Question: Why is saying Shehecheyanu prohibited during the Three Weeks? How is it different than other blessings?
Answer: Rabbi Akiva (Berachot 35a) asks: From where do we derive that tasting food before uttering a blessing is forbidden? R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel that to enjoy anything of this world without saying a blessing is like making personal use of items consecrated to heaven (i.e., stealing) since Psalms 24:1 states, “LaShem ha’aretz u’melo’ah – The earth and the fullness thereof is the L-rd’s.”
And yet, as R. Levi points out, Psalms 115:16 says, “Hashamayim shamayim laShem, veha’aretz natan livnei adam – The heavens are the heavens of the L-rd, but the earth He has given to the children of man.” If the earth was given to man, why do we have to recite a blessing before eating of its bounty?
The Gemara answers that Psalms 24:1 applies before one has uttered the blessing, while Psalms 115:16 applies afterward. In other words, we acquire “rights” to this world by uttering a blessing.
In addition to reciting blessings before enjoying the earth’s bounty, we also say blessings to thank Hashem for performing miracles for our forefathers, for the beauty of the earth (mountains, rivers, etc.), for good tidings, etc. (Berachot 54a). The Talmud also says that we say a blessing, Shehecheyanu, after building a home and buying new utensils or clothes. These occasions evoke joy, so we thank G-d having “sustained us to arrive at this time.”
The Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:1-2) rules that a person should also say Shehecheyanu when seeing a friend he hasn’t seen for 30 days and seeing a new fruit that appears once a year. If merely seeing a new fruit requires a blessing, eating one surely does.
Hagahot Maimoniyot (ad loc.) notes that our custom is to say Shehecheyanu only when we eat new fruit, not when we see it. (Hagahot Maimoniyot refers to a Tosafot on Eruvin 40b that does not appear in our editions of Shas.) The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 225:3) notes the same custom.
The Tur (Orach Chayim 551) rules that we shouldn’t eat meat or drink wine from Rosh Chodesh Av until Tisha B’Av (except on Shabbat) as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. The Beit Yosef (ad loc.) comments that he saw a teshuvah Ashkenazit rule (based on Sefer Chassidim) that we should not say Shehecheyanu for the entire Three Weeks since Shehecheyanu is an expression of thanks and joy, and we should not express or evoke joy while mourning.
(We might add that the words of Shehecheyanu are also inappropriate during this time. In Shehecheyanu, we thank Hashem “who sustained us to arrive at this time.” But the Three Weeks are surely not a time we wish to have arrived at.)
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 551:17) writes, however, that we only refrain from saying Shehecheyanu if we can postpone the occasion that necessitates saying Shehecheyanu. If we can’t – if, for example, a Pidyon Haben falls out during the Three Weeks for which one says Shehecheyanu – we do not delay the occasion.
Quoting the Beit Yosef (Tur, Orach Chayim 551) and citing the Maharil, the Darkei Moshe (i.e., the Rema) writes that if one can postpone eating new fruit until after the Three Weeks, one should do so. The implication, notes the Rema, is that if one cannot delay – for example, the fruit will rot – one can eat the fruit right away and say Shehecheyanu.
The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, HaRav Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, ad loc.), evidently follows the rule that one should refrain from saying Shehecheyanu during the Three Weeks (op. cit., Minhagei Bein Hametzarim 9). If a person, however, happened to pick up a new fruit, said borei pri ha’etz, and then realized before tasting it that he hadn’t eaten that fruit yet this year, he should say Shehecheyanu.
The logic behind this ruling is as follows: Once the person said pri ha’etz, eating the fruit and saying Shehecheyanu became mandatory – just like holding a Pidyon Haben on time is. Not eating the fruit at this point (or eating it without a Shehecheyanu) is not an option.
Rav Yosef, quoting his late father, Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l (Yechaveh Da’at 1:37), adds that a person may say Shehecheyanu lechatchilah if he comes across a fruit that is only found in the marketplace for a short period of time and may not be available after Tisha B’Av (or will have lost its taste by then). He suggests, though, if at all possible, reciting the Shehecheyanu on one of the Shabbatot of the Three Weeks (as we do not observe mourning practices on Shabbat).