Thursday, July 12, 2012

The three Haftarot of sorrow

During these three weeks we restrict celebrations and events related to happiness. In remembrance of the three weeks between the collapse of the city walls (17th of Tamuz) and the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash in Jerusalem (9th of Ab) in the year 68CE (according to Maimonides, the 17th of Tamuz commemorates the breaching of the walls of the second Bet HaMiqdash).  This is why we don't celebrate weddings or we don't recite the blessing shehecheyanu, etc. during these days.

The most noticeable liturgical tradition for these three weeks is that we read special Haftarot. The Haftara is the text from the books of Prophets which is read after the weekly Tora section. The Haftarah usually relates to the content of the week's Parasha.   The Haftarot during these three Shabbatot, not thematically related o the Tora portion,  are known as telata depur'anuta, three Haftarot of "sorrow". They are the two opening chapters of Jeremiah and the first chapter of Isaiah. 

They contain the messages of warning of the Prophets of Israel, announcing that if the Jewish people fails to follows God's commandments and worship idols and does other abominations,  haShem will remove His special protection from them, and they will be on their own to face the enemy. The consequences will be destruction and exile. Because the enemy is more powerful than Israel. And cruel and merciless.     

Nevertheless, each one of these Haftarot ends with a message of hope: even if temporarily Israel will fall in the hands of the enemy, God will never abandon them forever. The gates of Teshuba (repentance/reconciliation) will be always open. Israel will eventually come back to their land and God and His people will be reunited again

These Haftarot should inspire us to reflect on our own spiritual situation, to improve our own ways and follow closely HaShem's will. 

√ For this week's Haftara click  HERE

√ A good website for the Haftarot, by Reuben Ebrahimoff

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Music during the three weeks (Part 2)

Yesterday we saw the opinion of Rabbi Eli'ezer Melamed regarding playing or listening to music during the three weeks. The thrust of his opinion is not all music is the same, and what should be avoided is happy or celebratory music ( see here).  The primary source for this criteria is Maimonides (Ta'anit 5:14) that says "...qol shel shir asur lismoach bahem...  " is forbidden to joy with musical songs". In other words, when it is not intended for joy and happiness, it is not forbidden.    

In the same text, Maimonides also said before: "Vekhen gazru shelo lenagen bikhle shir..." "The rabbis forbade playing musical instruments (in remembrance of the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash)". Rabbi Obadya Yosef explains that what makes music a source of happiness is not its content  (as rabbi Melamed claims) but the fact that is played (live or electronically) with instruments.  This is why Rabbi Yosef would authorize only playing or listening to Jewish songs a cappella, i.e., without instruments, until Rosh Chodesh Ab, even if the music is of a celebratory nature. 

This is a good example to see how two or more opinions among rabbis are formed even when both analyze one single source (=Maimonides). In this case, the two rabbis understand differently the nature of 'celebratory music'. For Rabbi Melamed is about the content, for Rabbi Yosef, if it's played with instruments. 

In the Mashadi community the custom is to avoid listening to live music from the 17 of Tamuz until Rosh Chodesh Ab. After Rosh Chodesh Ab we should not listen to music even when played over the media, MP3s, Ipods, etc. (Mr Nassim Bassalian explain to me that some families in Teheran were strict with music only during the week of Tish'a beAb, especially when--unlike this year-- Tish'a beAb would fall in the middle of the week). 

All for One Tisha BeAb and the secret of Jewish unity by Charlie Harary

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Music during the three weeks (Part 1)

Yesterday we explained that during the three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Ab we keep certain traditions of mourning like not celebrating wedding or not reciting Shehecheyanu (see here). 

In Jewish sources playing music is seen as one of the highest expressions of happiness.  What is the opinion of modern Rabbis regarding playing or listening to music during these three weeks? 

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Penine Halakha, Zemanim, 141-146) explains that not all music should be banned during these days.

In his opinion the original rabbinic restriction (which theoretically should be applied beyond these three weeks, see Mishne Tora Ta'aniot 5:14) forbids playing music in remembrance of the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash, whenever music is played as a celebration of happiness, for example, when music invites to dancing (weddings, Bar Mitzva, etc.) or at a live concert. But, he explains, not all music is an expression of happiness. 

The Talmud relates that in ancient Israel they use to play music--sad, melancholic music--in funerals with a type of flute which brought peoples minds to a mood of grief (Shabbat 151a).

Music lessons or the National Anthem or most classical music are other examples of non-celebratory or inspirational music, where happiness is not involved. 

Based on this distinction, in the opinion of Rabbi Melamed,

1. One should avoid listening to happy music (any live concerts, parties, etc.) during the three weeks. Music lessons are permitted until the week of the 9th of Ab. The Rabbi suggests, however, that during these days the students should not practice cheerful melodies.

2. Until the beginning of the month of Ab, one could listen to inspirational or non-celebratory music, and then, from that day until the 9th of Ab, only melancholic Jewish music should be allowed. 

This is, by the way, the criteria the Israeli national religious radio station Arutz Sheva follows during these days.   

Tomorrow, B'H, we will compare Rabbi Melamed's opinion with Rabbi Obadya Yosef's opinion on this subject. 

Israeli National Radio Station  "ARUTZ SHEVA"

Monday, July 9, 2012

From the 17th of Tamuz to the 9th of Ab

From the 17 of Tamuz (July 8th) until the 9 of Ab (July 29th) we observe some mourning customs and restrictions in remembrance of ben hametzarim, i.e., the three weeks period since the Babylonian army breached the walls of Yerushalaim, until they burned and destroyed the Bet haMikdash in 586 BCE. During those three weeks, besides the massive destruction and pillaging of the Holy city and Temple, hundreds of thousands of Jews were tortured, killed or taken into exile.

These restrictions are not the same in every community.

In the next lines you will find some of the customs followed in the Mashadi community, and in most Sephardic communities as well.

SHEHECHEYANU for NEW FRUITS: Eating a new fruit that will require us to say the blessing Shehecheyanu during the three weeks should be done only on Shabbat.

WEDDINGS: No weddings take place during the three weeks.

ENGAGEMENTS with no music are allowed until Rosh Chodesh Ab (July 20th).

CLOTHING: It is not customary to buy new clothing, except: 1. For a bride or groom that will get married after Tisha BeAb. 2. If the article will be substantially more expensive after Tisha BeAb. The Mashadi custom is to refrain from buying gold or any jewelry from Rosh Chodesh Ab.

HAIRCUT: It is permitted to get a haircut and shave until Rosh Chodesh Ab. The Ashkenazi tradition is stricter in this sense and their tradition is not to allow haircuts or shaving from the 17 of Tamuz. (Haircut restrictions do not apply to women).

NEW HOUSE: It is permitted to buy, rent or move into a new house until Rosh Chodesh Ab. 

Click here to read 
Bullying Grandma on the Bus "Karen Huff Klein teaches us a valuable lesson for The Three Weeks",  by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff from