The ‘Nine Days’, the period of time from Rosh Chodesh Av through Tisha B’Av, is a period of intense national mourning. The Gemara tells us that when Av enters we should diminish our joy. Indeed, many understand this to mean to cease all joy entirely. [The Shaar Hatzion seems to indicate that merely minimizing joy is sufficient from a Halachic standpoint.]
The Gemara says that one should not engage in a lawsuit with a non Jew during this time, as the Mazal of the Jew is ‘down’. Included in this would be elective or non vital medical tests and procedures, as they are considered a ‘din’ with Hashem. [When involved with a potentially dangerous situation we are forcing Hashem to judge us at that time].
There are five categories of items that are prohibited during the nine days:
Building and Planting for Pleasure
This is the least known, and only Talmud based prohibition. One is prohibited from building a pleasure dwelling or planting a garden. Items that are necessary, such as appliances, shelves, furniture etc. may be bought if they are needed then. If one is merely refurnishing or updating their appliances, they should not schedule that for during the Nine Days.
Extensive landscaping would be included as well. Rav Moshe writes that one should not purchase a new car for non-business purposes.
Included in this category is general business if not necessary for livelihood. Although we generally consider all business as necessary for livelihood, it would be prudent to minimize engaging in business that could be delayed until after the Nine Days.
One may engage in renovating or building a residence he is not living in if it won’t be completed or moved into before the Nine Days. There are exceptions to this, such as a house for a child who is getting married, and should be discussed with a Rov.
Meat and Wine
Meat and Wine, although originally only forbidden for the Seudah Hamafsekes, are prohibited the entire Nine Days by the Rishonim. The Beis Yosef explains: whereas the Gemara tells us that there is no joy without meat and wine, one should not have these items during this time of mourning. The Vilna Gaon suggests that this originated with a group of Jews who refrained entirely from meat and wine after the second Temple was destroyed, stating that if the Mizbeach isn’t able to ‘partake’ in meat an wine, how could we? Although the Gemara reports (Bava Basra 60b) that R’ Yehoshua stopped this from becoming public policy, the Minhag stuck for the Nine Days.
It is the contemporary custom to avoid all meat and wine, even in a larger dish (that is, a tavshil shel basar), but meat dishes are fine.
Grape juice is not allowed.
The Minhag is to not give small children meat as well. If however there is a health necessity (or the child won’t eat dairy) it is permitted. There may be some wiggle room with Shabbos leftovers, consult your Rav for personal guidance.
Havdala wine should be given to a child who is old enough to make and understand a Bracha but is not old enough to mourn for the Destruction of Jerusalem. This is probably between the ages of 5-10. If no child is available he should drink it himself. Rav Elyashiv writes that whereas the custom is that women do not drink Havdala wine it is better for the Mavdil to drink it then to give it to a young girl.
If one generally gives their children a meat ‘Shabbos meal’ several hours before Shabbos, he may do so on this Friday as well. (Igros Moshe OC 4:21:4)
Rav Moshe (Ibid) says that one may not eat a meat Melava Malka, there are those who permit it for one who is careful to do so every week.
It is forbidden to wash any part of your body during the entire Nine Days. That being said, I’d like to trace the etymology of this Halacha through to its practical application. (Based on Shiurei Halacha from Rabbi S. Felder).
The Rema rules: The only permitted washing is head hands and feet with cold water on Erev Shabbos. If one regularly uses hot water to wash his head some permit it.
The Mishna Berura elucidates: Soap is forbidden
The Chaye Adam permits hands and feet with hot water on erev Shabbos if one is accustomed to that.
[The Steipler says that the heter to wash feet is only for those who go barefoot. In the times of the Rema they didn’t wear shoes?]
The Aruch Hashulchan protests the opening of bath houses on Erev Shabbos Chazon.
On these shores, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Henkin were much more lenient regarding bathing on Erev Shabbos. Rav Henkin explains that we are all istinus (finicky), and there is a heter for a istinus mourner to bathe which we can apply to Erev Shabbos. Rav Moshe explains that for Americans who bathe daily there is a greater discomfort and therefore lack of Oneg Shabbos to be unbathed. Additionally, he points out, that when we bathe for Shabbos it is clear we are doing so in honor of Shabbos, being as its not the only bath of the week.
Even according to the above, one still shouldn’t use hot water; it doesn’t have to be freezing, just not pleasurably hot.
The Shalmas Chayim says that one may use soap for cleaning purposes, just not for pleasure purposes. It would seem the minhag is in accordance with his view.
How about during the week? All the above Poskim were only talking about in honor of Shabbos, but would seem to feel that during the week it would be prohibited.
We can (and Rabbi Felder does) make the following calculation. On Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av themselves one may wash part of his body that got dirty. One is limited, however, to the part of his body that is dirty. If he is dirty in several places and it would be difficult to wash each one individually, then he may wash his whole body at once. His intention must be to remove the dirt exclusively and not for pleasure. (We are generally machmir on this Halacha on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur, but them’s the facts).
Therefore, if one makes the case that sweat and daily grime is halachic ‘dirt’, then they would be able to wash their entire body to remove that dirt. Indeed, the Mishna Berura (613:2) does say that a lot of sweat would be permissible to wash it off [theoretically on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av!] but one should be machmir. During the Nine Days we could rely on this.
So if one is uncomfortably sweaty, they can be permitted to take a short, non pleasurable, not too hot shower with a minimum of soap necessary for cleansing.
Swimming is prohibited. Rav Sheinberg and Rav Yechezkel Roth both didn’t like the idea of young children swimming publicly either, although it is Halachically permitted.
Buying and Fixing Clothing
It is forbidden to buy make or repair new clothing, even if not for use during the Nine Days. Old clothing can be repaired (but not washed).
A Sheitel can be recut or repaired, but not washed.
One may buy Tisha B’Av shoes if necessary.
If there is an unusual sale one may take advantage of it.
Washing, and Wearing (Freshly Washed) Clothing
It is forbidden to wash clothes (even for later use) and to wear freshly laundered clothes. This applies to clothing, bedding, towels, hand towels and the like.
Dry cleaning and ironing is also included (Igros Moshe OC 3:79,83).
Spot cleaning and drying wet clothes is permitted.
One may not wear Shabbos Clothing during the Nine Days with the following exceptions:
The parents and grandparents at a Bris or Pidyon Haben, if they would have done so any other time.
The Mohel and Sandak at a Bris if they would have normally done so.
For a date one may wear freshly laundered and Shabbos clothes.
One cannot give their clothes into the dry cleaners during the Nine Days, but may pick up clothes that were cleaned before Rosh Chodesh.
One may wash the clothing of very small children who soil their clothing often. One can be meikel for older children as well outside of the week of Tisha B’Av. (Chaye Adam).
One should ‘prewear’ their garments before the Nine Days. One can layer many items at once if necessary. Sheets should also not be fresh during the Nine Days, although you may give a guest fresh sheets.
If one failed to pre wear their clothing, they may change several times over Shabbos. It has to be done at a time that would be normal to change such as after a nap so as not to be considered hachana.
There is no blanket exception for undergarments. One should ideally prepare their undergarments the same way he prepares his other clothing. If they haven’t, or have a hard time doing this due to hygienic concerns, they may change during the Nine Days, but only when their clothes become uncomfortable and smelly, not routinely.
May we be zoche to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdash.