Halachos of the Three Weeks
Unfortunately, the Jewish calendar provides us with many periods of time where we recall tragic events in our history. The rabbis have instituted the practice to observe certain customs of mourning during the period of seferas ha’omer, the three weeks, the nine days, the week of Tisha B’Av, and, of course, Tisha B’Av itself. Due to the many details and differences in halacha between these time periods, people are often confused about which halachos are observed during each period. In this essay, we will outline the halachos that pertain specifically to the three weeks. The reader should be aware that the halachos change drastically once the nine days begin, and this essay should not be used as a guide for the nine days.
II. Haircutting and Shaving.
A. The basic halacha. The Rama (551) writes that one may not take a
haircut from Shiva Assar b'Tamuz until chatzos on the tenth day of Av. This is an
Ashkenazic practice. Sefardic practice is to follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch not to take haircuts only during the week of Tisha b'Av,. Before discussing
the details of this halacha, it is important to note that Rav Soloveitchik
developed an idea that leads us to drastically different conclusions than many
of the other poskim. Rav Soloveitchik believed that the period of the three
weeks mirrors the period of twelve months of mourning one observes after the
death of a parent, and our practice is to shave regularly (after initially allowing
a few days of growth), one may do the same during the three weeks. The
discussion that follows assumes the approach of the majority of the poskim to
be correct, but does not presume to cast any doubt on the halachic validity of
Rav Soloveitchik's approach.
There are a number of exceptions to the prohibition to cut one's hair:
1. Mustaches. The Shulchan Aruch rules that if a mustache is growing in a way
that it inhibits eating, one may trim it.
2. Women of marriageable age. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach allowed a
woman who is of marriageable age to take a haircut during the three weeks
(and even during the nine days) because many poskim rule that a woman
may even take a haircut during the period of mourning - so we may
certainly rely on these poskim for a rabbinic prohibition such as haircutting
during the three weeks (Shalmei Mo'ed Chapter 89)
3. Trimming eyebrows.
a. Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Moshe Feinstein was of the opinion that one
cannot trim eyebrows during shloshim, and therefore may not do so during
the three weeks either.
b. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach maintains that
it is permissible to trim eyebrows (and eyelashes) during the three weeks.
He felt that such hair removal is not considered to fall into the halachic
category of “haircutting”.
4. Taking a haircut for the purposes of a mitzvah. It is permissible to take
a haircut for the purposes of a mitzvah. Therefore, a woman who has the
custom to shave her head before going to the mikvah may do so. Also,
somebody whose hair has grown to such an extent as to cause a chatzitzah for his
tefillin, may take a haircut to allow him to properly fulfill the mitzvah.
However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach only permitted one to cut the hair
in the area that the tefillin will rest on his head, but not the rest of his head,
as that is not a true mitzvah necessity (Shalmei Moed). It could be argued, however,
that the issue of kavod ha'briyos would permit one to violate the rabbinic
prohibition of haircutting during the three weeks, specifically in an instance
where it would look ridiculous to cut part of his hair and not all of it.
5. Exceptions specifically for women:
a. The Mishnah Berura (551:79) rules that if a woman’s hair is growing in such a
way that it is difficult for her to keep it under her head covering, she may
cut the hair during the three weeks.
b. Rav Moshe Feinstein allowed women to shave their legs during the
three weeks. The logic for this ruling is that the growth of hair on women’s
legs is not only uncomfortable, but is also something that makes a woman
appear unattractive to her husband.
c. Women may get their sheitels cut or styled during the three weeks, as this is not considered to be their hair, but their clothing.
6. Brissim. On the day of a baby’s bris the Sha'ar Ha'Tziyun (551:4) cites the Chasam Sofer #158 who says that the father, mohel and sandik may all take haircuts.
Even if the bris falls on shabbos they may take haircuts on the Friday
preceding the bris. The Be'er Hetev, however, derives from the Rama’s
comment that they may wear nice clean clothing for the bris, that other
prohibited activities such as haircutting remain forbidden.
B. Cutting hair for work.
1. In an instance where not getting a haircut is likely to cost somebody
money, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim IV:120) allows one to shave during
the three weeks because the prohibition of haircuts during the three weeks
is only a minhag. However, during the week of Tisha b'Av, itself, when it is
halachically prohibited to cut hair, one would not be permitted to do so even
in the event of significant monetary loss.
2. In an instance where one is unlikely to lose any money by not shaving,
but one is uncomfortable going into his place of work unshaven for fear that
his co-workers may mock him, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one may not even shave during the three weeks.
C. Children getting haircuts. The Shulchan Aruch (551:14) rules that adults may not
cut children’s hair during this time period. The Mishnah Berurah cites two possible
reasons for this prohibition: either because of the mitzvah of chinuch or the
agmas nefesh caused by seeing the children in this state of mourning is
recommended during this period. The Sha'ar Hatziyun points out that the practical
halachic difference between these two considerations is whether a child under
the age of six can get a haircut. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igeros Moshe Yoreh Deah I:224) and the Aruch Hashulchan (551:31) allow a child under the age of six to get a haircut.
III. Getting married and participating in a wedding.
A. Weddings. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one may not get married during
this period. However, there is a machlokes ha'poskim as to whether one may get
married on the night of Shiva Asar b'Tamuz:
1. Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Moshe (Igeros Moshe Orach Chaim I:168) rules that it
is permissible to get married on the night of Shiva Asar b'Tamuz. He reasons that there is
a machlokes between the Ba'al Ha'maor and Ramban whether the fast day really starts at night (and you say Aneinu at ma’ariv). He believes that he has a strong proof from a gemara (Pesachim 2b) that the preceding night is not considered to be part of the fast at all.
Considering that the issue of not getting married during the three weeks is
only a custom, we may rely on the lenient opinion. Rav Moshe argues that
researching the prevalent custom on this issue is useless because it is
uncommon for Shiva Asar b'Tamuz to fall on Sunday. It remains unclear, though, why Rav
Moshe assumes that this issue is only a question when Shiva Asar b'Tamuz falls on
Sunday, as it would seem that the same issue would arise on any other day
of the week. It is possible that Rav Moshe would only permit this when Shiva Asar b'Tamuz falls on Sunday, but when it falls on another day he would advise to
make sure the vpuj is done before sunset on the previous night. Indeed, Rivevos Ephraim (I:375) cites Rav Moshe who ruled that one should finish the
chupah prior to sunset.
2. Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik. The Rav ruled, however, that it is not
permissible to get married the night before Shiva Asar b'Tamuz because although the
actual obligation to stop eating does not yet apply, the day is still
considered to be a day of fasting. He cites as proof to this position the
comment of the Toras Hashelamim Hilchos Niddah that one should not eat meat or drink
wine on the night preceding a fast day (Nefesh Harav page 196). Rabbi Eliezer
Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer X:26) also disagrees with Rav Moshe on this
issue. He points out that although one cannot ascertain a custom when it
comes to getting married on this night because it is such an uncommon
event, one can determine a custom for the other customs of mourning that
we observe, such as not reciting a she'hechiyanu. The Chida explicitly states that our
custom is not to recite a she'hechiyanu even on the night of Shiva Asar b'Tamuz, indicating that we begin the customs of mourning already the night before the fast.
B. Engagements. The Shulchan Aruch (551:2) rules that one may betroth a woman even on
Tisha b'Av itself, lest somebody else beat him to it, and he loses the opportunity
to marry this woman. However, the Shulchan Aruch rules that one should not have a
festive meal celebrating the betrothal during the nine days. The Mishnah Berurah rules that one may arrange a Tannaim, during this period as well. It seems
obvious that one would also be permitted to get engaged during this period.
The Rama comments that our custom is not to get married starting from Shiva Asar b'Tamuz
but makes no mention of such a custom relating to festive meals celebrating
engagements. The Mishnah Berurah (#26 and Sha'ar Hatziyun 19) rules that one may have a
meal to celebrate an engagement during the three weeks.
IV. Listening to music and dancing.
As we have discussed elsewhere (see Listening to Music During Sefira – bknw.org Torah Library), listening to music is forbidden by the Shulchan Aruch all year. While some poskim suggest that if we are lenient throughout the year we may be lenient during sefira as well, there is strong reason to argue that we should never be lenient during the three weeks.
Fundamentally, the days of sefira represent a range of emotions. On the one
hand they are a quasi-Chol Hamoed between Pesach and Shavuos. On the other hand,
it is the time that we commemorate the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000
students. However, the three weeks are fundamentally a time of churban. While
we may choose to ignore the decrees of chazal meant to commemorate the
churban during the time of Sefiras ha'Omer, it is reasonable to demand that we
observe these decrees meticulously during the time of year that is aimed at
commemorating the churban.
A. Live music versus recorded music. The overwhelming majority of the
poskim assume that recorded music has the same status as live music and
would therefore be forbidden during this period of mourning. Some even
assume that recorded voices have the status of music, as the player is
considered an instrument to make pleasant sounds like any other instrument.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach expresses some reservation about listening to
voices singing on a recording (Shalmei Moed page 475). However, most
assume that a recorded voice has the status of a voice and is therefore
permissible to listen to, while recorded music has the status of music and
would therefore be forbidden to listen to.
B. Exceptions. There are a number of exceptions to the halacha that one may not listen to music during sefira:
1. Rav Moshe Feinstein has been quoted as saying that background music in a video presentation or the like is not considered music, and is permissible.
2. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igeros Moshe Orach Chaim III:87) rules that a musician or
somebody who is studying to become a musician may play music during
sefira in order to sharpen his skills. Presumably, Rav Moshe would have
allowed a musician to practice during the three weeks as well. If, however,
he is playing for his own enjoyment, Rav Moshe cautions, it would be
forbidden to play music.
3. Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechave Da'at VI:34) rules that one may listen to
music and sing along with it at a seudat mitzvah.
V. Reciting she'hechiyani.
The Shulchan Aruch (551:17) recommends that one refrain from
reciting a she'hechiyanu on new clothing or fruits during this period. The Magen Avraham (42) that since this period is a time of tragedy it is inappropriate to
thank Hashem for allowing us to reach this time. The Yad Efraim explains that
although a mourner may recite a she'hechiyanu, we may not do so during the three
weeks because while a person may be in mourning, there is nothing about the
time period that would dictate that one refrain from reciting a she'hechiyanu. This
underscores the idea that the prohibition to recite a she'hechiyanu is not based on a
prohibition of simcha, but actually reflects the very nature of the day. During the
nine days many other activities may be prohibited as a result of a prohibition to
1. The following is a list of some of the more practical halachos relating to
reciting a she'hechiyanu during the three weeks:
A. Reciting she'hechiyanu on Shabbos. There is a machlokes ha'poskim whether one may recite a she'hechiyanu on Shabbos. The )Arizal (cited by Magen Avraham prohibits it, while the Sefer Chasidim and Magen Avraham himself are lenient. The Aruch Hashulchan rules that during the three weeks one may recite a she'hechiyanu on Shabbos, but during the nine days one should not recite the she'hechiyanu on Shabbos.
B. Buying something new. Since it is prohibited to recite a she'hechiyanu one should
refrain from any purchases that would require a she'hechiyanu (e.g. expensive
clothing, cars etc.). Where the custom is to recite the bracha the first time
the item is used, rather than at the time of purchase one may purchase the
item during the three weeks. When purchasing a house it seems that one has
the option of reciting the she'hechiyanu either at the time of the closing or the moving
day. One of these days should be scheduled for a time outside of the three
weeks to avoid an obligation in saying a she'hechiyanu during the three weeks. It
should be noted though, that there is no prohibition to recite a hatov v'hameitiv
during the three weeks, and one may therefore make a purchase that will
benefit a group of people (e.g. a family car -Igeros Moshe Orach Chaim III:80).
Similarly, Rav Moshe rules that one may buy a new car or truck for business
as this would be included in the category of minimizing business transactions, which we are
lenient with nowadays.
C. Children. A person should recite a she'hechiyanu upon the birth of a baby girl (Nitei Gavriel 17:19) or for the Pidyon Haben of his son (Shulchan Aruch 551:17).
It is widely assumed that one may not go swimming during the three weeks. Rav Moshe Shternbuch, however, points out that there was never a formal decree instituted against swimming during the three weeks, and we no longer have the power to institute any such decree. Therefore, Rav Shternbuch concludes, one may go swimming during the three weeks. It is only prohibited to go swimming during the nine days. However, Rav Shternbuch advises, it is best to refrain from swimming in deep waters because this period of the year is one that has always been a dangerous period for the Jewish people, and refraining from any possibility of danger is recommended (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos II:263).
As Rav Soloveitchik so eloquently explains, the period of the three weeks is designed to gradually bring the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash into the center of our consciousness. Proper observance of these halachos prepares us to take the next step and begin to experience a true sense of aveilus during the nine days and through Tisha B’Av. It is only through the meticulous observance of the halachos of mourning for the Beis Hamikdash, that we can reasonably hope to merit seeing the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash in our lifetime.