The Mishna (Taanis 26b) states; “With the advent of [Rosh Chodesh] Av we decrease in simcha – joy.”
The Aruch HaShulchan (551:1) notes that the Mishna does not offer any guidance as to how we decrease. He notes that the Rambam, the Rif and the Rosh all note this perplexity. Therefore, all rule that “decrease” means not to engage in any activities that relate to [or foster] joy.
The reason being that this period of time is our national mourning for our destroyed Beis HaMikdash – our Holy Temple. The Gemara (Taanis 30b) notes that whoever mourns for [the destruction of] Jerusalem will see its [future] joy, but one who does not mourn that loss will not merit to see that joy.
These are strong words. Basically they mean that if one abandons his yearning for Jerusalem (and the Temple and all the service therein that is presently lost to us) he will not be of those enjoying its return. He will literally be excluded from that which his brethren will partake.
The Shulchan Aruch (551) delivers in detail many halachos relating to matters that one may not engage in – and in fact are forbidden – during this sorrowful period. And some want to have gatherings and do fun things in this tragic time in our calendar.
However, I do remember that many years ago when I was a counselor in Camp Gan Yisrael (then in Swan Lake, N.Y.) that the head counselors received a p’sak, I believe from Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, zt”l, the then Lubavitcher rav and eminent posek of the community in Crown Heights, that for young children in camp there is room to be lenient. And I remember that the music did play from the public address system.
Notwithstanding, where possible one should properly restrain him/herself as much as possible. Indeed, by so doing that is the greatest chinuch one can impart to his/her young children.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass, Torah Editor, The Jewish Press; Rav, K’hal Bnei Matisyahu, Flatbush, Brooklyn: Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.
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To answer this question properly, we must back up a bit to gain a necessary perspective. The period between Shiva Assar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av can best be understood as a process of personal mourning in reverse.
When an individual, chas v‘shalom, experiences a personal loss, halacha moves that individual from aninut through shiva through shloshim and, at times, through a shana along a carefully staged journey from a point of deep grief to a point of reentry into society.
With the arrival of Shiva Assar B’Tammuz, the calendar launches a mirror image journey. Deliberately, halacha reverses the grieving process and guides us, step-by-step, from a point of full function to a point of deep grief and mourning.
The Three Weeks, the Nine Days, Shavua She’chal Bo and, finally, Tisha B’Av, are designed to wrench us out of our “regular lives” and sensitize us, with increasing strength, to the reality of our nation’s pain; to the reality of what we have lost and what we must strive to regain.
As an essential component in this process, the character of the Nine Days should be preserved. The road toward accomplishing that goal must be determined by each of us and our families.
As general guidelines: I would, on the one hand, avoid particularly exciting excursions, long-anticipated trips, activities of merriment and joy such as amusement parks, and the like. I would, on the other hand, be comfortable with nature hikes, short family trips, visits with family and/or small groups of friends, educational outings – activities that are more contemplative in character and that do not undermine the character of these days.
As an additional step, particularly if children are present, I would take advantage of time spent together by making sure that the purposeful nature of these days is directly raised and discussed.
– Rabbi Goldin, author of “Unlocking the Torah Text” series and past president of the RCA.
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The operative principle should be as the Mishnah Berurah (554:21) stated: “The House of G-d deserves that we grieve over its destruction at least one day a year.”
By extension, the Three Weeks and Nine Days are periods of escalating sadness that culminate on Tisha B’Av – that “one day a year” of intense mourning. As we cannot abruptly enter a period of national mourning (personal sorrow is exactly the opposite) we prepare for Tisha B’Av by decreasing our pleasure excursions.
That being said, we should be able to retain our social interactions (as they are not inherently joyous or frivolous) and certainly to enjoy time with our children. Such outings need not be incongruous with the period of mourning, mindful of what is age appropriate for children. At no time should a person be oblivious to the mourning, and social interactions – and particularly time with the children – can be used for meaningful discussions about inyana d’yoma, the matters at hand.
We should also be wary of imposing mourning practices on children who are not mature enough to understand, and certainly avoid conveying the impression that Judaism is a religion of misery and anguish. We are always mindful of the churban, and more intensely so this time of year, but we are mandated to enjoy a simchat hachayim as well, as that is the most exalted service of Hashem.
Thus gatherings and outings need not be incompatible with this sorrowful season – and it is most proper to infuse those interactions with discussions of the hardships of the past (the churban and other tragedies), the blessings of the present (Israel, aliyah, etc.), as well as the joyful challenges of the future redemption that is unfolding before our eyes.
– Rav Steven Pruzansky is rav emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ, and the Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values.