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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


Laws of Tisha B'Ab

by Haham Shemuel Yerushalmi, Jerusalem from the Sephardic classic Me'am Lo'ez

The Reading of Eikha on Tisha B'Ab

The purpose of reading the book of Eikha is not merely to recount our suffering. Our Sages emphasize the positive intent of the narrative ingrain faith in the heart of Israel in the coming of the Mashiah and the ultimate redemption. The themes of suffering and faith emphasized by King David in the Book of Psalms (69:10-1 declares, "The taunting of those who revile You has fallen upon wept and chastened my soul with fasting ... I made sackcloth my garment ... I am the song of drunkards. But as for me, let my prayer be to You, 0 Lord ... 0 God, in the greatness of Your faithful love, hear me, in the truth of Your salvation." Although he has sunk to the point that drunkards revel in his tale, David faithfully trusts in God and awaits His redemption.

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As a mark of its uniqueness, Tisha B'Ab has been set aside as a time of fasting and lamentation. In addition, since the Seventeenth of Tammuz is also a day of tragedy, the Three Weeks between the two fasts are considered a period of national mourning, and certain customs limiting celebration are observed at this time.

Halakhot (Laws) of Tisha B'Ab and the Three Weeks

The Three Weeks Between The Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Ab

During the Three Weeks between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Ab, it is proper to minimize rejoicing. Ashkenazic custom dictates that weddings and other celebrations are not held in this period. Both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities refrain from dancing and playing music at this time. (Nevertheless, a professional musician may work for gentiles until Rosh Hodesh Ab.) Certain communities abstain from eating meat and drinking wine in this period. Generally, however, these restrictions are not enforced until Rosh Hodesh Ab.

Just as a mourner does not cut his hair or shave, it is customary to refrain from doing so during these three weeks. One should refrain from hitting children at this time.

The prophet Isaiah declared, "Zion will be redeemed with -judgment and those who return to her, through charity." The commentaries explain that in this context judgment refers to the study of Torá and, in particular, Halakha. In these weeks, accentuated by the memory of Jerusalem's downfall, we must increase our efforts in those activities: Torá study and gifts to charity, which will bring about her redemption. In particular, it is appropriate to study the laws relating to the construction of the Temple, for in the Midrash it says, "When Jews study the laws of the Temple, God considers it as if they are involved in its construction."

The Blessing of Shehehiyanou

During the three weeks between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and Tisha B'Ab, it is customary not to eat new fruits [i.e. species of fruit which have not been eaten for a full seasonal or buy new clothes since these require reciting the blessing "Shehehiyanou." Although a mourner is permitted to recite Shehehiyanou, this stringency is added during these days of national catastrophe. The blessing of Shehehiyanou thanks God for "keeping us alive, maintaining us, and allowing us to reach this occasion." An expression of this type is inappropriate during this solemn time.

Nevertheless, some halakhic sources permit this blessing to be recited on Shabbat. A pregnant woman who desires a new fruit, or a sick person requiring one for reasons of health, may eat the fruit; the blessing should not be recited. If a new fruit will not be available after Tisha B'Ab and it cannot be saved until the Sabbath, it may be eaten and the Shehehiyanou recited. If one ate a new fruit during the Three Weeks without reciting the Shehehiyanou, he should refrain from eating it again until the Three Weeks have concluded. Then, he should find a new fruit of a different species and recite the Shehehiyanou, having in mind both species.

When the fulfillment of a Mitsvah requires a Shehehiyanou, as in the redemption of the first-born, the blessing is recited. Shehehiyanou may also be recited upon finding a valuable article. Birchas HaGomel may be recited even on Tisha B'Ab.

Laws Applying to the Nine Days

When the month of Ab arrives, rejoicing is subdued. No celebrations are held. Due to the negative character of the month, a Jew involved in a legal suit with a gentile should postpone the matter until Rosh Hodesh Elul, or at least until after Tisha B'Ab.

Wearing Dress Clothing

In certain communities, dress clothing is not worn, even on the Sabbath. Even in those communities, however, one whose marriage will be held the following week may wear his dress clothing. Similarly, on the Sabbath, the parents of the groom and bride may wear their dress coats in his honor. In other communities, wearing one's dress clothing is customary on the Sabbath and the Vilna Gaon introduced this custom in Vilna. Some communities follow yet another custom, changing only certain garments for the Sabbath .

At a brit, the Mohel, the Sandek (the man who holds the child during the circumcision), and the child's father and mother may wear dress clothes. The Kwatter (the man who brings the baby to and from the Brit) is not given this privilege, but the Kwatterin (woman who brings the baby to the Kwatter) may wear her dress clothing.

Business Dealings

From Rosh Hodesh Ab until the fast, it is customary to minimize business activity. Some authorities maintain that this restriction refers only to business activity of a festive nature, e.g. the purchase of silver objects, or preparations for a wedding, leaving other business activity unrestricted. However, there are sources which place restrictions on all business activity, holding that one should seek only to earn his minimal livelihood. However, even according to these sources, one may attend a business fair or take part in business dealings that cannot be postponed. In general, at present leniency is allowed in this matter since most of our business activity is necessary to earn our livelihood.

Abstention From Meat and Wine

Eating meat or drinking wine from Rosh Hodesh Ab until Tisha B'Ab is forbidden. Some begin the prohibition from the Seventeenth of Tammuz. This prohibition does not apply on the Sabbath or at a feast connected with a Mitsvah. Unless meat is required for a sick person, for the Sabbath or for a Mitsvah feast, slaughtering is not performed and ritual slaughterers hide away their knives from Rosh Hodesh Ab until the loth of the month. When necessary, or if Tisha B'Ab falls on Thursday, slaughtering is permitted on Tisha B'Ab after midday.

The prohibition against eating meat applies equally to fresh meat, fowl or meat that has been dried and salted. If, for medical reasons, one cannot eat dairy dishes, fowl or dried meat may be eaten, but not fresh meat. This leniency can be explained as follows: One of the reasons for prohibiting meat was to recall the nullification of the sacrifices. Since fowl were never offered on the Altar and sacrificial meat could not be eaten after two days had passed, the restriction against eating such meat is less severe. Greater lenience is shown in the case of a nursing woman who needs nourishment in order to overcome difficulty in providing milk for her child. She may eat even fresh meat.

There are certain authorities who allow the drinking of wine for ritual purposes, e.g. for Habdalah or when reciting Grace during the week of Tisha B'Ab. However, other authorities suggest that the wine be given to a child. These authorities concede, however, that if no child is present, an adult may drink the Habdalah wine, but Grace should be recited without wine. Other alcoholic beverages, such as beer or mead, may be consumed during this period.

The above restriction applies during the week, but not on the Sabbath. At a feast connected with a Mitsvah, such as a Brit or a Pidyon HaBen (redemption of a first-born son), wine may be drunk, (although the Sages advise the participants to be conservative in their consumption of that beverage). By the same token, the number of guests invited to such a celebration should be restricted to ten friends and one's close family during the week of Tisha B'Ab. Anyone who eats meat or drinks wine during this period, except in the above-mentioned instances, is viewed with severity by the Sages.


During this period one may not take a haircut or shave, or trim any other hair. Children may not be given haircuts. A mourner whose thirty day period of mourning (during which hair may not be cut) is concluded in the week of Tisha B'Ab may trim his hair with a knife, but not with scissors. Some authorities permit this only before Rosh Hodesh Ab, but if the thirty days end between Rosh Hodesh and the week of Tisha B'Ab, other authorities are lenient.

Torá Study on the Afternoon Before Tisha B'Ab

As will be explained, certain restrictions are placed on Torá study during Tisha B'Ab. Those restrictions are in force from noon the previous day. Thus, if Tisha B'Ab falls on the Sabbath or Sunday, Pirkei Avot is not recited that afternoon. In certain communities, if Tisha B'Ab falls on Sunday, no restrictions are placed on Torá study on the preceding Sabbath.

The Meal Preceding the Fast

On Tisha B'Ab eve, a person should eat a full meal in the afternoon in order that he have the strength to endure the fast. However, in no way should that meal be considered a pleasurable occasion and no delicacies should be served.

The above does not refer to the meal preceding the fast. That meal should be served shortly before nightfall with very solemn undertones. The amount of food served should be restricted to a bare minimum. On no account should two dishes be served.

It is customary to eat only bread and either eggs or lentils during this meal since both are symbolic of mourning. Furthermore, both the bread and the eggs are dipped in ashes rather than in salt to emphasize the aspect of mourning.

The meal should not be eaten among a group of people. Rather, each individual should eat his serving alone. If people do eat together, they should turn away from each other. Under no circumstances is grace to be recited as a group. It has become customary to eat this meal while seated on low stools or cushions, rather than on ordinary chairs. None of the above restrictions or customs apply when Tisha B'Ab eve falls on the Sabbath. In such a case, one may eat a festive meal as is customary throughout the year.

The Night of Tisha B'Ab

All the restrictions that apply to Tisha B'Ab begin from sunset of the previous day. In the evening, the entire community gathers in the synagogue, the lights are dimmed, and the cover of the ark is removed. The congregation sits on pillows or low stools and recites the evening service slowly, in a tearful tone, in recognition that the entire Jewish people is in mourning.

The Recitation of Eikha [The Book of Lamentations]

After the Shemonah Esray prayers, Eikha is read. Certain communities read Eikha from a scroll, but that custom is not generally followed. The text is read slowly, in a tone of lamentation, the congregation following the reader with hushed voices. At the beginning of each chapter, the reader lifts his voice. When the reader reaches the second to last verse, Hashivenu, he pauses and the congregation recites the verse aloud. Afterwards, he concludes the text and, then, the congregation repeats Hashivenu. In most communities, Eikha is read communally only in the evening. However, there are some who follow the custom of reading it communally the following morning as well. It is proper to study the text individually during the course of the day.

Following the recitation of Eikha, a number of Kinot (mourning prayers) are recited. At the conclusion, the prayer, VAN Kadosh is recited. The first verse of that prayer, "And a redeemer will come to Zion, "is not recited, since the future redemption will not come at night. The second verse, "As for me: this is my covenant," is also omitted, since its recitation would imply that a covenant is being made to recite prayers of mourning. This verse also makes reference to Torá study which is restricted on Tisha B'Ab.

Tisha B'Ab Following the Sabbath

When Tisha B'Ab falls directly after the Sabbath, Habdalah should not be recited until after the fast. Independent of Habdalah, we use candlelight and make the blessing, "Boray M'oray Ha'Aish," praising God for creating light on Saturday night. Preferably, this blessing should be recited before the recitation of Eikha, Two reasons are given for this practice:

Since we will benefit from light during the course of reading Eikha and, hence, the blessing should be recited before the reading; and also one of the, verses of Eikha declares: "He has placed me in darkness." For this reason, praise for light should be recited beforehand. The blessing may be recited later that night, if it was not recited before the reading of Eikha.

In the Shemonah Esray prayers, Habdalah (the prayer, Ata honan-tahnu) is added. Women who do not recite the evening service, or a man who wants to carry out work beforehand, should declare, Barukh HaMaudil Bayn Kodesh L'hol-"Blessed is He Who separates between the holy and the mundane"-, to distinguish between the Sabbath and the weekdays.

In the evening service following Tisha B'Ab, Habdalah is not recited. One may not eat after the fast until Habdalah is recited. Wine is used for the Habdalah ceremony and it may be drunk by an adult. Neither a cnadle or spices are used in the ceremony.

The Prohibitions of Tisha B'Ab

Our Sages have described five physical afflictions which must be suffered on Tisha B'Ab. We must refrain from:

1. Eating and drinking,

2. Washing,

3. Wearing shoes,

4. Applying oil or ointments to one's body,

5. Sexual relations.

Restrictions are also placed on Torá study, and in some communities, on work. All these restrictions begin from sunset before the fast and last until nightfall the following day. Even if the evening prayers of the loth of Ab are recited before nightfall, all the constraints of the day must be observed until nightfall.


This is from Haham Shemuel Yerushalmi in his writing from the Me'am Lo'ez. The Torá Anthology-Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez which is available in all Jewish bookstores. Me'am Lo'ez is popular among both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, although the work was originally printed in Ladino. It was also translated into Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Today it is available in several languages including Spanish and Russian.