:38; Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Odom). They assume that the Ashkenazic custom did not include children’s laundry, and therefore, these clothes may be washed until the time banned by Chazal.
Another halachic difference between the first and latter part of the Nine Days is that someone who has only one of a certain garment, say – one shirt – may wash it during the first part of the Nine Days. The poskim explain that the custom not to launder during the beginning of the Nine Days should not be more stringent than Chol HaMoed, when someone who has only one of a certain garment may wash it (Mishnah Berurah 551:29, quoting Elyah Rabbah).
WHY IS LAUNDERING PROHIBITED DURING THESE DAYS?
Rashi (Taanis 29b) explains that doing laundry distracts one from the mourning atmosphere that should pervade this week. For this reason, one may not launder clothes during these days, even if he intends to put them aside until after Tisha B’Av (Gemara Taanis 29b). One may not give laundry to a gentile during the Nine Days (Rama 551:3), even if one tells him not to launder it until after Tisha B’Av (Magen Avraham 551:15), because giving laundry to a gentile distracts one from mourning (Levushei Serad). If laundry is forbidden due to the distraction it causes, certainly other forms of recreational activity should be avoided completely.
However, all this does not explain why one may not wear freshly laundered clothes during these days, since this is not distracting (Ramban, Rashba, Ran, all quoted by Beis Yosef). The Rishonim explain that wearing freshly laundered clothes is prohibited, because it violates the public period of mourning that these days represent.
NOTHING TO WEAR
If someone’s garment became dirty or sweaty so that he can no longer wear it and all his remaining clothes are freshly laundered, he may change into those clothes. If he has nothing to change into, he may even launder the soiled garment (see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 381:3, 389:2; Aruch HaShulchan Yoreh Deah 389:6, 7; Gesher HaChayim pg 234). However, one should prevent this from happening, by preparing sufficient “worn” clothing before Rosh Chodesh. One does this by changing into different shirts, wearing each one for a half-hour or so, and then putting them away to wear during the Nine Days (or the week of Tisha B’Av, if he/she is a Sefardi [see Ben Ish Chai, Devorim 6; Kaf HaChayim 551:9]). Towels should also be used at least once before Rosh Chodesh, in order to allow their use during the Nine Days (ibid.).
One may spot-clean a garment, if he is concerned that the stain will set or if he is embarrassed to wear such a garment and has no substitute. It is also permitted to soak a dirty garment without completing its laundering, in order to facilitate its cleaning after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 511:18).
FRESH FOR SHABBOS
To fulfill a mitzvah, one may wash and wear fresh clothes, even during the week that Tisha B’Av occurs (see Rama; Mishnah Berurah 30). This is because Chazal did not prohibit laundering done for a mitzvah, but considered the observance of the mitzvah to be more important. According to this reasoning, one could argue that it is permitted to wash laundry to provide fresh linen for one’s guests. For the same reason, one may wear fresh clothes and use fresh tablecloths for Shabbos (Rama 551:3). However, one may not use fresh linens, presumably because this will not significantly diminish the dignity of Shabbos (Taz 551:4, quoting Maharshal; Mishnah Berurah 551:33).
Although one may wear freshly laundered clothes on Shabbos, one may not use Shabbos to prepare garments for weekday wear. Thus, one may not change one’s clothes extra times on Shabbos in order to have more pre-worn clothes for after Shabbos. However, if one is changing one’s clothes in any case, such as upon arising in the morning, he does not need to put on the clothes worn the night before, but may wear different clothes, so that he’ll have extra clothes for the following weekdays. This is permitted, because one is not changing his clothes only for the purpose of the weekday (Ben Ish Chai, Devorim 6).
THURSDAY IS WASH DAY
The poskim dispute whether one may launder on Thursday of the Nine Days, if he does not have freshly laundered clothing for Shabbos (Magen Avraham 551:14 permits this; however, see Darchei Moshe, who implies that one may not). The poskim imply that this is permitted only on Thursday, but not on any other day of the week.
Why not do the laundry on Friday?
Around the time of the construction of the Second Beis HaMikdosh, the great Jewish leader, Ezra, instituted ten takanos, special decrees, for the benefit of the Jewish people. One of them was that laundry should be washed every Thursday, in honor of Shabbos (Bava Kama 82a).
Why did Ezra specify Thursday? The poskim dispute this point. Some contend that Ezra prohibited laundering on Friday in order to guarantee that Friday remain available for other Shabbos preparations (Magen Avraham 242:3). Other poskim contend that the focus of Ezra’s takanah was different: Do the laundry on Thursday, in order to assure that one has fresh clothes for Shabbos. In earlier generations, laundering was extremely time consuming and it was impractical to launder on Erev Shabbos (Elyah Rabbah 242:9). Furthermore, the clothes would not be dry for Shabbos. Therefore, Ezra ruled that one should launder on Thursday, in order to guarantee relatively fresh laundry for Shabbos. Because of this, there is a year round obligation every Thursday to check that the family has clean laundry, linens, and tablecloths for Shabbos, and if not, to launder them.
Although most later poskim do not follow the first opinion that the takanah was against laundering on Friday (Shaarei HaTziyun 242:16), one should still preferably do laundry on Thursday, rather than on Friday. However, when Tisha B’Av occurs on Thursday one may launder on Thursday night or Friday according to all opinions (see Magen Avraham 551:18, 558:1).
WHAT OTHER PROHIBITIONS APPLY TO CLOTHING DURING THE NINE DAYS?
One may not dry-clean clothes or iron them (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). Again, Ashkenazim observe these laws from Rosh Chodesh, and Sefardim from the motza’ei Shabbos before Tisha B’Av. However, it is permitted to repair shoes and clothes during the Nine Days (Kaf HaChayim 551:107; Piskei Teshuvos 551:ftn. 157).
One may not wear Shabbos clothes or other unusually nice clothing during the weekdays of the Nine Days. A notable exception is that the celebrants of a bris are permitted to wear Shabbos clothes, since for them it is a Yom Tov (Rama 551:1).
The poskim record different customs concerning whether one wears weekday or Shabbos clothes on Shabbos Chazon. Our custom is to wear Shabbos clothes on Shabbos Chazon. Some poskim hold that one should change out of the Shabbos clothes immediately after Shabbos (based on Magen Avraham 262:2 and 559:10)
WHO IS A CELEBRANT?
Which celebrants may wear Shabbos clothes at a bris during the Nine Days? According to all opinions, the baby’s parents, the sandek (who holds the baby when the bris is performed), the mohel, and the woman who brings the baby to the bris (the kvaterin) may wear Shabbos clothes (Rama 551:1). Other opinions permit the baby’s grandparents and other close relatives to wear Shabbos clothes (Shaarei Teshuvah, end of 551:3), as well as the person honored with placing the baby on the kisei shel Eliyahu, those who bring the baby closer to the bris (“cheika”), and the kvatter (see Elyah Rabbah 551:27). Each person should consult his rav for practical psak. (Incidentally, this discussion is a source that family members attending a bris during the rest of the year should wear Shabbos clothes!)
One may not wear new clothes during the Nine Days, even on Shabbos (Magen Avraham 551:6; Mishnah Berurah 551:9, 45; Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:80), nor may one tailor or purchase new clothes or shoes (Rama 551:6-7). (If these are garments for which one would usually recite shehechiyanu, then we do not wear them the entire Three Weeks.) However, one may purchase non-leather footwear, even during the week of Tisha B’Av if one has no suitable footwear for Tisha B’Av — because of the extenuating circumstances that otherwise, he would have to walk all day Tisha B’Av without footwear (Shu’t Igros Moshe 3:80).
What do I do if I am in a hotel during the Nine Days?
If one may not use freshly laundered bed linens during the Nine Days, what should one do if one stays in a hotel or as a guest in someone’s home during the Nine Days? May he use the freshly laundered sheets? The poskim permit guests to use fresh bed linens, since most people are very uncomfortable using bed linens slept on by someone else (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 10:44; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 13:61). The Minchas Yitzchak suggests soiling 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 bed linens until after Tisha B’Av.
PLEASURE BATHING DURING THE NINE DAYS
The Gemara mentions no prohibition against 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 someone who violates this custom violates “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 custom is not to 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.
THE REWARD FOR OBSERVING THE NINE DAYS
The Medrash (Medrash Rabbah Shemos 15:21) teaches that Hashem will bring forth ten new creations in the era of Moshiach:
- He will create a new light for the world.
- A freshwater spring will develop from Yerushalayim whose waters will heal all illnesses.
- Each month, Hashem will create trees that produce new fruits with special curative powers.
- All the cities of Eretz Yisroel will be rebuilt, including even Sodom and Amora.
- Hashem will rebuild Yerushalayim with sapphire stone that will glow and attract all the nations of the world to come and marvel at the city’s beauty.
- The cow and the bear, the wolf and the sheep will graze together, and their young will play together (see Yeshaya 11:7).
- Hashem will make a covenant with all the creatures of the world, and people will beat their swords and spears into plows and pruning hooks (see Hoshea 2:20.)
- There will be no more crying in the city of Yerushalayim (see Yeshaya 65:19).
- Death will perish forever (see Yeshaya 25:8).
- Everyone will be joyful, and tears will be wiped from every face (see Yeshaya 25:8).
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 seeing them speedily and in our days.