The meaning of: The three weeks (of Mourning)

Posted by Dorit Revitch on

The Three Weeks or Bein ha-Metzarim (Hebrew: Between the Straits"-"dire straits") is a period of mourning commemorating the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temples. The Three Weeks start on the seventeenth day of the Jewish month of Tammuz — the fast of Shiva Asar B'Tammuz — and end on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av — the fast of Tisha B'Av, which occurs exactly three weeks later. Both fasts commemorate events surrounding the destruction of the Jewish Temples and the consequently exile of the Jews from the land of Israel.


There are various mourning-related customs and observances for the entire three-week period. Among those customs are:

  • We do not cut our hair or shave
  • We do not purchase new clothes
  • We do not listen to music or play any musical instrument.
  • No weddings are held.
  • We do not wear freshly washed clothes.
  • Any show of celebration and enjoyment is not observed in those three weeks.
  • Many Orthodox Jews refrain from eating meat during the Nine Days from the first of the month of Av until midday of the day after the fast of Ninth of Av, based on the tradition that the Temple burned until that time.

It is a period of mourning. Though all the laws of mourning are suspended on Shabbat. As on Shabbat we only focus on the positive elements of this period.

The Three Weeks are considered historically a time of misfortune, since many tragedies and calamities which befell the Jewish people are attributed to this period.

These tragedies include:

  • the breaking of the Tablets of the 10 Commandments by Moses, when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf,
  • the burning of a Sefer Torah by Apostomus (considered by some to be another name for Antiochus Epiphanes) during the Second Temple era,
  • the destruction of both Temples on the same day of Tisha B'Av,
  • the expulsion of the Jews from Spain shortly before Tisha B'Av in the year 1492,
  • the outbreak of World War I shortly before Tisha B'Av in the year 1914, which overturned many Jewish communities.

For these reasons some Jews consider these three weeks as a period that we all need to be special and extra careful, to avoid all dangerous situations during this time. These include going to dangerous places, undergoing a major operation that could be postponed until after Tisha B'Av, going on an airplane flight that could be postponed until after Tisha B'Av, and engaging in a court case if it can be postponed until after Tisha B'Av.

I remember my late mother always telling me we are not going to the beach or pool or anywhere around water during this period, fearing terrible things will happen. As an adult and having a business of my own she always said don’t start new deals at this period, it will not be good.

Call it Superstition or not, it is true because I have experienced these things myself. Saw the news getting worst at that period of the year, and businesses result in no good deals.

So let us be aware of this.

But there is more to the Three Weeks than fasting and bemoaning. These days allow us to exploit the failings of the past and urge for a renewed and even deeper connection with G_D. A sense of a promise of redemption sneaks into the mourning, and a stream of joy underlies the sadness.

May we soon see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah: "I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow". (Jeremiah 31:12)

This is a time of summer, vacations, and fun for everyone, as we all take some off time from the rat race, why don’t we all take some time to reflect inside and check our relationship with G_D and his Image, which is us, ourselves, our families, our parents and our children, our neighbors, and our community (G_D made us in his image).

Take time to look around and say how can we get better and be better human beings and a better society and act upon it.

When we do better G_D listens, and this world will become a better place for everyone and we will soon be building the Third Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Mashiach will come, and the words of Jeremiah will come true.

“Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

― Confucius, The Sayings of Confucius

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