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When Av Arrives, We Curtail Our Joy - but How?

A careful elucidation of the various expressions of ‘curtailing our joy’ - what is allowed and what is not.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Av 1 5775
Pleasure Trips and Hotel Vacations
Our Sages state in the Mishnah (Ta’anit 26b), "When Av arrives, we curtail our joy," because these are days of mourning over the Temple’s destruction. Therefore, one should not engage in joyous activities, like hikes, hotel vacations, and social gatherings. Only events whose main purpose is educational or communal may be held. Therefore, it is permissible to conduct educational tours and seminars even though they entail a certain amount of joy. In addition, someone who needs to relax for health reasons may take a vacation in a hotel or a retreat.
Blessing ‘Shehechiyanu‘ Over a Friend not Seen for Thirty Days
Q: If during the Nine Days someone meets a very dear friend at a seminar that he has not seen for thirty days and is happy to see him, should he bless ‘Shehechiyanu‘ as is customary during the rest of the year, or perhaps, since it’s the Nine Days, ‘Shehechiyanu‘ should not be recited?
A: In such a case, one should recite the Shehechiyanu blessing, for if he does not recite it immediately, he loses the opportunity to say the blessing afterwards.
As explained in Shulchan Aruch (551:17), one should be careful not to recite ‘Shehechiyanu‘ during the Three Weeks on a fruit or clothing, because blessing over a fruit or clothing can be postponed until afterTisha B’Av. But the Rama wrote that if one cannot recite the blessing on the fruit after Tisha B’Av, as in the case where the fruit will rot by then, one should recite the blessing immediately so as not to lose the mitzvah (see, M.B. 551:101).
Recruitment Party
Q: Is it permissible to hold a recruitment party during the Nine Days in honor of a friend going into the army?
A: Recruitment parties should not be held during the Nine Days, because these are days in which we curtail joy, and a recruitment party, as its name implies – is a festive occasion.
Nevertheless, it is permitted to get together and speak words of Torah and encouragement in honor of a friend who is enlisting during the Nine Days. If, however, the friend is enlisting a few days after Tisha B’Av, even such a get-together as this should not be held during the Nine Days because it entails an aspect of being a festive occasion, and therefore, it is proper to postpone it until after Tisha B’Av.
Building and Renovations
Since we curtail our joy from the beginning of Av, one may not build a "joyous building" during the Nine Days. For example, one may not extend one’s house or widen one’s porch, unless there is a vital need for it.
If, however, one began building before the Nine Days, he should make an agreement with the contractor to stop working during this period. If one failed to make such an agreement beforehand, he should ask the contractor to stop work during the Nine Days, but if he asserts his right to continue working, there is no need to break the contract with him.
However, one who lives with his family in a cramped apartment 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 (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 8:16-17).
Painting and Finishing Touches
It is also forbidden to plaster or paint one’s walls during the Nine Days, because these are considered luxuries that make a person happy. After all, one can live without them. Similarly, one may not do renovations that are designed to beautify or embellish one’s house, like replacing shutters (trissim), cabinets, curtains, or anything else that is costly, brings one joy, and is unnecessary.
For the Sake of a Mitzvah
It is permissible to build, plaster, or paint for the sake of a mitzvah, like building a synagogue or a school. Likewise, anything needed for the public good is considered a mitzvah-need and is permissible (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:16).
Contractors and Laborers
A Jewish contractor or Jewish construction workers may continue building apartments or houses during the Nine Days in order to sell them, because the units are designed as regular living quarters, and not for luxury purposes. Besides which, this is their livelihood, and in the Land of Israel there is a mitzvah in building houses. Plastering and painting, however, should be postponed until after the Nine Days, unless this will cause excessive losses.
Changing Place of Residence
Q: Is one allowed to move to a new residence during the Nine Days?
A: In general, one should not enter a new apartment, owned or rented, during the Nine Days – both due to the joy involved, and also because these days lack a good sign (siman tov). However, if delaying entrance will cause great financial loss, one may enter the apartment.
Joyous Transactions
During the Three Weeks we refrain from buying anything over which the blessing ‘Shehchiyanu’ is recited when purchased. When Av enters, we curtail our joy, including curtailing the purchase of joyous items. That is to say, one may not buy extraneous items such as jewelry, clothing, fancy utensils, new furniture, or a family car. It is also forbidden to order a new article of clothing from a tailor. However, a person who comes across an opportunity to buy something joyful at a special price, and is afraid that he will miss out if he waits until after Tish’a B’Av, may purchase the item during the Nine Days. It is best, though, to bring it home or begin using it only after Tish’a B’Av.
Merchants, who deal in luxury items such as jewelry and fancy clothing, may do business during the Nine Days, in order to avoid losing their customers and thereby incurring great financial loss. They should, however, try to engage mainly in preparations for transactions that will take place after the Nine Days. A storeowner who can close his store for the duration of the Nine Days without incurring significant financial loss should do so.
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.
One who does not have canvas or rubber shoes for Tish’a B’Av may,be’di’avad (ex post facto), buy them during the Nine Days.
Other Transactions
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 (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim, 8:18).
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. This is one of our expressions of mourning, for out of pain over and identification with the deceased or the destroyed Temple, we refrain from nurturing and pampering ourselves. 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 is postponed until Sunday. The poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are in disagreement as far as the din(law) concerning the previous week; in practice, the minhag (custom) 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, with regard to taking a haircut 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.
Bathing During the Week of Tisha B’Av
Even though the Sages prohibited bathing on Tish’a B’Av alone, the Rishonim were accustomed to refrain from bathing on the days preceding Tish’a B’Av, as well, from the first day of Av. 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 – not even in cold water. Only in preparation for Shabbat Chazon would they bathe themselves partially in cold water (S.A.551:16, M.B. ibid. K.H.C. 186).
Thus, according to the Sephardic minhag, l’chatchila (a priori) 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. Firstly, because it possible to rely on the Sephardic minhag, because their custom was established in a climate similar to that of Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, the habits of cleanliness and bathing in our times 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. If someone who is used to showering daily refrains from doing so, he will feel distressed.
Therefore, each person is allowed 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 does not have to be so cold that the bather will suffer from them.
A person who has unpleasant 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 the bathing is to have a good time, it is forbidden from Rosh Chodesh, the first day of Av, because we must curtail our joy.
With regard to bathing or swimming that is designed primarily for health purposes, such as individuals accustomed to swimming everyday in a pool for a half hour: according to Sephardic custom it is permitted till Shabbat Chazon (the Sabbath preceding the fast day), and according to Ashkenazi custom, it is forbidden for all Nine Days.
However, if someone’s doctor instructs him to swim for health reasons, he may do so until the eve of Tisha B’Av.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found here:

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