Three Weeks FAQ
Everything you ever wanted to know about the countdown to Tisha B’Av
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
There’s nothing like a good countdown to get ready for Tisha B’Av, the day we grieve the destruction of the Temple. To get in a mournful mood, the three weeks prior to Tisha B’Av—known as Bein Ha’Metzarim, or the period between the straits—are marked by a series of fasts and abstinences designed to induce somber reflection. The timing isn’t random: A fast begins on Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the 17th of Tammuz, the day the walls of the Second Temple were breached by the Romans in 70 C.E. Also, as the 17th of Tammuz occurs exactly 40 days after Shavuot, tradition suggests that it was on this day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai, saw the Golden Calf, and smashed the tablets. While customs vary, it is common to observe the restrictions of the period more stringently the nearer one gets to Tisha B’Av. The final nine days preceding Tisha B’Av are the period of greatest observance.
ANY DOS AND DON’TS?
The three weeks begin with Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, a minor fast day which begins at dawn and ends shortly after dusk. (By contrast, the Tisha B’Av fast day lasts from sundown to sundown.) Throughout the three-week period that follows, Jews refrain from holding weddings and bar mitzvahs, as well as from having other public celebrations, and from buying new clothes. It is also prohibited to play or listen to music, or to get a haircut.
During the nine final days, many Jews refrain from eating meat or poultry, drinking wine, taking hot baths, or wearing freshly laundered clothes. This corresponds neatly with the spirit of the Mishneh, which commands, “From the beginning of Av, happiness is decreased.”
ANYTHING GOOD TO READ?
Special haftarot are chanted during each of the three weeks. Known as the “three of affliction,” these portions from the Hebrew prophets do not correspond to the weekly Torah portions, but instead contain the prophecies of Jeremiah and Isaiah warning of the fall of Jerusalem.
FIVE MORE THINGS YOU CAN DO:
• Take a textual tour of the Temple.
• Relive Moses’ smashing of the tablets.
• Enjoy a healthy diet with some vegetarian recipes.
• Get serious with the prophet Jeremiah.
• Ponder the state of modern-day Jerusalem.