Explaining the Laws of the Three Weeks

The three-week period between Shiva Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av is kept by Klal Yisrael as a time of mourning. In this article, we will review and explain the halachos that apply during the Three Weeks. In a subsequent article, we hope to review the halachos that apply during the Nine Days that begin with Rosh Chodesh Av.


The Mishnah (Ta’anis 26) teaches that five tragic events occurred on the 17th day of Tammuz:

1.      The luchos (tablets) containing the Aseres Hadibros were destroyed.

2.      The daily korbanos offered in the First Beis Hamikdash were stopped (see Rambam, Hilchos Ta’anis 5:2).

3.      The walls of the city of Yerushalayim were breached, leading to the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash (Ta’anis 28b).

4.      The wicked Apostomus, a Greek officer, burned the Torah near a bridge in Eretz Yisrael, during the period of the second Beis Hamikdash (see Talmud Yerushalmi and Tiferes Yisrael).

5.      An idol was placed inside the Beis Hamikdash. According to Rashi, this was done by the evil King Menashe. Others explain that this incident occurred during the Second Beis Hamikdash time period (Rambam, Hilchos Ta’anis 5:2). These two interpretations reflect two opinions recorded in the Talmud Yerushalmi.

To commemorate these tragic events, the Jewish people observe the 17th of Tammuz as a fast day (see Rosh Hoshanah 18b; Rambam, Hilchos Ta’anis 5:1-4). In addition, the custom developed to observe some mourning practices from this day until Tisha B’Av. This three-week season is referred to by the Midrash Rabbah (Eicha 1:3) as the period of Bein Hametzarim.

It is noteworthy that neither the Mishnah nor the Gemara associate any mourning practices with the Bein Hametzarim period. Rather, the Mishnah mentions that the mourning of the Tisha B’Av season begins on Rosh Chodesh Av by “decreasing simcha” (Ta’anis 26b). The Mishnah does not explain what activities are curtailed in order to decrease simcha.

The Gemara (Yevamos 43a, as explained by the Ramban and Tur; cf. Rashi, who understands the Gemara differently) refers to four activities that are prohibited during this period, presumably to manifest this decreasing of simcha:

1.      Business activity is decreased. (There is a dispute among poskim what types of business activity are intended; see Mishnah Berurah 551:11.)

2.      Construction and planting for a simcha are not done (Yerushalmi, Ta’anis, cited by Tosafos, Yevamos 43a s.v. Milisa).

3.      Weddings are not conducted. (An additional reason is cited to forbid weddings during these nine days: since this is not a good season for Jews, one should postpone a wedding to a more auspicious date [Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 551; Magen Avraham 551:8].)

4.      One may not make a festive meal to celebrate an erusin. This was the approximate equivalent to our making a tenaim or vort to celebrate an engagement. The Gemara permits making the erusin, itself, provided one does not make a festive meal to celebrate it. It is permitted to become engaged during the Nine Days, and even on Tisha B’Av itself (Magen Avraham 551:10; Tur, quoting Rav Nissim; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:2).

Although the Mishnah and Gemara make no mention of beginning the mourning period any earlier than Rosh Chodesh Av, accepted minhag Ashkenaz is to begin the aveilus from the 17th of Tammuz. Thus, the Rema (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 551:5 and Hagahos 551:2) reports that Ashkenazim do not make weddings during the entire period of the Three Weeks, a practice that has become accepted by many Sefardic communities (Knesses Hagedolah; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Devarim #4). However, many Sefardic communities permit making a wedding until Rosh Chodesh Av, and, under certain circumstances, even later (Shu’t Yabia Omer 6:Orach Chayim #43. See also Sedei Chemed Vol. 5, pg. 279 #14 who states that it depends on the custom of the community.)


It is permitted to celebrate an engagement during the Three Weeks, provided there is no music or dancing (Magen Avraham 551:10). Until Rosh Chodesh, one is allowed to celebrate the engagement with a festive meal (Mishnah Berurah 551:19), but from Rosh Chodesh, one should serve only light refreshments (Magen Avraham 551:10).


Most dancing is prohibited during the Three Weeks (Magen Avraham 551:10; Elyah Rabbah 551:6; Mishnah Berurah 551:16). However, there are authorities who permit dancing at a sheva brachos.


When the 17th of Tammuz falls out during the week, one who chooses to get married on this day should begin the wedding on the daytime of the 16th. There are poskim who contend that this is permitted only under extenuating circumstances (Piskei Teshuvos 551: 7 footnote 51).

When the 17th falls out on Sunday, most poskim prohibit making a wedding on the night of the 17th (Motza’ei Shabbos), since they consider that the period of mourning begins already at night (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 10:26). Many poskim contend that the night of the 17th should be treated even more strictly than the Three Weeks; it should be treated with the stringencies of the Nine Days (Elyah Rabbah; Shu’t Chayim Sha’al #24; Biur Halacha 551:2). However, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that, under extenuating circumstances, it is permitted to schedule a wedding on the Motza’ei Shabbos of the 17th of Tammuz (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:168).


The Mishnah (Ta’anis 26b) rules that it is prohibited to cut one’s hair from the Motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av until Tisha B’Av. (These days are referred to as “shavua shechal bo Tisha B’Av”, the week in which Tisha B’Av falls. We will refer to these days as “the week of Tisha B’Av.”) This includes both shaving one’s beard and getting a haircut (Ran). Thus, according to the takkanah of Chazal, it was permitted to have a haircut or shave up until a few days before Tisha B’Av. However, the Rema notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is that we do not cut our hair during the entire Three Weeks (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 551:5 and Hagahos 551:4).

There are different customs among Sefardim regarding having haircuts during the Three Weeks. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim (551:3) rules that it is prohibited to have a haircut only in the week of Tisha B’Av, as is recorded in the Gemara, and this is the Sefardic practice according to Rav Ovadia Yosef (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:36). However, other Sefardic poskim note that it is dependent on custom (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Devorim #12)

Rav Ovadia Yosef paskens that Sefardic bachurim learning in an Ashkenazic yeshiva are permitted to shave until Rosh Chodesh. Even though most of the students in the yeshiva follow the Ashkenazic practice of not shaving during the entire Three Weeks, it is permitted for the Sefardim to follow their custom and shave (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:36). Although there is a general rule that a community should follow one halachic practice, this is true when the community has one rav or follows the guidance of one beis din. However, Sefardim and Ashkenazim are considered communities with different rabbonim and batei din; therefore, each community may follow its own halachically accepted practice (Yevamos 14a).

There are a few exceptions to the ruling regarding when Ashkenazim are permitted to shave or get a haircut during the Three Weeks. For example, it is permitted to trim one’s mustache, if it interferes with eating (Ran; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:13).

Shu’t Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah #348 s.v. Ve’i golach) rules that a person who shaves every day is permitted to shave on Friday during the Three Weeks, in honor of Shabbos. Furthermore, he also implies that someone who is very uncomfortable because of his beard stubble is permitted to shave during the Three Weeks, except for the week of Tisha B’Av (see She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha 122:5). Both of these rulings are controversial, and one should not rely on them without receiving a pesak from a rav.

Rav Moshe Feinstein permits shaving during the Three Weeks, if someone may lose his job or may lose customers because he does not shave. However, if the only concern is that people will make fun of him, he is not permitted to shave. Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that when the prohibition against shaving is only because of minhag (as it is prior to the week of Tisha B’Av), there is no minhag to prohibit shaving if he will suffer financially as a result. However, if he will suffer only embarrassment or harassment, but no loss of income, he is required to remain unshaven.

In any case, shaving is prohibited during the week of Tisha B’Av not because of minhag but because of takkanas chachomim, which forbids shaving, even if one suffers financial loss (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 1:93 and Orach Chayim 4:102).

If a bris falls out during the Three Weeks, the father of the baby, the mohel and the sandek are permitted to shave or have a haircut (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #158). The Chasam Sofer permits a haircut and shave even during the week of Tisha B’Av, whereas other poskim disagree and permit this only until the week of Tisha B’Av (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah 1:28; Sha’arei Teshuvah; Sedei Chemed 5:278:3) or only until Rosh Chodesh (Be’er Heiteiv 551:3).

Some poskim permit a haircut or shave only on the day of the bris itself (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah 1:28). According to some authorities, the kvatter and the sandek me’umad (also called “amidah lebrachos”) are also permitted to shave and have a haircut (She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha, Kuntrus Acharon 120:8, based on Elyah Rabbah 551:27 and Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 551). However, most poskim do not permit them to shave, and restrict the heter of shaving and haircutting in honor of the bris to the mohel, the sandek, and the father of the baby.

Adults may not give children a haircut during the week of Tisha B’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:14). The poskim disagree whether a minor may have a haircut during the part of the Three Weeks before Shabbos Chazon. Some contend that since the prohibition against haircuts during these weeks is only a custom, children are not included (Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Adam), whereas others rule that children are included (Elyah Rabbah 551:28).

Although some poskim permit scheduling an upsheren (chalakah) during the Three Weeks, if that is when the child’s birthday is, the prevalent practice is to postpone the upsheren until after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 551:44).

Some recent poskim have suggested that a bar mitzvah bachur who needs a haircut may have one during the Three Weeks, as long as it is not during the week of Tisha B’Av. The She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalacha concludes that it is more acceptable, halachically, for the bar mitzvah to have a haircut the day before he turns bar mitzvah and rely on the opinion that a minor may have a haircut during the Three Weeks, before the week of Tisha B’Av (Kuntrus Acharon 120:8).

The authorities disagree as to whether a woman may have her hair cut during the Three Weeks. Mishnah Berurah rules that a woman may not have her hair cut during the week of Tisha B’Av. He suggests that it may be permitted for her to trim the hair on the temples (Mishnah Berurah 551:79). Many poskim rule that a woman may tweeze her eyebrows and perform similar cosmetic activities, even during the week of Tisha B’Av (see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:137; Halichos Beisah, Chapter 25, footnote 70).


It is permitted to clip fingernails during the Three Weeks, according to all opinions. There is a dispute whether one can clip nails during the week of Tisha B’Av (Magen Avraham, 551:11 permits, whereas Taz, Orach Chayim 551:13 and Elyah Rabbah 551:7 prohibit).


Playing or listening to music for enjoyment is prohibited during the Three Weeks (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim Vol. 4:21:4). Many poskim prohibit listening even to recorded music (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 15:33).

It is permitted to play music for non-Jews for parnasah or to teach music for parnasah, until the week of Tisha B’Av (Biur Halacha to 551:2 s.v. Memaatima, based on Pri Megadim). Similarly, it is permitted to take music lessons that are for parnasah. Some poskim permit taking lessons, if the lessons are not for pleasure and there will be a loss of skill because of the time lost (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 16:19). However, the Kaf Hachayim (551:41) writes: “Those who teach music during these days should teach sad songs, and it would be even better if they did not teach any music at all.”


Sedei Chemed discusses this question (Volume 5, page 376:10). He feels that it is permitted, but quotes sources who seem to forbid it, and therefore is inconclusive. It is permitted to sing sad or moving songs, similar to what we sing on Tisha B’Av. Since it is uncertain that it is prohibited, one need not tell someone who is singing that he is doing something halachically wrong.


There are three opinions among the poskim:

1. Shehecheyanu should not be recited during the Three Weeks, even on Shabbos (Arizal);

2. Shehecheyanu should not be recited on weekdays, but may be recited on Shabbos (Sefer Chassidim #840);

3. Shehecheyanu may be recited even on weekdays (Taz and Gra, Orach Chayim 551:17).

Most halachic authorities rule like the middle opinion, permitting shehecheyanu to be recited on Shabbos, but not on weekdays (Magen Avraham, Elyah Rabbah, Chayei Adam; Mishnah Berurah). In general, laws of mourning do not apply on Shabbos. Thus, shehecheyanu may be recited on Shabbos. (Rav Akiva Eiger rules that shehecheyanu may also be recited on Rosh Chodesh.)

An alternative approach to explain this opinion contends that it is a mitzvah to benefit from the world and make a shehecheyanu. Fulfilling this mitzvah supersedes the concern about reciting shehecheyanu during the Three Weeks—but it is appropriate to push it off to Shabbos (Mekor Chessed commentary to Sefer Chassidim #840; based on Yerushalmi at end of Kiddushin).

According to the Ari, the reason for not saying a shehecheyanu is not on account of the mourning, but because it is inappropriate to recite a blessing that we should be rejuvenated to this time, which is a very inauspicious period. This reason not to recite shehecheyanu applies even on Shabbos (Magen Avraham; Shu’t Chayim Sha’al #24).

The Gra contends that no halachic source prohibits a mourner from reciting shehecheyanu. Apparently, he also disagrees with the reason attributed to the Ari.


Most poskim hold that one should not (Shu’t Chayim Sha’al #24; Sedei Chemed Vol. 5, pg. 277; Biur Halacha 551:2). However, Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that the mourning period does not start until morning, implying that one may recite a shehecheyanu at night (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:168).


This depends on the age and maturity of the child. If the child is old enough to appreciate the aveilus that is observed, then we should train him not to say shehecheyanu during the Three Weeks. However, if he or she is not old enough to appreciate the aveilus, but is old enough to recite the shehecheyanu, one may allow him or her to recite the shehecheyanu (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 551:9). There is no need to be concerned that the child is wishing this season to return.

Mishnah Berurah (511:99) permits a pregnant woman or an ill person to eat a new fruit without reciting the shehecheyanu.

According to all opinions, one recites a shehecheyanu when performing the mitzvos of pidyon haben or bris milah (for those who recite a shehecheyanu at a bris). The Rema rules that one may also recite a shehecheyanu on a new fruit that will not be available after Tisha B’Av. Otherwise, one should wait until after Tisha B’Av to eat the fruit or to buy the clothing upon which one would recite shehecheyanu. It is permitted to purchase clothes that do not require a shehecheyanu.


Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if the car is being purchased for pleasure or convenience, one should wait until after the Three Weeks to buy it. If, however, it is necessary for parnasah, one may purchase it during the Three Weeks, but one should not recite shehecheyanu until after the Three Weeks (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:80). Some poskim permit buying any necessary appliance, such as a refrigerator or washing machine, to replace one that broke during the Three Weeks (Piskei Teshuvos 551:11).


One should not engage in dangerous activities during the Three Weeks (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:18). For this reason, some do not schedule elective surgery until after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 551:1).

One may bathe, shower, go swimming or go to the beach between the 17th of Tammuz and Rosh Chodesh Av, even if one has not gone swimming yet this season. Although people say that one may not go swimming for the first time during the Three Weeks, there is no halachic source for this practice. It is, therefore, not considered a binding custom, and it is permitted without hataras nedarim (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:263).

Some forbid hikes, trips to the beach and other entertaining activities during the Three Weeks (see Sedei Chemed, Vol. 5, pg. 376:10). Some authorities suggest not swimming in dangerous places or in water deeper than one’s height (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:263).


The most important aspect of the Three Weeks is to focus on the tremendous loss we suffer because of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.Some tzaddikim make a point of reciting tikkun chatzos, wherein we mourn the galus of the Shechina, every night..

Some Sefardic communities in Yerushalayim have the custom to sit on the floor, just after midday, on each day of the Three Weeks, and recite part of tikkun chatzos. To further convey this mood, Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah prohibits any laughing and small talk during these weeks, just as a mourner may not engage in laughter or small talk (Sha’ar 9, Chapter 11-12).

Although we may not be on such a spiritual level, we certainly should contemplate the tremendous loss in our spiritual lives without the Beis Hamikdash. Let us pray intently for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash and the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim, speedily in our days!

Poetic Controversies

Ashkenazim and Sefardim recite very different kinos on Tisha B’Av and different piyutim on most other occasions. This provides an opportunity to discuss:

Poetic Controversies

Question #1: How many machzorim?

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find them? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find those prayers in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

Question #2: The Italian connection

“Why are so many of our piyutim written by Italian authors?”


Our prayers have been enhanced by the inclusion of many religious poems written by various authors over the years. During the yomim nora’im, virtually every Jewish community recites piyutim, poetic liturgy, as part of the davening. We also prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with the recital of selichos, which also includes piyutim. Such famous and standard prayers as Yigdal, Adon Olam, and An’im Zemiros all qualify as piyutim. The zemiros that we sing at our Shabbos meals are also piyutim, as is Dvei Haseir, written by Dunash, recited prior to bensching at a wedding or sheva brachos, and Yom Le’yabasha, written by Rav Yehudah Halevi, that is chanted at a seudas bris. And do you know of a community that does not begin Shabbos by singing Lecha Dodi, written by Rav Shlomoh Alkabetz?

At one time, in Ashkenazic circles, the davening of all the yomim tovim, all special Shabbosos, and even Purim and Tisha B’Av was graced with piyutim specially suited to the occasion. The themes, history and emotions of each season and special day were expressed through these beautiful writings.

In the last generation, the recital of piyutim is definitely on the downswing. When I was young, during the birchos kerias shema of maariv on Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuos, most shullen recited piyutim, a custom that is in most places not observed today. About the only shullen where I hear this being practiced today are chassidishe minyanim or those following the nusach Ashkenaz traditions of the old German communities.

In the yeshivish world, what is left over from our long tradition of these piyutim are the zemiros of Shabbos, the piyutim recited during yomim nora’im, the kinos, and the selichos.

One interesting exception that has survived is the recital of Akdamus at the beginning of kerias haTorah on Shavuos, which is still recited in every Ashkenazi shul I have ever attended. (Sefardim do not recite Akdamus, as I will soon explain.)

Kinos versus selichos

Since I mentioned the remaining use of piyutim for both selichos and kinos, it is interesting to note a difference between the selichos and the kinos of Tisha B’Av. Although the same basic structure of selichos is followed by most Ashkenazic communities, different practices developed concerning which selichos are recited on which days and in what order. The differences are significant enough so as to make it necessary to make sure that one has a copy of the selichos that follows the exact minhag followed by the shul that one is attending.

On the other hand, with very slight differences, the same kinos for Tisha B’Av are recited virtually universally by all the different communities of Ashkenaz.

Ashkenazim and Sefardim

I once attended Rosh Hashanah davening with a Sefardic minyan, and I can advise someone doing this to have a Sefardic machzor handy, which I did not. Although many different customs have developed among various Ashkenazic communities, the same sources and the same style of piyutim are used by all. However, the piyutim recited by the Sefardim are completely different. Very few of the piyutim recited by Sefardim are familiar to Ashkenazim and vice versa. For example, the writings of the Italian school of paytanim (authors of piyutim) who figure so significantly among the Ashkenazim are never part of the Sefardic prayer. Similarly, Rav Elazar Hakalir, who figures so predominantly in the Ashkenazim’s prayer, is not used by the Sefardim. Most of their piyutim are of relatively late vintage and from four authors. The predominant paytanim used by the Sefardim are Rav Shelomoh ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, all of the Spanish school of talmidei chachamim.

It is also interesting to note that in the Sefardic custom, fewer piyutim are recited, which is surprising, since the Jews of medieval Spain were far more noted for their poetry than were the Ashkenazim. Still, Sefardim recite piyutim as part of the selichos, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening and on Tisha B’Av, which Ashkenazim call the reciting of kinos. By the way, although Sefardim say far less piyutim than Ashkenazim, they do say selichos after all five tefilos on Yom Kippur as well as piyutim before kedusha.

How many machzorim?

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions.

“I am a Sefardiyah by birth, and recently became engaged to a wonderful Ashkenazi man who gave me a beautiful, five-volume set of machzorim. I looked at my new set of machzorim and could not find the selichot recited in Elul anywhere in the Rosh Hashanah machzor, nor in any of the other volumes. Where will I find it? I also could not find any volume for Tisha B’Av, but I also could not find this in the Ashkenazi siddur my chatan bought me.”

The answer to this question is interesting. In the customs of bnei Ashkenaz, every day’s selichos is completely different from every other day. Although the Sefardim recite selichos the entire month of Elul, they have no separate selichos book. This is because they recite the same selichos every day, and the selichos are usually included in their Rosh Hashanah machzor. A Sefardi set of machzorim might include three volumes: one for Rosh Hashanah, one for Yom Kippur and one for Tisha B’Av. Since they do not recite piyutim on the other holidays, the printers did not always find it worthwhile to produce machzorim for those days, since a standard siddur and chumash suffice. Others include a fourth volume, which is for all three regalim.

On the other hand, when a publisher sells an Ashkenazic set of machzorim, he includes a volume for each Yom Tov because each Yom Tov had its own special piyutim. However, the selichos recited on fast days, during Elul and aseres yemei teshuvah, and the kinos recited on Tisha B’Av are not included in a set of machzorim and are sold as separate volumes.

History through piyutim

There is a tremendous amount of history that can be derived from learning about the authors of our piyutim. We get quite an education as we see where the wandering Jew has found himself over the centuries of our dispersal. Here is a sampling of the names and geographic areas of some of our predominant paytanim, organized according to the periods of history. In all likelihood, many of our more common piyutim predate even the earliest dates I have mentioned here. However, since we are without any means of dating them, I have omitted them.


Some of our piyutim are known to date back to the era of the geonim 1200-1300 years ago. Among the authors of this period we find Rav Sa’adia Gaon, Rav Nissim Gaon, and Rav Amram Gaon.

The early Italians

Not long after the period of the geonim that I just mentioned, there was a period of significant production of piyutim that dates back to the late 9th century in Italy. Among the many Italian paytanim of this era whose works we recite are a grandfather and grandson both named Amitai, Shefatyah, who was the son of one Amitai and the father of the other, Zevadyah, and Rav Shlomoh Habavli. (Historians do not know for certain why he was called Habavli, since he lived in Italy. The most obvious explanation is that either he was originally from Bavel or that his family origins were there. This would be similar to someone with obvious German roots carrying the family name Pollack, or someone of eastern European background with a family name of a central or western European city, such as Shapiro, from the city Speyer in western Germany, because of some earlier family history.)

Early Ashkenaz

The word Ashkenaz is associated with Germany, and the historical origins of these practices are usually traced to the Jewish communities that lived a thousand years ago in the Rhine river valley. The most famous three of these communities were Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Many of our piyutim are authored by gedolim of this period, including Rabbeinu Gershom, Rabbi Shimon Hagadol of Mainz and Rav Meir ben Yitzchak, the chazzan of Worms, who was the author of Akdamus. By the way, this will explain why Sefardim do not recite Akdamus on Shavuos, since its author lived after the time that Sefardim and Ashkenazim were physically separated into different areas.


Beginning around this era is the Golden Age of Spain, which included much writing of piyutim. The major body of the attributable piyutim recited by the Sefardim goes back to this period, most of it written by Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Rav Yehudah Halevi, Rav Moshe ibn Ezra, and Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, as I noted above. Ashkenazim do recite some piyutim from these authors, for example, Shomron Kol Titein, recited in the kinos of Tisha B’Av, authored by ibn Gabirol, and Tziyon halo Sish’ali, also one of the kinos, and the above-mentioned Yom Le’yabasha by Rav Yehudah Halevi, recited commonly at a bris. By the way, you will find Yom Le’yabasha  in your Ashkenazi machzor for Pesach, where it exists as the piyut to be recited at shacharis of the seventh day of Pesach, immediately before the brocha of Ga’al Yisroel.

Later Ashkenaz

In this era, many of the piyutim were written by rishonim who are familiar to us from their halachic and Talmudic writings. These include several baalei Tosafos, such as the Rivam (Rashi’s grandson and the older brother of Rabbeinu Tam), Rav Elchanan, Rav Yehudah Hachasid, Rav Yitzchak Ohr Zarua, the Maharam, Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, Rav Yoel Halevi (the father of the Ra’avyah).

The Italian angle

Having studied a quick overview of the various places where our paytanim lived, we can now explain why Ashkenazim recite many selichos and other piyutim written by the early Italian paytanim, whereas the Sefardim do not recite piyutim from these authors. The answer is that the ancestors of what came to be called Ashkenazic Jewry probably predominantly migrated northward from Italy, bringing with them their customs and their piyutim that had been written during this early golden age of piyut.

Rav Elazar Hakalir

No discussion of piyutim is complete without presenting Rav Elazar Hakalir, who authored the lion’s share of the kinos we recite on Tisha B’Av, as well as many of our other piyutim, including Tefillas Tal and Tefillas Geshem, the piyutim for the four special Shabbosos (Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and Hachodesh), and many of the yotzros for Yomim Tovim. We know absolutely nothing about him personally — we cannot even date when he lived with any accuracy. Some Rishonim place him in the era of the Tanna’im, shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, identifying him either as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach (Shu”t Harashba 1:469), a disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, or as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai’s son Elazar, who hid in the cave with his father (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21; Shibbolei Haleket #28). On the other hand, others date Rav Elazar HaKalir hundreds of years later.

We do not know for certain what the name “Kalir” means. Since there are several places where he used the acronym “Elazar berabi Kalir,” it seems that his father’s name was Kalir. However, the Aruch explains that “kalir” means a type of cookie, and that he was called hakalir because he ate a cookie upon which had been written a special formula that blessed him with tremendous erudition (Aruch, eirech Kalar III).

Many of Rabbi Elazar Hakalir’s piyutim and kinos require studying rather than reading, since they rely on allusions to midrashim and historical events. Many commentators elucidated his works, attempting to illuminate the depths of his words. Often, his ideas are expressed in difficult allusions, and the story or midrash to which he hints is unclear or obscure. They certainly cannot be understood without careful preparation. Someone who takes the trouble to do this will be awed by the beauty of the thoughts and allusions.

When did he live?

Most assume that Rav Elazar HaKalir lived in Eretz Yisrael, based on the fact that we have no piyutim written by him for the second day of Yom Tov (Tosafos, Chagigah 13a s.v. Veraglei; Rosh, Berachos 5:21.) However, the yotzros of the second day of Sukkos clearly include Rav Kalir’s signature and follow his style. Could it be that Diaspora Jews moved yotzros he wrote for the first day of Yom Tov to the second day? This approach creates another question: Since the yotzros recited on the first day of Yom Tov were also written by him, would he have written two sets of yotzros for Shacharis on Sukkos? There are other indications that he did, indeed, sometimes write more than one set of piyutim for the same day, and this approach is followed by the Shibbolei Haleket (#28).

Kalirian controversy

Notwithstanding the brilliance and prevalence of Rav Kalir’s piyutim, reciting them was not without controversy. No less a gadol than the Ibn Ezra stridently opposes using Rav Kalir’s works. In an essay incorporated in his commentary to Koheles (5:1), the ibn Ezra levels extremely harsh criticism of the piyutim authored by Rav Kalir. He divides the nature of his arguments into four headings.

Simplicity of language

Ibn Ezra notes that prayers should be recited in simple language that can be understood on a very basic level. After all, the goal of prayer is to understand what one is saying. Since piyutim are usually intended to be forms of prayer, one should not recite any prayer whose intent is not obviously clear. Because of this criticism, Ibn Ezra advises reciting the piyutim written by Rav Sa’adia Gaon, which are written so that they can be understood in a very literal way.

Mixed language

Ibn Ezra’s second criticism of Kalir is that he mixed into the Hebrew of his piyutim vocabulary whose basis is in the Gemara, treating Talmudic language on the same level of Hebrew as that of Tanach. As Ibn Ezra notes, the Gemara says loshon mikra lechud uloshon Talmud lechud, which he understands to mean that the Hebrew used by the Gemara should be treated as a different language from that of Tanach. Therefore, one should not mix the two languages together when reciting prayers.

Grammatical creativity

The third criticism of ibn Ezra is that he is unhappy with Kalir’s creative approach to Hebrew grammar and structure, allowing poetic style to influence the Hebrew that he used. Ibn Ezra also criticized Kalir’s creation of new words by changing masculine words to feminine and vice versa for poetic effect or to accomplish his allusions.

Use of midrashim

Ibn Ezra’s fourth criticism of Kalir is that his piyutim are filled with midrashim, and that these should not be included in one’s prayers.

Ibn Ezra notes that there were those who took issue with his criticisms, since Kalir had passed on many years before and would be unable to respond. Ibn Ezra himself dispenses with this disapproval by noting that prayer must be whole-hearted, and how can one pray when one does not understand what one is saying? Ibn Ezra notes that when Rav Sa’adia wrote piyutim, he steered clear of these four problems.

In fact, Sefardim do not recite piyutim of Rav Kalir, whereas among Ashkenazim, he is the single, most commonly used paytan.

Response to ibn Ezra

We should note that the Shibbolei Haleket saw this essay of the ibn Ezra and quoted selections from it, but he omitted any of the ibn Ezra’s criticism of Rav Kalir’s writings.

Furthermore, none of ibn Ezra’s criticisms should be taken as casting aspersion on Rav Elazar Hakalir’s greatness. Shibbolei Haleket records that when Rabbi Elazar Hakalir wrote his poem Vechayos Asher Heinah Meruba’os (recited in the kedusha of musaf of Rosh Hashanah), the angels surrounded him with fire (quoted by the Magen Avraham at the beginning of Siman 68). Similarly, R’ Chaim Vital writes that his teacher, the Arizal, recited only the piyutim written by the early paytanim, such as R’ Elazar Hakalir, since they are based on kabbalah.

Which seder ha’avodah?

This dispute between Ashkenazic practice and Sefardic manifests itself in the choice of piyut used for the seder ha’avodah recited towards the end of musaf on Yom Kippur. Dozens of piyutim explaining the seder ha’avodah were written, some dating back to the time of the Gemara, some perhaps earlier. Notwithstanding the antiquity of some of these pieces of poetry, the ones currently used are of relatively late origin. Ashkenazim recite Amitz Koach, which is highly poetic and difficult to understand. On the other hand, Sefardim recite Atah Konanta, which is written in clear Hebrew.


Now that we have had an opportunity to appreciate some of the background to our piyutim, it should motivate us to utilize our davening better to build a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.


Do the Clothes Make the Man?

Not If They Are Washed During the Nine Days!

laundry on the lineThe 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.


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.


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.)


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.


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).


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.


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).


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).


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).


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)


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.


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 Medrash (Medrash Rabbah Shemos 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. A freshwater spring will develop from Yerushalayim whose waters will heal all illnesses.
  3. Each month, Hashem will create trees that produce new fruits with special 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 attract all the nations of the world to come and marvel at the city’s beauty.
  6. The cow and the bear, the wolf and the sheep 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 people will beat their swords and spears into plows and pruning hooks (see Hoshea 2:20.)
  8. There will be no more crying in the city of Yerushalayim (see Yeshaya 65:19).
  9. Death will perish forever (see Yeshaya 25:8).
  10. 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.