Is It Wrong to Enjoy Life During The Three Weeks?

Dear Jew in the City,

When the Three Weeks approach, I used to become fearful and extra cautious. Do we believe that we’re less protected during this time? While I recognize the customs that make things more solemn, I want to carry on and enjoy life as much as possible. Is it wrong to seek pleasure during this time?



Dear Jamie,

Thanks for your question. Well, questions, actually, since you’re really asking two things, namely: (1) “Are we less protected during the Three Weeks?” and (2) “Is it wrong to enjoy ourselves?” We’ll address each of these, but first let’s take a quick review of the Three Weeks.

The Three Weeks is a period of mourning that is observed in the summer. In Hebrew, this period is known as bein hametzarim – literally, “between the straits.” This is because the Three Weeks are bookended by fasts commemorating national tragedies: the fast of 17 Tammuz and Tisha b’Av. The mourning period can be broken down into the following stages: the Three Weeks, the Nine Days, and Tisha b’Av. (Sefardim also differentiate the week in which Tisha b’Av falls.) The mourning intensifies as we progress towards Tisha b’Av.

The fast of 17 Tammuz – pronounced “Shiva Asar b’Tammuz” in Hebrew – kicks off the Three Weeks. This was the date on which Moses shattered the first set of tablets in response to the sin of the Golden Calf, establishing this as a day of national tragedy. The Talmud in Taanis (28b) lists other tragedies that occurred on this date. These include the evil king Menashe installing an idol in the First Temple, the Roman official Apostomus publicly burning a sefer Torah, and the walls of Jerusalem being breached, ultimately resulting in the destruction of the Second Temple. Disasters continued to occur on this date throughout history. For example, on 17 Tammuz in 1239 CE, Pope Gregory IX ordered all copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books confiscated for burning.

So, from the start of the Three Weeks we observe a light period of mourning that involves not listening to music, refraining from haircuts and shaving, not purchasing new clothes, and not holding weddings, or attending parties and other public gatherings.(Please note that these are bullet points, not details. For example, the prohibition on shaving refers to men shaving their faces, not to women removing facial or body hair. Similarly, all of these contain many such details that are beyond our scope.)

The mourning restrictions ramp up for the last nine days of the Three Weeks, the dates of Av 1-9. The Gemara in Taanis (26b) tells us, “When the month of Av enters, we decrease our joy.”Accordingly, we don’t eat meat or drink wine (except on Shabbos), we don’t bathe for pleasure or swim (though one may bathe for hygiene), we don’t wear freshly laundered clothes, we don’t make home improvements, and we try to avoid court cases. (Again, each of these items is subject to many details.)

Tisha b’Av – the apex of the mourning, commemorating the destruction of both Temples – includes additional restrictions. We don’t eat or drink, wash, anoint with lotions, wear leather shoes, engage in marital intimacy, greet one another, or sit on regular-height chairs.

Jumping back to the Nine Days, you’ll notice that one of those items is to avoid court cases where possible. That’s not because of mourning; it’s because the Three Weeks is an inauspicious time. So… should we avoid danger during the Three Weeks?

It’s advisable to do so, but not obligatory (and maybe not even necessary).

We see the practice to avoid danger at this time pop up here and there in the halachic literature. For example, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 551:18) records a prohibition for a teacher to physically reprimand a student (i.e., to “potch” him) during the Three Weeks.

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir writes that the origin of the practice to avoid danger is the gemara in Pesachim (111b), which discusses a destructive force called ketev (a plague or a scourge) that prevails at this time. But he notes that many authorities are unconcerned about this in practice. He points out that Psalm 91 mentions the ketev, saying “He who sits in the protection of the Most High, who dwells in the shadow of the Almighty, who says, ‘Hashem is my protection and my fortress, in God I place my trust,’ this individual need not fear the ketev that prevails in midday.” Therefore, Rabbi Dr. Meir writes, one who has strong faith and not doubt is protected from the ketev.

Others take different approaches that mitigate the statement of the Shulchan Aruch. The Maharsham, for example, writes that warning not to “potch” a student only applies in a room without a mezuzah. Rav Moshe Feinstein taught that the prohibition on “potching” a student refers to lashing out in anger and not to correcting a child’s wayward behavior, which is for the student’s benefit. (It should be noted that, despite this being the archetypical example of danger during the Three Weeks, we no longer condone corporal punishment, even of the mild
variety.) See this link.

Nevertheless, there are those who recommend stringency in this matter. Accordingly, the common practice is to refrain from elective surgery during the Three Weeks. (Of course, if one needs a procedure, one should have it done according to one’s doctor’s recommendations.) Are there people who refrain from flying during the Three Weeks? Sure, but again, it’s not a strict prohibition. For example, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach permitted flying to Israel during the Nine Days and even on Tisha b’Av, considering flying to Israel important enough to override the extra caution exercised at this time. He also permitted yeshiva students to fly home during the Nine Days if the alternative was to leave the yeshiva early. Remaining in yeshiva and studying Torah was also sufficient cause to override the extra precautions.

So one might avoid unnecessary dangers during the Three Weeks or the Nine Days, but if a danger is truly unnecessary, it might be a good idea to avoid it in general.

As far as your second question, “Is it wrong to enjoy ourselves during the Three Weeks?” the answer is relative. You’ll note that we don’t spend three weeks fasting. We don’t refrain from meat or a nice hot shower for the entire period. The Gemara says, “When the month of Av enters, we decrease our joy,” not that we eliminate it entirely. So yes, it’s a solemn time, and there are things we don’t do in order to reflect that, but those things are generally defined for us. Use common sense; a trip to Disneyland or Six Flags might not be in the spirit of the time, but
we also don’t believe in total asceticism and self-deprivation. It’s okay to enjoy ourselves to some degree, we just shouldn’t lose sight of what the tone of the Three Weeks is meant to convey.

Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Educational Correspondent
Follow Ask Rabbi Jack on YouTube

If you found this content meaningful and want to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom, and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a Change Maker today.


Contact formLeave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related posts

Jewish Couple

Why Do Orthodox Jewish Women Shave Their Heads?

Is There Anything Extra We Can Do This Tisha B’Av To Protect Our Nation?

Previous post

Where You Could Catch a Minyan During the Revolutionary War

Next post

The Haredi IDF Brigade That's Existed For 25 Years

We’ll Schlep To You

In Your
Inbox Weekly