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Laws Relating to the Three Weeks

Summarized by students

לשיעור זה בעברית: בין המיצרים

1."In the Midst of Her Distress"
2. The "Shehecheyanu" Blessing
3. Blessed Over a New Fruit Accidentally
4. Blessing Over New Fruit
5. The Custom to Refrain from Marrying
6. Wedding on Seventeenth of Tammuz Eve?
7. Song and Music Playing
8. Haircutting and Shaving
9. Summer Camp Caution
10. Beware of Danger

"In the Midst of Her Distress"
The three weeks between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av are known as "Yemei Bein HaMeitzarim" (Days of Distress) after the verse, "All who pursued [Jerusalem] overtook her in the midst of her distress" (Lamentations 1:3). Therefore, we observe some mourning practices from the Seventeenth of Tammuz until after the Ninth of Av.

The "Shehecheyanu" Blessing
The custom throughout the Three Weeks is to refrain from eating or wearing anything new that calls for the "shehecheyanu" blessing. Sephardi Jews are accustomed to refrain from blessing "shehecheyanu" even on the Sabbath, while Ashkenazi Jews do not refrain from blessing "shehecheyanu" on the Sabbath.

It is well known that the sabres fruit (prickly pear) ripens precisely during the Three Weeks, and at one time there was some uncertainty as to whether or not one could bless "shehecheyanu" over them. Today, however, sabres are available almost all year round.

Authorities are at odds regarding what blessing should be recited over the sabres. Ashkenazi authorities initially held that they do not have the status of "boreh pri ha'etz" ("fruit of the tree") because their sole purpose is protection and they are covered with thorns, etc. They therefore ruled that its blessing is "shehakol." Later, however, they discovered that Sephardi Jews indeed eat the sabres, and so they began blessing "boreh pri ha'adamah" ("fruit of the soil") and "shehecheyanu" over them.

In practice, Sephardi Jews hold that their blessing is "boreh pri ha'etz" and likewise bless "shehecheyanu" over them when appropriate. And since sabres call for the "shehecheyanu" blessing, they should not be eaten for the first time during the Three Weeks. Figs also tend to ripen during this time of year. Therefore, if a person wishes to recite the "shehecheyanu" blessing over figs, he should buy them before the seventeenth of Tammuz.

Blessed Over a New Fruit Accidentally

If during the Three Weeks a person accidentally blessed "boreh pri ha'etz" over a new fruit, some authorities hold that the fruit should nonetheless not be eaten. In this case, the one who blessed must say "Baruch shem kevod malchuto l'olam va'ed" ("Blessed be the name of His glorious Kingdom for ever and ever") because he pronounced God's name in vain when blessing. Others hold that pronouncing God's name in vain is a greater offense than eating a new fruit during the Three Weeks, and therefore if a person accidentally blesses "boreh pri ha'etz" over a new fruit, he should eat it without reciting "shehecheyanu." This latter opinion is the accepted practice.

Blessing Over New Fruit
When eating new fruit, Ashkenazi Jews first bless "shehecheyanu" and then "boreh pri ha'etz." Sephardi Jews, on the other hand, first bless "boreh pri ha'etz" and then "shehecheyanu."

Jewish law teaches that a person is supposed to bless "shehecheyanu" when he sees a new fruit, and therefore Ashkenazi Jews first bless "shehecheyanu." The joke goes that we (Sephardi Jews) are made happy by eating the fruit, not by seeing it, and therefore we first bless "boreh pri ha'etz" and then "shehecheyanu." In practice, Shulchan Arukh says that although the law is that one who sees a new fruit blesses "shehecheyanu," the custom is to refrain from blessing until one is actually about to eat. The same is true with regard to new clothing: Although the law says that a person blesses when making the purchase, the practice is to bless "shehecheyanu" when wearing the new garment.

The Custom to Refrain from Marrying
The Ben Ish Chai writes (Deuteronomy 4): "Even though according to Jewish law the prohibition against marrying only applies from the first of Av until the ninth of Av, the practice is to forbid this already from the seventeenth of Tammuz. But matchmaking and engagements are permissible. And here in our city of Baghdad the custom is to continue performing engagements even after the seventeenth of Tammuz, but from the first of Av until the ninth of Av we do not practice match-making and engagements. And see Shiurei Knesset HaGedolah . . . who writes that some have a custom to refrain from engagements from the seventeenth of Tammuz, and this is a desirable practice."

Most communities are stringent in this regard and refrain from marrying from the seventeenth of Tammuz because marrying at such a time does not portend good fortune. Some are accustomed to refrain from engagements during this period for the same reason, and others are more lenient and allow engagements until the first of Av, so long as there is no festive meal involved. And if the Ben Ish Chai says this about engagement [that it should be avoided after the seventeenth of Tammuz], how much more so when it comes to marriage.

There are a number of rabbis who perform marriages during these days, and after the marriage ceremony young men and women dance together. Is this any way to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple?! I said to one of these rabbis, "Who will see to it that the young men and women do not dance together? Will you?" Is this any way to commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple?!

Wedding on Seventeenth of Tammuz Eve?
Ideally, one should not set a wedding or any other occasion so that it fall on one of the fast days. It once happened that a couple set their wedding date for the evening of the Seventeenth of Tammuz. I asked them how they could do such a thing. After all, music is forbidden. Therefore, I told them to perform the marriage ceremony before sunset and afterwards to sing without musical instruments. Ideally, however, one should be careful to avoid such situations.

Song and Music Playing
Dancing is forbidden during the Three Weeks, and it is forbidden to listen to musical instruments, live or recorded. We learn this from the words of the Rambam (Hil. Ta'aniot 5:14): "And [the sages] likewise forbade playing any sort of musical instrument or music maker. It is forbidden to enjoy them or to hear them because of the destruction of the Holy Temple." This implies all musical instruments and even recorded music.

Haircutting and Shaving
Those who follow the ruling of the Rema refrain from haircutting and shaving from the Seventeenth of Tammuz onward. For those who follow the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh the prohibition does not begin until the week of the Ninth of Av, while some stringent people refrain from haircutting and shaving from the first of Av onward.

Beware of Danger
It is forbidden for a person to go to a dangerous place and assume that God will perform a miracle for him. This is true all year round, but during this period a person must be extra careful and avoid any possible danger whatsoever. For example, those who go to a pool or a beach (it is permissible to go to a pool or a beach until the first of Av) should be careful not to go into the deep waters and not to swim where there is no lifeguard.

All year round a person must be careful when crossing the road, and during this period a person must demonstrate sevenfold caution. One must therefore cross only at the crosswalks and make sure that no cars are approaching.

Summer Camp Caution
The Three Weeks tend to coincide with summer camp and summer school programs. At other times of the year a single councilor or teacher might be enough to take such groups of children to the pool or the beach, but during this period extra caution should be exercised and the number of chaperons should be doubled, or even tripled. This is called for in order to protect the children as much as possible, lest they be harmed in any way.
Sources to laws brought in the above article can be found in the article's Hebrew original.

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