This coming Tuesday night and Wednesday will mark Rosh Chodesh Av. May Hashem soon switch it to a month of joy and celebration.
The Jewish Nation’s Fortune During the Month of Av
Although we customarily implement some mourning customs during the entire “Three Weeks” as we have mentioned in previous Halachot, when the month of Av begins until following the tenth of Av, additional customs of mourning are implemented, for the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash occurred during the month of Av. Our Sages say that these days are troublesome for the Jewish nation and their fortune does not shine during this time. Indeed, the Gemara in Masechet Ta’anit (26b) tells us, “When Av begins, we reduce our joy.” Thus, if a Jew has a pending court-case with a non-Jew, he should try to avoid having it during this time and should try to postpone it for after the Tenth of Av.
From the day of Rosh Chodesh Av, we abstain from performing joyous transactions, such as purchasing furniture for a new bride and groom, purchasing gold and silver jewelry, and the like. Regarding other transactions that are not linked to any particular joy, such as purchasing furniture for one’s home, purchasing a new car, and the like, although it seems appropriate to act stringently and abstain from doing so, nevertheless, the custom is indeed to be lenient. It is preferable that one not bring new furniture or a new car to one’s home during these days, for this causes one to be happy.
Eating Meat and Drinking Wine
The prevalent custom among the Jewish nation is that during the “Nine Days,” which is the period between Rosh Chodesh Av until the Tenth of Av, we abstain from eating meat and drinking wine besides for on Shabbat (we shall, G-d willing, discuss this detail in depth in a following Halacha). On Wednesday, Rosh Chodesh Av, one is still permitted to eat meat and drink wine, for Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that it is only customarily prohibited from the day following Rosh Chodesh Av (meaning that this year, the prohibition to eat meat and drink wine begins from this coming Thursday). Nevertheless, the Ashkenazi custom is to act stringently and refrain from eating meat and drinking wine beginning from the day of Rosh Chodesh itself. (Chazon Ovadia-Arba Ta’aniyot, page 169)
Many are under the misconception that Sephardic Jews abstain from eating meat only during the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out. This is incorrect and our custom is to begin abstaining from eating meat from the day following Rosh Chodesh Av.
The Week During Which Tisha Be’av Falls Out
Additional mourning customs are observed during the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out (such as if Tisha Be’av falls out on a Tuesday, these laws take effect from Sunday), including the prohibitions to wash one’s body with hot water, launder clothing, and wear freshly-laundered clothes. This year (5780), when Tisha Be’av falls out on a Thursday, all of the laws of the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out apply all week long.
Stringencies Observed by Ashkenazim During This Period
Nevertheless, the Ashkenazi custom is to prohibit washing one’s body from Rosh Chodesh Av with either hot or cold water (which means that they customarily observe two stringencies: the first being the prohibition of washing as early as Rosh Chodesh Av and the second being that they even prohibit washing one’s body with cold water as well). Nevertheless, even according to the Ashkenazi custom, if one lives in a place where the climate is hot, such as in Israel, or if one sweats profusely for whatever reason, one may wash his body with water that is not hot even during the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out. The reason for this is because the Ashkenazim only accepted these stringencies upon themselves in their countries, which had cooler climates. Thus, one may be lenient regarding this matter when necessary, as we have explained above.
We have heard from Maran zt”l that even in his youth, he ruled that Ashkenazim in Israel could bathe in water that was not hot. He was extremely upset that Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l ruled stringently in this regard and he was especially happy when he found out that Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l ruled leniently as he had, for personal hygiene is very important and it is unpleasant to go without showering for such a long time.
The same applies to the laws of laundering and wearing freshly-laundered clothing in that the Sephardic custom is to abstain from these things only during the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out. Ashkenazim, however, customarily abstain from these things beginning from Rosh Chodesh Av.
Purchasing Items for a Bride and Groom
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that if a wedding date was set for immediately following Tisha Be’av and the groom has not yet fulfilled the Mitzvah of “being fruitful and multiplying” (meaning that he did not yet father children), all of the necessities of the bride and groom may be purchased during these days. Even if one has the opportunity to purchase these items after Tisha Be’av, for instance if the wedding is on the Fifteenth of Av, if one is concerned that the price of the items may rise in the meantime, these items may indeed be purchased during these days, as long as there is due concern for monetary loss.
Summary: There are four levels of varying severity regarding the mourning customs observed during these days. The lowest level is from the Seventeenth of Tammuz until Rosh Chodesh Av. The second level is from Rosh Chodesh Av until the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out. The third level, which is more stringent than the former, is during the week during which Tisha Be’av falls out. The fourth level and most stringent of all is the day of Tisha Be’av itself, which is a day of mourning and fasting, as we shall discuss.