How Long is the Nine Days?

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by R. Gil Student

During a brief period leading up to Tisha B’Av, Jews observe additional mourning practices. For Ashkenazim, the initial period begins with 17 Tammuz and the intense period begins with Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the month whose mourning culminates with the ninth day, Tisha Be-Av. These nine days include customary restrictions on eating meat, drinking wine and more. Sephardim begin these restrictions on the Sunday of the week in which Tisha Be-Av falls. Can these restrictions continue for longer than nine days?

I. Extending the Practice

Rav Shlomo Luria (Maharshal, 16th century, Poland; Responsa, no. 52) was asked about a custom observed by some women to continue the Nine Days restrictions until Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos after Tisha Be-Av. Is this custom legitimate and worthy of continuation? The inquirer notes that the practice is mentioned in Sefer Ha-Minhagim by Rav Yitzchak Isaac Tyrnau (15th century, Austria), the closest thing Ashkenazim have to an authoritative record of ritual customs (when Rema quotes “Minhagim,” he means this book).

Maharshal answers that this practice is nonsense. The Gemara (Ta’anis 29b-30a) quotes three opinions on the time period of these additional restrictions, all based on the verse: “I will also cause all her joy to cease, her feasts (chagah), her new moons (chodshah), and her sabbaths (shabbatah), and all her appointed seasons” (Hosea 2:13). R. Meir believes it lasts from Rosh Chodesh (chagah) through the fast (i.e. nine days). R. Yehudah believes it lasts the entire month of Av (chodshah). R. Shimon ben Gamliel believes it lasts the entire week of Tisha Be-Av (shabbatah), from Sunday through Friday. The Gemara concludes that we follow both R. Meir and R. Shimon ben Gamliel leniently, meaning we begin the week of the fast and end at the fast.

Maharshal argues that if the Gemara concludes we end the observances with the fast, extending them further constitutes a rejection of Talmudic authority. This custom contradicts the Gemara and therefore should be abandoned. You do not even need to annul the vow of the custom. He points to Berakhos (10b) where R. Tarfon is criticized for endangering himself in order to follow Beis Shammai’s view that Shema at night must be recited while sitting down. Maharshal proves from here that we may not follow a rejected opinion like that of Beis Shammai.

Additionally, two reasons are offered for refraining from meat and wine during this period (see Beis Yosef , Orach Chaim 551): 1) Refraining from specific pleasures as a sign of sadness over the destruction of the Temple, 2) commemorating the cessation of the animal and wine sacrifices in the Temple. Neither of these make sense after Tisha Be-Av, when mourning for the Temple has concluded. Rather, Maharshal insists, this practice began due to the lack of desire to serve meat and wine before Shabbos if Tisha Be-Av falls on a Thursday. And even if it occurs earlier in the week, people did not want to spend money on meat and wine. Some people mistook this pragmatic practice as a religious custom.

You can ask why Maharshal does not object to the Ashkenazic custom of beginning the restrictions on Rosh Chodesh. Doesn’t this constitute following R. Meir against the conclusion of the Gemara? Rav Yechezkel Landau (Noda Bi-Yehudah, Orach Chaim 2:105) addresses this. He explains that even though the Gemara concludes that the restrictions begin the week of Tisha Be-Av, it also requires that people generally decrease their happiness starting on Rosh Chodesh Av. We fulfill this general requirement through specific restrictions. In contrast, there is nothing in our tradition about mourning the destruction of the Temple well past Tisha Be-Av. [1]To my surprise, no one seems to discuss in this context the extension of mourning through noon on the tenth of Av.

II. Defending the Practice

Rav Yoel Sirkes (17th century, Poland; Bach, Orach Chaim 551) disagrees with Maharshal’s conclusion. Not only does Minhagim Tyrnau cite this custom, but so does Maharil. It is hard to designate as a mistake such a well-attested custom. Rather, this is an additional custom to mourn the destruction of the Temple. As such, like you must do with any legitimate custom, you must annul this custom properly before abandoning it.

Bach differentiates between refraining from meat and wine in memory of the destroyed Temple and sitting for Shema at night. According to the Gemara’s conclusion, nothing is gained from the latter — there is no halakhic benefit. Therefore, it is forbidden to follow the rejected opinion. But because there is always benefit to mourning the Temple, you may act strictly beyond the Gemara’s conclusion.

Rav David Ha-Levi (17th century, Poland; Taz , Orach Chaim 551:10) adds that you should not specifically say that you follow R. Shimon ben Gamliel. Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th century, Poland; Magen Avraham, 551:16) similarly rejects the Maharshal’s objection to this custom. However, he adds that if the joyous day of Tu Be-Av falls on the Friday after Tisha Be-Av, you cannot suspend your custom to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine.

The Noda Bi-Yehudah (ad loc.) was asked about this last point of the Magen Avraham. Tu Be-Av can only fall on Friday if Tisha Be-Av falls out on Shabbos. In such a case, the fast is delayed until Sunday. But since Tisha Be-Av was Shabbos, the following Friday is not within the week of Tisha Be-Av. You would not refrain from eating meat and drinking wine the week after Tisha Be-Av. Therefore, what is the Magen Avraham’s case? When would this custom of refraining from eating meat and drinking wine the week of Tisha Be-Av ever apply to Tu Be-Av?

The Noda Bi-Yehudah answers that the Gemara quoting the three opinions refers to the fast, not to Tisha Be-Av. If the fast is delayed to Sunday, that week is considered the week of the fast, to which the custom applies. Therefore, you would not eat meat and drink wine on the Friday of Tu Be-Av.

While this custom is not normative, and indeed I have never heard of people observing it, it teaches us the value of internalizing the mourning practices. Too often, we do whatever we can to avoid the mourning observances. This custom represents the sensibilities of people who truly mourned the Temple and wished to express their sadness in practice, above and beyond the requirements.

(reposted from Aug ’19)

Endnotes

Endnotes
1To my surprise, no one seems to discuss in this context the extension of mourning through noon on the tenth of Av.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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