The Three Weeks
The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is commemorated with a period of mourning.
The Nine Days
The last nine days of the period, starting with the first of the month of Av, occupy a special status. Foods traditionally associated with joy, such as wine and meat, are forbidden, except on Shabbat. Bathing, beyond what is absolutely necessary, is prohibited, as is doing laundry, and buying or wearing new clothes.
This culminates in the fast of Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of Av, a day that is spent entirely in mourning--by fasting, praying, sitting on stools instead of chairs, and reading the book of Lamentations. The Mishnah, in Masekhet Taanit 29b, decrees that these additional restrictions are only valid in "shavua she-hal bo," or the week that Tisha B’av occurs. Many Sephardic Jews only observe the restrictions within this period.
Even though the Three Weeks mark the time of the Temple's destruction, there are signs of hope throughout. The three haftarot read during this period, are full of admonitions and prophetic passages that warn about the consequences of sin. Yet each ends in a promise of eventual redemption.
The Talmud says, "When the month of Av enters, one should decrease in joy." The Hasidic rebbe Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira (1861-1937), said that, though the Talmud says to "decrease in joy," it should be read, "decrease...in joy." In other words, though it is proper to mourn, even in that mourning, we should do so joyously, knowing that better times are ahead.
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