The Three Weeks

We are currently in a very serious time in the Jewish calendar. Known as the Three Weeks, it is a time of commemoration for the destruction of the holy Temples.

The Three Weeks are framed by two fast days and consist of the time in between them. They begin with Shiva Asar BeTammuz, the 17th of Tammuz, which marks the day on which enemy forces breached the protective wall surrounding Jerusalem. They end with Tisha BeAv, the ninth of Av, the day on which both Temples were destroyed.

The destruction of the Temples is a cause for great mourning and upset. That’s why the period in between – the Three Weeks – is a period of public mourning with several restrictions in place to reflect the solemnity of the time. These are some of the restrictive measures in place to preserve a feeling of public mourning:

  • Men do not shave (women may shave their legs/other parts they usually groom)
  • People do not cut their hair
  • Marriages are not conducted
  • There is a completely prohibition on listening to live music or attending concerts

The time from the beginning of the Hebrew month Av to the Tisha BeAv fast – known as the Nine Days – sees additional restrictions being put into place. For example, instead of just not hearing live music, all music (barring a capella – music made without instruments) is barred. Except on Shabbat, people are prohibited from eating meat and drinking wine. These luxury food items are typically served at parties, and we do not want this mourning period to resemble a joyous occasion. Many kosher restaurants won’t even offer meat during the Nine Days, and instead offer a fish menu instead.

Additionally, many people do not shower in the Nine Days, choosing to only wash that which is strictly necessary for hygiene reasons (in other words, washing hands after going to the bathroom). However, if you live in a hot country this is not advised: the heat is a breeding ground for bacteria, and you should still be considerate of those around you who do not want to breathe in the smell of week-old unwashed bodies!

Other prohibitions include shopping for new clothes and wearing new clothes, with some people also choosing not to wear freshly laundered clothes (again, hygiene comes first: clean underwear is not negotiable). These rules reflect those observed by people sitting shiva, the week-long mourning period after the death of a close relative.

The Three Weeks culminate with Tisha BeAv. Tisha BeAv is a very severe fast: as well as not eating or drinking, people sit on the floor, wear non-leather shoes, and even sleep without the comfort of pillows. Additionally, special mourning prayers called kinot are recited; a book called Eicha (one of the five megillot) is sung; and it is forbidden to learn Torah.

All these prohibitions come with one upside. We are taught that the Temples were destroyed because of baseless hatred – people hating those around them for no real reason. The Three Weeks are an ideal time to concentrate on the opposite – baseless love. It’s a time to put aside our differences, forgive grudges, and work on loving those around us instead. Just maybe enough love will help us hurry the Messiah and the Third Temple.