Monday, July 30, 2012

Eliminate Denominations - Objection #2

In last week's Washington Jewish Week, two letters were printed in response to my letter "Eliminate Denominations". Feel free to look at them here. I responded to the first of them in great detail here. In this post, I  reproduce the text of the second objection, followed by my detailed response.

A people divided

My Rockville neighbor, Rabbi Joshua Maroof, surely wrote his letter ("Eliminate denominations," Letters, WJW, July 12) about eliminating Ashkenazic denominations with several tongues in cheek. He surely knows that Jews have been a people divided - often creatively - through history by "denominations" or movements or parties.

When were we not? The biblical text tells us we were divided even under Moses. The Pharisees opposed the Sadducees, the House of Hillel and Shamai, the same, Chasidim and Mitnagdim scuffled more recently and on and on to this day. Thank God for options and alternatives enriching our lives with choices, however faulty and inadequate they all are.

And all admit to being imperfect save for the Orthodox who self-proclaim to be authentic. Besides, Reform Judaism, it should be remembered, predates Orthodox Judaism. These "denominations" representing critical differences are our profoundest strength: one people, a multiplicity of ideas and religious sensibilities.

Rabbi Maroof calls Jewish Orthodoxy unaltered. He cannot be serious. Judaism has always altered. Orthodoxy as well. That's what makes Judaism authentic and alive. But what kind of model does Orthodoxy represent - whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic - when its understanding of Judaism chains women as agunot to nasty husbands who won't do the right thing by their separated wives; manifests as a denomination that treats women as second-class Jews with no aliyot, no ordination, as acquired property in marriage, segregated from families at shul? Never mind attitudes towards non-heterosexuals.

As for Israel's Rabbinate, the state ought not employ and pay salaries to any clergy except military chaplains and hospital chaplains as in the U.S. and other democratic countries. The greater the separation of state and religion, the better. Even for Israel.

My Response

Like Mr. Finkel's, Rabbi Brenner's letter is replete with misrepresentations of Jewish history and tradition. He points to divisions between Hillel and Shammai, Hassidim and Mitnagdim, Sadduccees and Pharisees, etc., as examples of “denominations” that predate our contemporary ones.

Disagreement, difference of opinion and division into schools of thought have all, indeed, characterized Jewish life since the proverbial days of old. However, it is imperative that we distinguish between the existence of schools with variant interpretations of canonical texts and law and the emergence of movements that dispute the Divine origin, truth or validity of those texts or that law. The former are part and parcel of traditional Judaism; the latter are separatists from traditional Judaism (the Sadduccees, incidentally, would fit in the latter category as well.)

Rabbi Brenner then writes, “But what kind of model does Orthodoxy represent - whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic - when its understanding of Judaism chains women as agunot to nasty husbands who won't do the right thing by their separated wives; manifests as a denomination that treats women as second-class Jews with no aliyot, no ordination, as acquired property in marriage, segregated from families at shul? Never mind attitudes towards non-heterosexuals.”
 One may feel uncomfortable with certain aspects of Torah law, but criticizing the laws does not take away from the fact that those who maintain them are, in fact, upholding the original principles of Judaism as represented in the Written and Oral traditions.

Shifting the argument to whether you find the way the Torah structures divorce, the Talmud's laws that distinguish between genders with regard to prayer roles, or the Torah's clear prohibition of homosexuality to be agreeable to your "sensibilities" evades the question of whether or not your personal philosophy represents authentic Judaism.

Feel however you wish, but do not claim that the sum total of religious practices with which you are comfortable equates to some kind of "better" Judaism. Judaism's teachings on these issues are quite well-defined, and it is the Sephardim and so-called "Orthodox" Jews who have preserved them for generations. It is Judaism you dislike, not the traditionalists who have clung to it.

A few points of factual clarification:
First, nowhere in the Torah or Talmud are specific "attitudes" toward homosexuals legislated or promoted. The Torah prohibits homosexual relations but does not view homosexuality as any different than, for example, desecrating the Sabbath. Nowhere is it written that we should treat practicing homosexuals any differently than we treat those who fail to observe the Sabbath. Put simply, there is no correlation whatsoever between forbidding an activity and promoting negative or hateful attitudes toward individuals who engage in that activity.

Second, women are not "segregated from families" in the synagogue. Men and women sit separately in traditional synagogues just as they stood separately in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The reason is to remove the distractions that inevitably attend mingling with members of the opposite sex. If anything, in non-traditional synagogues in which principles of modest dress are not observed, there is an even greater need to separate men and women so that decorum and focus on prayer can be maintained. After all, prayer is not a social event. It is a time to commune with God. It shouldn't matter who is sitting next to you. And if it does, that's why you need a divider in your synagogue.

Third, I fail to see why women not being given aliyot means that they are second class citizens. Judaism is a religion of responsibilities, obligations and service of God, not service of the self. We should not be seeking or promoting the "honor" of receiving aliyot or being ordained as rabbis.

Those who are obligated to read from the Torah according to Jewish law are the ones who receive aliyot in order to fulfill their obligation, not to demonstrate their superiority or their status as "first class" citizens. Those who are not obligated should have no need for it. 

Similarly, those obligated to teach Torah to the community and lead services according to Jewish law are the ones who need to be ordained in order to qualify them for this position. One is ordained to fulfill these duties for the congregation, not in order to become the recipient of of honor and accolades from them. Since women are not charged with these specific responsibilities (they have many others that men don't have), they should have no need for ordination.

If women feel a need for ordination, it is because they wrongly perceive the title of rabbi as a mark of distinction and privilege that is being denied to them. Instead, they should see it as a tool that allows men to fulfill certain religious obligations that women don't necessarily have. 

Fourth, nowhere in the Torah, Talmud or codes does it say that women are acquired as property in marriage. That is simply absurd. I would urge Rabbi Brenner to more carefully study the laws of marriage and divorce in the relevant rabbinic sources where he will discover that this claim is neither fair nor accurate.

Moreover, in the course of his learning he will hopefully come to understand why religious divorce proceeds according to the principles he saw fit to denigrate in his letter. There is rhyme, reason and logic to everything in Judaism, but it takes many years of serious study for one to recognize  and appreciate that fact.

"Eliminate Denominations" Objection #1

In last week's Washington Jewish Week, two letters were printed in response to my letter "Eliminate Denominations". Feel free to look at them here. I will reproduce the text of the objections here as well, followed by my detailed response to each letter.

Objection Letter #1

In his letter urging the elimination of non-Orthodox denominations ("Eliminate denominations," Letters, WJW, July 12), Rabbi Joshua Maroof contends that Orthodoxy is the "one, unaltered, authentic, traditional Judaism," the "original" version dating back 3,500 years.
This contention is not supported by the historical record. To name just a few major changes or modifications of the "original" Judaism:

• Animal sacrifice has been eliminated, replaced by prayer.

• Daughters can receive an inheritance, contrary to the sons-only stipulation in the Torah.

• The legal subterfuge known as "Prosbul" circumvents the Torah's requirement that debts be forgiven in the Sabbatical year.

• Rabbi Gershom ben Judah's edict prohibiting polygamous marriages.

• The failure to carry out (thankfully) the many death penalties mandated in the Torah.

In the area of beliefs, there is the introduction of a hereafter, a theme nowhere to be found in the Torah. We also recite, in the Amidah, our belief in the resurrection of the dead. Whence comes this notion?

One should feel free to criticize Conservative and Reform Judaism's practices and trends, but to claim that only they are departures from an "original" version is either naive or unbelievably disingenuous. The bottom line is that we are all Jews. When we have so few friends into the world, it ill-behooves us to foster alienation within our own ranks.


My Response to Mr. Finkel
Mr. Finkel's letter claims that my statement that authentic Judaism has not changed over time is not supported by the historical record. To bolster his argument, he cites a number of pieces of "evidence" that he feels disprove my point. While his letter may seem convincing on the surface, an examination of his list of "changes" in Judaism reveals many gaps in his Jewish education. I will respond briefly, point by point, to the issues he raises:

1 – Mr. Finkel states that the absence of animal sacrifice in Judaism and its “replacement” with prayer is a sign that the religion evolved. However, animal sacrifice was not "eliminated and replaced with prayer" as he claims. Animal sacrifice was only permitted in the Holy Temple, where it coexisted with prayer, as the Bible clearly states. Animal sacrifice was discontinued because the Temple was destroyed. Prayer was not "invented" to replace sacrifice, although the schedule of prayer was later modeled after the Temple service.

2 – Mr. Finkel claims that the Torah does not allow daughters to inherit but that, nowadays, daughters do inherit. The truth is that nowhere in Jewish law does it say that daughters cannot receive an inheritance if the parent stipulates this before his/her death. If the parent dies without a will, Jewish law dictates that the sons inherit. This law was never modified in any way. I am not sure where Mr. Finkel heard otherwise.

3 – Mr. Finkel argues that the Prozbul, instituted by Hillel to encourage lending by sidestepping the cancelation of loans in the Shemitta year, demonstrates that Judaism was, in fact, altered over time. It is beyond the scope of this brief response to explain the logic behind "prozbul". However, it is not effectuating a change in the law, but is working around (or through) a loophole in the law for a good purpose. There is a big difference between modifying and working within/around the system. The latter is done all the time, in all legal systems, and does not amount to changing them.

4 – Mr. Finkel points to the decree of Rabbenu Gershom, forbidding polygamy, is an example of Judaism changing with the times. However, an official decree of policy made by one rabbi which was accepted as custom by many (not all) Jewish communities is hardly a "change in Judaism". No one claims that the Torah changed. Everyone acknowledged that polygamy remained permitted, at least on a Biblical level. However, Rabbenu Gershom decided to institute a rabbinical ban on polygamy in the countries under his authority.

5 – Mr. Finkel further claims that the fact that the death penalties legislated by the Torah are not implemented suggests that Judaism has changed. Death penalties are not carried out because we don't have a Sanhedrin authorized to carry them out, not because the religion has been changed. Even when the Sanhedrin existed, the death penalty was used sparingly. But its complete absence from contemporary life is the result of a change in the external world (the lack of a Sanhedrin) not a change in the Torah.

Mr. Finkel proceeds to claim not only that Jewish practices changed, but that many Jewish beliefs were added to the religion later and did not exist in Biblical times. Specifically, he asks where the belief in the afterlife or the resurrection of the dead, widely held among traditional Jews, could possibly have come from. The concept of the afterlife, while certainly not the focus of Biblical or post-Biblical-Era Judaism, is alluded to in the Book of Psalms and in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the resurrection of the dead is mentioned in several places, most notably the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Daniel.

Moreover, with respect to belief in the afterlife, it is most certain that the Jews subscribed to it throughout their history, since it would be quite bizarre for any nation existing 4000 years ago to have not only denied but to have failed to address or even mention an idea that was a fundamental cornerstone of every other religion en vogue at that time, particularly the Egyptian cults. Its omission from the Torah and relegation to oral tradition is understandable when we consider that it is a topic subject to great misunderstanding and distortion when approached improperly.

Mr. Finkel concludes with these words: "The bottom line is that we are all Jews. When we have so few friends into the world, it ill-behooves us to foster alienation within our own ranks. "

My point exactly! This is why we were given one Torah and no denominations into which to group ourselves.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tisha B'Av Letter 5772

Every year, I send a message to my congregation before Tisha B'Av. Here is the letter I composed and sent before Tisha B'Av 5772/2012.

Dear Members and Friends,

This Saturday night marks the beginning of the darkest and saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the fast of Tisha B’Av. Tisha B’Av commemorates a host of tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the course of their history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. In addition to being a day of solemn mourning and deep reflection, Tisha B’Av is the most serious and stringent fast day of the year, second only to Yom Kippur.

Tragically, Tisha B’Av is often neglected or overlooked by contemporary Jews. Many are unaware of its existence. Those who are familiar with Tisha B’Av may feel alienated from its message of sadness and gloom. As a result, despite the supreme importance of the day, it is not as widely acknowledged or observed in the Diaspora as it should be.

Tisha B’Av is a reminder to all of us that we live in a dark and unjust world, a world marred by profound ignorance, immorality, materialism, poverty, racism, misogyny, tyranny, and selfishness, and that it is our responsibility as the Chosen People to correct this sorry state of affairs.

The purpose of our focus on a wide array of painful and unspeakable tragedies is not to depress, debilitate or demoralize us but to awaken within us a sincere desire to avoid such calamities in the future. This means realizing that the terrible occurrences of the past were not accidental; rather, they were the inevitable and inescapable consequences of the corruption of the society in which we live.

The mourning of Tisha B’Av is designed to create a powerful sense of unity among all members of the Jewish people, both in terms of our shared historical fate and in terms of our shared national destiny, so that, together, we can strive for a genuinely better tomorrow.

We understand that the process of redeeming our broken society cannot begin until we face the stark, harsh and painful realities that surround us. We know that the joyous rebuilding of Jewish community and the achievement of the Prophetic ideals of peace on earth and universal brotherhood will be inspired and fueled by the feelings of sadness and despair we experience on Tisha B’Av.

The message of Tisha B’Av is meant to resonate and should resonate with all those who are sensitive to the plight of mankind and are truly concerned about the injustices and abuses - physical, moral and intellectual - that are perpetrated daily across the globe.

When we, as a people, cannot tolerate this state of affairs any longer; when we are finally willing to set aside all of our trivial concerns and petty disagreements for the sake of a greater good; when the lessons of Tisha B’Av finally penetrate our hearts and we are fully prepared to do whatever it takes to transform a disappointing and diseased world into the inspiring and idyllic one of which we have dreamed for centuries - then, and only then, will the light of true redemption burst forth in all its glory.

Tisha B’Av begins on Shabbat evening at 8:22PM. Please join us at Magen David Sephardic Congregation for our deeply moving services Saturday Night at 9:30PM, Sunday morning at 8:30AM and Sunday evening at 7:45PM.

At 4:30PM on Sunday, we will be screening three fascinating and educational films that highlight the experiences of Sephardic Jews in exile. I hope you will attend the screening and thereby enrich your experience of this incredibly important day.

Shabbat Shalom and Best Regards,

Rabbi Joshua Maroof

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why the Nine Days Don't "Work"

From the first day of the Hebrew Month of Av through the Fast of the Ninth of Av (Tisha B'Av), Jews observe various mourning practices in commemoration of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, having parties, listening to music, and a variety of other enjoyable or celebratory activities as determined by communal custom. While they have been expanded, modified and adjusted with the passage of time, the roots of these observances are thousands of years old, and the concept of mourning for the loss of the Temple is found in the Bible itself.

This leads us to the obvious question: Jews have been carefully observing the Nine Days for thousands of years. They have scrupulously avoided parties, weddings, meat, wine, etc., consulting with their rabbis to clarify what is or is not permitted during this time. They have mourned for Jerusalem in precise accordance with Jewish Law. So why hasn't God taken note of our punctilious behavior and rebuilt the Temple already?

The answer is that our observance of the Nine Days has become yet another exemplification of the underlying problem with our observance of Jewish law in general, and it is this deeply entrenched problem that was the cause of our exile to begin with. Rather than awaken us to our distorted relationship with Jewish Law, the customs of mourning have fallen victim to the same distortion.

During the era when the Temple stood (and this seems to be true not only of the Second Temple but even of the First), the Jews observed many, if not all, of the commandments of the Torah. They were concerned about the holiness of the Sabbath and the kashruth of their food. They visited the Temple on holidays and brought sacrifices as required by the Law. On a ritual level, their conduct left little to be desired.

Yet the Prophets, most notably Isaiah and Jeremiah, castigated the Jews for their failure to adhere to the Torah - not the laws of the Torah, but its spirit and purpose. The Prophets saw that the Jews were outwardly observant, but had not internalized the principles, values and ideals that observance is supposed to instill in us. They may have consulted with Rabbis to determine the precise legal ramifications of their actions, but they showed little concern for the metaphysical, spiritual and ethical implications thereof.

For instance, Isaiah famously criticizes the Jews not merely for desecrating the Sabbath through work, but for speaking about mundane pursuits on the Sabbath day and for failing to enjoy the Sabbath to the fullest. His message was that technical observance is not enough - one must consider the ultimate purpose and meaning of the observance, the objective it is designed to achieve.

This is most beautifully exemplified in my favorite passage in Jeremiah, chapter 34, which is the Haftara for Parashat Mishpatim. (Unfortunately, it is rarely read in the synagogue, because it is usually Parashat Sheqalim, so the regular Haftara is almost always replaced with another).

Tzidqiyahu, the King of Judah, attempts to return the Jews to the observance of the Torah, and gathers them in the Temple to make a solemn covenant with them. Specifically, he has the people promise to adhere to the commandment to free slaves after six years of servitude. The assembled group makes a covenant with God and commits to abide by the law. In fact, they do go ahead and release their slaves.

There is only one problem: After setting them free, the Jews immediately chase down their slaves and recapture them!

God tells Jeremiah to commend the Jews for doing what previous generations had failed to do - freeing the slaves in accordance with the Law. However, He then informs the people that their subsequent reversal not only erased their good deed, it sealed the decree of their destruction.

 The fact that they desecrated God's name, violated their solemn oath and retook their slaves was sufficient reason in God's eyes to condemn them. We must wonder - what were they thinking? Why did they go all out, commit to this vow, keep it, and then break it?

On the surface, it seems absurd, but consider this: They never violated their oath. In the minds of the Jews, they had observed their vow to the letter and had released the slaves as they were commanded. They never promised they wouldn't recapture the slaves afterward! Who said anything about not recapturing?

From the technical, legal standpoint, the Jews were totally justified in their actions. From a "halakhic" perspective, the perspective of Jewish law, they had done nothing wrong, and probably felt proud that they had acted precisely in accordance with the requirements of the Torah.

The message of the Prophet was exactly this - technical compliance with the Law is not what God wants from you. He wants devotion to the purpose of the Law and its spirit. Why did God command us to free the slaves after six years of labor? Certainly not to enact a formalistic ritual of releasing the slaves and then to recapture them!

The temporary character of servitude is a reflection of the humanity of the slave and his right to have an independent, autonomous existence in the world. Freeing the slaves demonstrates our understanding that no human being can own another human being. Every person is created in the image of God, answers only to God and is given the power of free choice by God to live his or her own life on this Earth, hopefully in the service of God.

The Jews in the story acted in what would today be considered a stereotypically "Orthodox" fashion, demonstrating a painstaking adherence to the letter of the law (think of the legalistic "selling" of hametz to a non-Jew before Passover as a contemporary instance of this approach). However, their observance of the commandment did not promote the values and ideals it was supposed to; on the contrary, it did exactly the opposite!

The "release" of slaves by the generation of Tzidqiyahu totally subverted and undermined the essential spirit of the law. Rather than serving as a genuine demonstration of the principle that man cannot permanently enslave his fellow man, the Jews transformed the "freeing of slaves" into a ritualistic legal mechanism that would permit them to hold onto their servants forever with impunity!

When observance of the Law is perverted from a vehicle of true philosophical and ethical ideas into a method of working around or even uprooting and eliminating those ideas, there is no hope for Torah Judaism anymore. The people's whole orientation to God's Law is fundamentally distorted and must be rebuilt from the ground up - hence the harsh decree of wanton destruction, famine and exile from the Land of Israel pronounced by Jeremiah in Chapter 34.

In order to really appreciate the Nine Days and Tisha B'Av, we must see the lesson of Jeremiah in ourselves...We must identify the ritualizing of our observance, not only the absence of spirit, direction and purpose in our conduct but the literal replacement of of lofty ideals and values with dry, technical, behavioristic formulas.

Jewish law and custom is eternally binding, and there is no question that we are obligated to keep all of the practices of mourning that our Prophets and Sages deemed obligatory during this time of the year. Nevertheless, as long as we are more concerned with the minutiae of the legal requirements of the Nine Days than we are with the absence of the Temple and what that means about the spiritual state of our nation, this indicates that the customs we work so hard to observe have failed to achieve their aim. In fact, it means that they have become yet another symptom of the core problem that is responsible for our lengthy dispersion across the globe.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eliminate Denominations

This is a letter that I submitted to the Washington Jewish Week and was published in the current edition:

Dear Editor,

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar was roundly criticized for his negative statements about Conservative and Reform rabbis in a recent issue of Washington Jewish Week. ("Message to the 'wicked,' " WJW, June 28). Although he employed harsh language, I believe that Rabbi Amar's essential point was cogent and compelling. The existence of denominations in Judaism has created havoc in the Diaspora, undermining Jewish unity and complicating Jewish identity in multiple ways.

It continually strikes me as bizarre that Conservative and Reform rabbis, after unilaterally deciding to change the hallowed theological beliefs and practices of traditional Judaism, suddenly cry foul when defenders of the tradition refuse to accept the validity of their movements. After denying the truth of the Torah, disregarding the laws of Shabbat and kashrut and most recently "sanctifying" gay marriage, they consider those of us who wish to uphold our 3,500-year-old beliefs and laws to be "intolerant" and demand that their modified version of our religion be acknowledged as "Judaism" on par with the original form thereof. If they wish to institute radical changes, then they should be prepared to deal with the consequences of those changes.

I don't think the solution to the problem is for Orthodoxy to prevail over the other denominations; rather, I believe that the only answer is the elimination of denominations altogether. Many of those who attend Sephardic synagogues, like those who attend Conservative synagogues and Reform temples, drive on Shabbat and are not very observant. Yet they are passionate about Judaism, the one, unaltered, authentic, traditional Judaism with which they were raised, and they would not want to have it any other way.

Sephardic Judaism has been able to eschew denominationalism and preserve its original form without excluding or rejecting individuals whose personal observance or level of belief falls short of the mark. I would encourage Ashkenazic Jews to drop their labels and divisions and return to the faith of their ancestors as it was taught for thousands of years. This, and not the creation and validation of competing movements, is what will help us progress one step closer to our ultimate redemption as a people.


Friday, July 06, 2012

Essential Laws of The Three Weeks - Revised for 2012

                                           נחמת יעקב - קיצור הלכות בין המצרים
                               Essential Laws of The Three Weeks and Tisha B’av
                                                        by Rabbi J. Maroof

                    מוקדש לזכר נשמת חמותי היקרה יהודית בת שמואל ע“ה  ת. נ. צ. ב. ה
שבעה עשר בתמוז - The Seventeenth of Tammuz

1. Each year we observe a period of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. We begin on the Seventeenth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz with a day of fasting and prayer. This year, the fast falls out on Sunday, July 8th, 2012.

2. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz begins at astronomical dawn and continues until nightfall. Sephardim conclude this and all other minor fasts twenty minutes after sundown, whereas Ashkenazim conclude anywhere from thirty to fifty minutes after sundown. This year, the fast will begin in Rockville on Tuesday morning at 4:39 AM and will conclude (for Sephardim) at 8:57 PM.

3. It is preferable not to launder clothing, wear freshly laundered clothing or bathe in warm water during the daytime on the Seventeenth of Tammuz. However, it is permitted to brush one’s teeth with toothpaste or use mouthwash.

4. From the Seventeenth of Tammuz through the Ninth day of the month of Av, it is customary to avoid reciting the blessing of Shehecheyanu on new fruits, clothing, etc.

5. It is the custom of Ashkenazim to avoid shaving, taking haircuts and celebrating weddings beginning with the 17th day of Tammuz. If necessary for business purposes, shaving is permitted until the first day of Av. In particularly dire circumstances, it may be permitted up through the Friday before Tisha B’av. In such cases, a competent Rabbi should be consulted. 

6. It is meritorious to avoid listening to most forms of music (with the exception of classical and some religious music) throughout the year as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. However, if one is lenient in this regard most of the time, one should try to be more careful about it during this period.

תשעת הימים ושבוע שחל בו - The Nine Days

1. The first nine days of the month of Av are known as the “Nine Days”, a period of time during which our mourning for the Temple’s destruction intensifies. Beginning with the first day of Av, Sephardim join Ashkenazim in not permitting any celebrations, such as weddings or engagement parties, until the conclusion of the mourning period. Some Ashkenazim also forbid cutting fingernails and toenails during this time.

2. It is customary to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days. Sephardim do not start observing this restriction until the second day of Av (i.e., the night after Rosh Hodesh Av.) Ashkenazim abstain from meat and wine on Rosh Hodesh as well. This year, Rosh Hodesh Av falls out on Friday, July 20th.

3. Ashkenazic custom prohibits drinking wine during the Nine Days even for a mitzvah, such as reciting Havdala or Birkat Hamazon. Sephardim only apply the prohibition to drinking that is done for personal enjoyment. All agree that the restriction on meat and wine is not observed on Shabbat.
4. The Saturday night prior to Tisha B’av marks the beginning of a time period known as the “Week of Tisha B’av”. At this point, the mourning observances are further intensified and remain this way until the conclusion of the fast.

5. Throughout the Week of Tisha B’av,  it is prohibited to shave or take a haircut.  (As mentioned above, Ashkenazic custom is to avoid shaving, haircuts and cutting fingernails for the entire “Three Weeks” period.)

 6. One may not launder clothing (even for someone else) or wear freshly laundered clothing during the Week of Tisha B’av. This restriction extends to linens, towels, etc. During this period, a non-Jew may not be asked to launder clothing on a Jew’s behalf.

7. One is not permitted to bathe with hot water (i.e., for enjoyment) during the Week of Tisha B’av. Rinsing off with cold water or to remove actual dirt is permitted.

8. One may not produce or purchase new garments during this time period, even if one does not plan on using them until after Tisha B’av.   

9. The custom of Ashkenazim is to extend the “Week of Tisha B’av” and observe its restrictions - not laundering, wearing fresh clothing, bathing for pleasure, or making/buying new garments - for the entire “Nine Days” period.

10. This year, since Tisha B’av falls out on Sunday, Sephardim only observe the “Week of Tisha B’av” restrictions on Tisha B’av itself. However, the restrictions of the “Nine Days” - not eating meat, drinking wine, engaging in celebration, etc. - are observed as usual.

ערב תשעה באב - The Eve of the Ninth of Av

1. On the eve of Tisha B’av after midday, it is preferable only to study Torah subjects that are permitted on fast itself. However, if one cannot focus his or her mind on such topics and will end up neglecting Torah study altogether, it is better to be lenient and study the topic of one’s choice.

2. After the Mincha service on the eve of the Tisha B’av, a special meal known as the Seuda Hamafseket is held in preparation for the fast. This year, however, since Tisha B’av begins on Saturday night, the laws regarding Seuda Hamafseket are not observed. Seudah Shelisheet is eaten in the normal manner but must be concluded before sunset.

תשעה באב - Tisha B’av

1. All Jews are obligated to fast on Tisha B’av, even pregnant and nursing women. A woman who has recently (within thirty days) given birth to a child is exempt from the fast. If a person becomes ill from fasting on Tisha B’av,  he need not complete the fast. This year, since the 9th of Av falls on Shabbat and its observance is postponed to Sunday, Sephardim exempt pregnant and nursing women from the fast. 

2. This year, Tisha B’av begins on Saturday, July 28th at sundown and ends at nightfall on Sunday, July 29th. As mentioned above, depending on one’s custom, one may conclude the fast anytime from 20-50 minutes after sundown on Sunday.

3. Five pleasurable activities are prohibited on the Ninth of Av:

        (1) Eating and drinking
        (2) Anointing one’ body with oil or perfume
        (3) Washing, including brushing teeth and using mouthwash
        (4) Wearing leather shoes, and
        (5) Marital relations, including physical contact with/sleeping in the same bed as one's spouse

4. On Tisha B’av, one may only study subjects that are directly related to the destruction of the Temple or to Divine punishment, such as the Book of Eicha, the Book of Iyov, the sections of the Prophetic books and the Talmud that deal with the destruction of the Temple, or the laws of mourning.

5. One is not permitted to inquire about the well being of others on Tisha B’av. This would include greeting friends, asking them how they are doing and otherwise engaging in “small talk” about personal concerns. Answering the phone with “hello” is not considered greeting and is permitted.

6. One is prohibited to work on the night of Tisha B’av. During the day, work is permitted after the recitation of Kinnot. According to some authorities, one must wait until midday before becoming involved in any work. In any case,  working at any time on Tisha B’av is strongly discouraged and, if possible, work should be completely avoided during the fast.

7. During the recitation of Kinnot in the synagogue, it is customary to sit on the ground or on a low stool or pillow. Many people refrain from sitting on a regular chair on Tisha B’av from sundown until midday, even in their own homes.

8. Since leather shoes are not worn on Tisha B’av, the blessing of “She-asa Li Kol Tzorki” should be omitted at Shacharit.

9. One may wash one’s hands in the morning with a blessing, but the water may only be poured over the fingertips (up to the first joint of the fingers). This form of washing is also permitted - and, if one plans to pray, recite a blessing, or study Torah, it is required - after one has used the bathroom. One who has actually become dirty may wash the dirt off normally.

10. The custom of the majority of Jews is not to wear a Tallit or Tefillin during Shacharit on Tisha B’av. They are worn at Mincha instead. (However, the custom of some Sephardim in Israel is to wear the Tallit and Tefillin at Shacharit as usual.)

עשרה באב - The Tenth of Av

1. This year, since Tisha B’av begins on Saturday night, we do not recite Havdalah in the normal manner after Shabbat. Instead, the blessing on fire is recited in the synagogue during evening services, and the remainder of havdala is postponed until Sunday night. It is recited on Sunday night when the fast ends, without spices (besamim) or a candle. It is customary to recite Birkat Ha-Levana on the night following Tisha B’av.

2. One may not eat meat or drink wine the night after the fast. This year, since the 9th of Av is Shabbat and the fast is observed on the 10th of Av, everyone agrees that one can eat meat and drink wine beginning Monday morning, July 30th.

3. Upon the conclusion of the fast, Sephardim are permitted to launder clothing, shave, take haircuts, and bathe (even with hot water). Ashkenazim generally refrain from these activities until midday of the tenth of Av. This year, since the 9th of Av was Shabbat and the fast was “delayed” until Sunday, even Ashkenazim are lenient and permit all of these activities immediately after the fast.