JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 13, 2001 / 22 Tamuz, 5761

The Three Weeks

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- The period of time between the Seventeenth of Tamuz (this year, July 8) and the Ninth of Av (this year, July 29) marks the saddest days of the Jewish calendar year. As I discussed last week, the Seventeenth of Tamuz marks the date when the Roman legions breached the walls of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. It is therefore observed as one of the four biblical fast days that appear in the Jewish calendar year.

The Ninth of Av itself marks the date of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, by the Romans in 70 CE and by the Babylonians 490 years earlier. It is observed as a fast day with all of the stringencies of Yom Kippur itself being applied to it. Thus the two fast days of the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av are the bookends, so to speak, of the "Three Weeks" - the period of remembrance and mourning that is part of the Jewish calendar and Jewish life.

In commemmoration of this time of mourning, the Jewish world has adopted a number of ritual laws that are meant to lend personal meaning and significance to this time period. Our Rabbis realized long ago that there would be no possibility of maintaining Jewish memory and identity without a framework of ritual and halacha. In fact, without knowledge and observance of ritual, Judaism is unlikely to survive. Ritual is the container that holds the precious contents of Jewish thought, scholarship and values.

Without the presence of such a container, the great contents of our faith, tradition and worldview are spilled to the ground and eventually lost. The framework of ritual alone guarantees continuity and tenacity in upholding Judaism and Jewish life in an often hostile and negative environment and society. Thus, the "Three Weeks" which is meant to build Jewish memory of the past and to strengthen us in the present and the future is ritual-laden.

During the "Three Weeks" no weddings take place, nor do we participate in events of pure entertainment such as musical concerts. New clothes and major house furnishings are not purchased during this period of time, nor are major house refurbishing projects begun. Even partaking of new summer fruits for the first time this year, which according to Jewish law requires a special blessing of shehechyanu (that we have been preserved in life to this time), is avoided. In short, the ritual of the "Three Weeks" when observed, automatically imprints upon our memory and family life the message of sadness over past Jewish tragedy and the certainty of hope for a better Jewish tomorrow.

The "Three Weeks" culminate in the period of time known as the "Nine Days." This block of time begins on the first day of Av (this year, July 21) and ends with the fast day of the Ninth of Av. During this period of time, ritual requires that no meat meals be consumed, with the exception of the meals of the Sabbath day or of meals celebrating special occasions such as a circumcision or the redemption of a first-born male child. Recreational swimming and bathing is also avoided during these nine days and in general, the mood in the Jewish world and home is then most somber. Even such mundane tasks as household laundry are minimized if not postponed entirely until after the Ninth of Av during the "Nine Days."

It was exactly these practices and observances that allowed Jews to remember and long for Zion and Jerusalem throughout the long Exile wherever they lived. The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the establishment of a Jewish state therein in our time is a testament to the effectiveness of the ritual of the "Three Weeks" and the "Nine Days" in preserving the attachment of the Jewish people to their ancient past and homeland. In our current crisis of belief over our just rights in the Land of Israel, this period of time should serve as a source of strength and reinforcement to us in our great struggle for Jewish redemption and hope.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein