Posted in The July Ram’s Horn with permission from Rabbi Chaim

The Three Weeks

The Three Weeks is an annual mourning period that falls out in the summer. This is when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and our launch into a still-ongoing Exile.

The period begins on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day that marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE.  It reaches its climax and concludes with the fast of the 9th of Av, the date when both Holy Temples were set aflame. This is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, and it is also the date of other tragedies, spanning our nation’s history.


There are various mourning-related customs and observances that are followed for the entire three-week period. We do not cut our hair, purchase new clothes, or listen to music. No weddings are held.

Tammuz 17 is a fast day, on which we refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to nightfall.

The final Nine Days of the Three Weeks is a time of intensified mourning. Starting on the 1st of Av, we refrain from eating meat or drinking wine and from wearing freshly laundered clothes.

Av 9 is a more stringent fast than Tammuz 17. It begins at sunset of the previous evening, when we gather in the synagogue to read the Book of Lamentations. Besides fasting, we abstain from additional pleasures: washing, applying lotions or creams, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. Until midday, we sit on the floor or on low stools.

17th of Tammuz Laws and Customs

The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, known as Shiva Assar B’Tammuz, actually commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date:

* Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf.
* During the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of cattle.
* Apustmus burned the holy Torah.
* An idol was placed in the Holy Temple.
* The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege. (Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av.)

The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple.

Practically speaking:

* Healthy adults – bar or bat mitzvah age and older – abstain from eating or drinking between dawn and nightfall.
* Pregnant and nursing women do not fast.

* Someone who is ill should consult with a rabbi. Even those exempt from fasting, such as ill people or children, shouldn’t indulge in delicacies or sweets.
* It is permitted to wake up early before the fast begins to grab a bite, provided that prior to going to sleep you had in mind to do so.
During the morning prayers we recite selichot (elegies), printed in the back of the prayerbook. The “long Avinu Malkeinu” is recited during the morning and afternoon prayers.
The Torah is read during the morning and afternoon prayers. The reading – the same for both morning and afternoon – is Exodus 31:11-14; 34:1-10, which discusses the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident, how Moses successfully interceded on the Israelites’ behalf and attained forgiveness for their sin. After the afternoon Torah reading, the special fast-day Haftorah, Isaiah 55:6–56:8, is read.
During the amidah of the afternoon prayer, all those who are fasting add a small section, the aneinu, to the Shema Koleinu blessing.
If the 17th of Tammuz falls on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday.

Abstaining from food and drink is the external element of a fast day. On a deeper level, a fast day is an auspicious day, a day when G‑d is accessible, waiting for us to repent.

The sages explain: “Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation.” A fast day is not only a sad day, but an opportune day. It’s a day when we are empowered to fix the cause of that destruction, so that our long exile will be ended and we will find ourselves living in messianic times, may that be very soon.

Posted on July 20, 2011, in Judaism 101, July, 2011, Ram's Horn. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Nadyne Weissman

    Jerry & I know about some of the observances during this time. In 1968, we were planning a wedding, and decided on a date. When we went to the Rabbi in Calgary, he said the date was not possible, because of the three weeks moratorium. We moved the wedding up!

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