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Customs of the Three Weeks

When listening to music from an electric device, a distinction should be made between happy music, which is prohibited from the 17th of Tammuz, and regular music that has no special joy, which is only prohibited from Rosh Chodesh Av * When holding an educational-cultural event, it is permissible to play music that fits the nature of the event * At se’udat mitzvah meals, singing and dancing in a circle are permitted as is customary, and even after Rosh Chodesh Av * From Rosh Chodesh Av, recreational swimming is forbidden, but if the swimming is for health purposes, as is the custom of people used to swimming every day for about half an hour in the pool, it is permitted until Shabbat Chazon

The Three Weeks, which begin on the night of the 17th of Tammuz and continue through Tisha Be-Av, are a painful time. This period is often known as ‘Bein Ha-metzarim’, recalling the verse, “All her pursuers overtook her in the narrow places [bein ha-metzarim]” (Eicha 1:3). And although our Sages did not make any special enactments to mark the suffering and mourning of the Three Weeks, the Jewish people adopted some mourning customs, and therefore refrain from music and dancing  (Magen Avraham 551:10).

Included in this, it is customary to avoid playing musical instruments. Therefore, dance classes, concerts, and happy sing-alongs should not be held during the Three Weeks, and one should not participate in them.

Listening to Music on Personal Electronic Devices

The poskim of the previous generation were divided on whether it is permissible to listen to musical instruments by way of personal electronic devices during the Three Weeks. It seems that in practice, according to the lenient view, we should divide all songs into three categories: 1) joyous songs, like those played at weddings; 2) songs that are neither especially joyous nor especially sad, which includes most contemporary music and most classical compositions; 3) sad songs, like those played or sung when mourning a death or the destruction of the Temple, which are permitted to be heard even during the Nine Days.

Lower the Volume

It also seems that when one listens to loud music, even if it is a neutral song, the force of the sound makes it more festive and practically transforms it into a joyous song. Thus, one may not listen to loud music even if it is the type of music that is permitted during the Three Weeks.

Furthermore, it seems that one may not attend a concert featuring sad music (requiems) during the Three Weeks. Even though the music is mournful, concerts are festive and joyous events.

Music in an Educational Context

When holding an educational-cultural event, it is permitted to play music that fits the nature of the event. And even during the Nine Days it is permissible to play sad songs that express sorrow for the destruction of the Temple, and songs of longing for the building of the Torah, the Nation, and the Land (see, Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 8:4-5).

Aerobics Class

One may hold or attend an aerobics class, whose main purpose is exercise, until the end of Tammuz, but should try to play appropriate music that is not happy.

Playing Music for the Purpose of Learning

Since the reason music is prohibited is that it brings people joy, music teachers may continue giving lessons until the week of Tisha Be-Av, because neither the teacher nor the students experience joy through music lessons. In addition, canceling the lessons will cause the teacher financial loss, and the students will have to expend extra effort afterward to return to their normal learning pace, possibly even requiring extra classes. It is best to learn sad melodies during the Three Weeks. If the teacher and students usually take a break from their lessons at some point in any event, it is preferable, if possible, to schedule the break for the Three Weeks. (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 8:3).

Playing and Singing at a Se’udat Mitzvah

During the Three Weeks, one may sing happy songs at a se’udat mitzvah, like the meal at a brit mila, pidyon ha-ben, or sheva berakhot, and until the end of the month of Tammuz it is also permitted to play music as is customary throughout the year.

When the month of Av arrives, one should not play happy songs from an electronic device, and only the songs that relate to the joy of a mitzvah are permitted to be sung, and even dancing in a circle is permitted, as many people do to celebrate the joy of a brit mila.

Playing Music at Havdala and Melave Malka

Families customary to play shirey kodesh (Jewish religious songs) on Motzei Shabbat can continue to do so until Rosh Chodesh Av, because the atmosphere of Shabbat, in which mourning customs are absent, still applies during the adjacent hours intended for a se’udat Melave Malka. In addition to that, the songs played are shirey kodesh.

Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah

Until Rosh Chodesh Av, one may also celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah during this period, but only on the actual day that the child comes of age, and it is also permissible to hire musicians, provided that this is their custom throughout the year.

When it is difficult to hold the party on the day the boy or girl come of age, and want to hold it on one of the close days, it is appropriate for the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah to make a siyum on an important religious book at the beginning of the event, and thus be able to hold the simcha with music or musicians, as usual all year round. And if they cannot make a siyum, bediavad, they can rely on a siyum done by one of their relatives. When there is no such possibility, with no other choice, they can rely on the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah drasha (speech) which is an important drasha with divrei Torah, and from which the joy of a mitzvah is derived.

However, during the Nine Days it is not possible to hold a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah as is customary all year round, since it is customary to hold it with a lot of people and with music, and this is forbidden during the Nine Days. Therefore, it is correct to postpone the big party until after Tisha B’Av, and on the day of coming of age, one may hold a se’udah at home, with meat and wine, and a limited number of guests.

Excursions and Vacation in a Hotel

Some poskim maintain that one must refrain from hiking and swimming or bathing in the sea or a swimming pool during the Three Weeks, in order to limit our enjoyment during this mournful period. Furthermore, since these days are prone to calamity, one must avoid potentially dangerous activities.

From a halakhic standpoint, however, these activities are not prohibited. After all, our Sages only instructed us to curtail our joy from the first day of Av. They did not prohibit engaging in pleasurable and enjoyable activities before then. The only thing one should avoid is special celebrations, like parties, concerts, and dances. Therefore, one may go hiking and swimming and one may vacation in a hotel until the end of Tammuz. In addition, the concern about engaging in potentially dangerous activities is not so serious that one must be more cautious than one generally should be throughout the year. Thus, one may go hiking and engage in similar activities during the Three Weeks, while taking particular care to follow the safety precautions that apply to such activities throughout the year.

“When Av arrives, we curtail our joy” (Ta’anit 26b). Therefore, one must refrain from outings and recreational activities that are mainly designed to provide pleasure and joy. However, one may go on a trip or vacation that is designed primarily for educational or therapeutic purposes during the Nine Days.

Swimming

From the first day of the month of Av, one must refrain from recreational swimming. However, if the swimming is for a health purpose, such as those who swim every day for about half an hour in the pool, it is permitted until Shabbat Chazon, and after Shabbat Chazon, it is correct to be machmir (stringent). One who needs to swim for medical purposes, may swim until erev Tisha B’av (see, Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 8:6).

Reciting She-heĥeyanu During the Three Weeks

It is customary to refrain from reciting the She-heĥeyanu blessing during the Three Weeks, for how can we say, “Blessed are You, Lord…Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time” during a period of such misfortune? And although some poskim are machmir about it even on Shabbat, in practice, on Shabbat, one may recite the blessing.

One who is presented the opportunity to perform a mitzvah that requires one to recite She-heĥeyanu, like a brit mila or a pidyon ha-ben, recites the berakha, because he did not determine the timing of the berakha. Rather, God granted him the opportunity to perform a mitzvah that requires one to recite She-heĥeyanu during the Three Weeks.

Similarly, one who sees a close friend after not seeing him for thirty days, and is happy to see him, should recite She-heĥeyanu, since if he does not recite it immediately, he loses the opportunity to recite the berakha.

Marriage

It is customary in most Jewish communities that weddings are not held during the Three Weeks. This is the custom of all Ashkenazi communities, and most Sephardic communities, including communities from Turkey, Morocco, Babylon, and Yemen.

And there are communities of Sephardic origin who are customary to refrain from marriage only during the Nine Days, and so wrote the Shulchan Aruch (551:2; Yibi’ah Omer 6:43).

Grooms from communities that are customary to hold weddings until the end of the month of Tammuz are permitted to hire a regular orchestra for their wedding, as there is no joy of a bride and groom without musical instruments. And even those whose custom is not to marry on these days, may participate and dance in their joy, for it is the joy of a mitzvah.

Engagement

Until the first of Av, one may hold a modest, small-scale engagement party. Since such a party is a celebration of the couple’s agreement to get married, the event contains a mitzvah component and is thus permitted. One may not, however, hold a large-scale engagement party during the Three Weeks. During the Nine Days, when we must curtail our joy, one may not hold even a modest, small-scale party. However, the parents of the couple may meet, even during the Nine Days, in order to decide on the details of the wedding, and refreshments may be served at this meeting. Even though this, too, involves joy, it is permissible because such a meeting transforms the couple’s relationship into an accomplished fact, which brings them closer to the mitzvah of marriage. It is also permissible for singles to date for the sake of marriage during the Nine Days (ibid. 8:9).

Haircut during the Three Weeks and Nine Days

Our Sages instituted prohibitions against cutting one’s hair and washing one’s clothes during the week of Tisha Be-Av (Ta’anit 26b). Accordingly, Shulchan Arukh (551:3) rules that one may not cut one’s hair from the beginning of the week in which Tisha Be-Av falls, and many Sephardim follow this practice.

However, in many Jewish communities it is customary to be machmir, and not cut their hair during the Three Weeks. This is the custom of Ashkenazim and some Sephardim – including Jews from Morocco and Djerba, and those who follow Arizal’s customs – to be stringent and avoid haircuts during the entirety of the Three Weeks (Rema 551:4; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 551:80; Kitzur SA [Toledano] 387:8; Brit Kehuna 2:12).

There are those who are lenient until the end of the month of Tammuz, and machmir from Rosh Chodesh, including Jews from Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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