When Do "The Three Weeks" Start?
Several years ago, a certain Talmid Chacham could not find an available wedding hall to marry off his daughter. The only open date was the night of Shiva Assar B'Tamuz. To the astonishment of many, he booked it! Although he made sure that the Chuppah was indeed before nightfall, he was heard to have commented that many people do not realize when the Three Weeks actually start...
We are currently entering the period of mourning that the Midrash refers of “Bein HaMetzarim”, or ‘Between the Confines (Straits)’. This period of Three Weeks commemorates the heralding of the beginning of the tragedies that took place prior to the destruction of both Batei Hamikdash, from the breaching of the walls of ancient Jerusalem on the 17th of Tamuz, until the actual destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on the Ninth of Av. As detailed in the Mishna and Gemara Ta’anis, both of these days have since become communal Fast Days, in remembrance of the tragedies that happened on these days.
In order to properly commemorate and feel the devastation, halacha dictates various restrictions on us during these “Three Weeks”, getting progressively stringent up until Tisha B’Av itself. These “Three Weeks” restrictions include not getting married, not getting haircuts unless specific need, refraining from public music and dancing, not putting oneself in an overly dangerous situation, and not making the shehechiyanu blessing on a new item (meaning to refrain from purchasing a new item which would require one to make said blessing on).
These above restrictions follow Ashenazic practice as instituted by many Rishonim and later codified by Ashkenazic authorities. Although there are several Sefardic authorities who maintain that Sefardim should at least follow the Ashkenazic minhag of starting the Nine Days restrictions from Rosh Chodesh Av, nevertheless, most Sefardim are only noheg these restrictions from the actual week of Tisha B’Av as per the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 551, 10).
There is some debate in recent Rabbinic literature as to when these prohibitions of the ‘Three Weeks’ start. This author is seemingly annually asked this sheilah quite a few times on the week prior to the 17th of Tamuz alone:
“Rabbi, I know tonight the Three Weeks technically start, as in Judaism the start of a halachic new day is the preceding evening, but since the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz only starts in the morning, can I still get a haircut and/or shave this evening?”
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe - Orach Chaim vol. 1, 168) addressed a similar question over sixty years ago: whether one may get married on the night of the 17th of Tamuz. He noted that there is some debate in the early authorities whether the restrictions depend on the fast day itself. Meaning that if the ‘Three Week’ restrictions are dependant on the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz, then they would only start at the same time the fast does - on the morning of the 17th. But if they are considered independent of each other, then the restrictions would start on the preceding evening, even though the fast itself would only start the next morning.
Rav Moshe maintained that since that is not clear cut in the Rishonim, and the whole issue of the restrictions of the ‘Three Weeks’ is essentially a minhag to show communal mourning, which is only recognizable in the morning when everyone is fasting, and especially as a wedding is considered l’tzorech, a considerable need, he ruled that one may be lenient and get married on the eve of the 17th of Tamuz.
Haircuts [not] Included
Several poskim, including the Rivevos Efraim (Shu”t vol. 1, 375) and the Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (122, Kuntress Acharon 1), extrapolated that Rav Moshe would have ruled similarly for a haircut, that if there is great need, then one may be lenient as well, on the eve of the 17th of Tamuz.
However, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi vol. 10, 81, 2) disagreed with this theory and maintains that for a wedding (especially on Motzai Shabbos, which actually was the original question asked to Rav Moshe) there is more halachic rationale to rely upon than for a simple haircut. Furthermore, he concludes, haircuts are generally not considered a great need. Therefore, he ruled that certainly one may not be lenient regarding a haircut.
Interestingly, years later, Rav Moshe revisited the topic and addressed this issue directly (Shu”t Igros Moshe - Orach Chaim vol. 3, end 100, s.v. u’vadavar & Orach Chaim vol. 4, 112, 2) and maintained that in his opinion the same leniency does indeed apply to haircuts and one may therefore take a haircut on the evening of the 17th of Tamuz in times of great need, and not as Rav Wosner understood his opinion.
Contemporary Consensus [In Israel]
Nevertheless, many contemporary halachic decisors, especially those living in Eretz Yisrael, including Rav Wosner himself, as well as the Steipler Gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer, the Tzitz Eliezer, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Moshe Halberstam, Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rav Nissim Karelitz, and mv”r Rav Yaakov Blau, maintain that the issue is a moot point, and rule that even for a wedding, let alone a haircut, one should not exercise leniency, as the evening of the 17th is already considered part and parcel of the ‘Three Weeks’, and thereby is included in the restrictions.
So, even if one feels he needs a haircut desperately (perhaps someone suffering from lycanthropy) on the 16th of Tamuz, it is definitely preferable to get a haircut right away and not wait until evening and thereby subject oneself to a halachic dispute.
Nidcheh Nafka Minah
However, this year (5776/ 2016), with Shiva Assur B’Tamuz falling out on Shabbos, and thereby the fast being pushed off a day and observed on Sunday, this entire annual debate becomes academic. This is because this year, Motzai Shabbos / Shiva Assur B’Tamuz is really Shemoneh Assur B’Tamuz, the 18th of Tamuz. As Rav Moshe concluded in his original responsum, in such a case everyone would agree that even in extenuating circumstances one may not make a wedding, as certainly by that point the halachos of Bein HaMetzarim have already taken effect.
All the same, it’s important for us not to lose the trees for the forest. Instead of exclusively debating the finer points of whether a haircut is permitted or forbidden, it is important for us all to remember that these restrictions were instituted by our Rabbanim as a public show of mourning during the most devastating time period on the timeline of the Jewish year. As the Mishna
Berura (quoting the Rambam) explicitly notes, the focus of these days of sorrow serve to remind us of the national tragedies that befell our people, and the events that led to them. Our goal should then be to utilize these restrictions to focus inward, at our own personal challenges in our relationship with
Postscript: Recently, this author received a related interesting halachic query: “Someone was about to get married on the 16th of Tammuz, i.e. the night of the wedding would be the 17th of Tamuz. To avoid problems he made sure that everything was ready, in order that the Chuppah would be before sundown to ensure that the wedding would be permissible according to all opinions. Well, as you might expect, not everything went as planned and there was a hold up – due to the fault of the hall owner. The Chuppah could not actually start until after nightfall and the ba'al simcha – holding as the more stringent poskim - refused to "march down the aisle". The hall owner, on the other hand, refused to reimburse them, claiming that running late is standard for weddings. Additionally, there are poskim who rule that there is room to be lenient on the night of the 17th, and therefore it is the ba’al simcha’s own fault if he doesn’t want to rely on them. Therefore, he feels that he is still entitled to his payment. Now what?
This author replied that this is a painful question, but the monetary issues should depend on what the nature of the exact contract is. If they expressly made up that if this happens due to the hall owner's negligence they should get reimbursed, then they certainly should. If not, and they really held that it is a chiyuv to be machmir not to get married on the night of the 17th of Tamuz, then they shouldn't have taken the hall in the first place, as delays are quite a common occurrence for weddings. Either way, once they were there and the chassan and kallah were ready to actually get married, it would be an extreme bizayon not to let them get married. The ba’alei simcha would be at fault in that case, as this would become a prime example of a chumrah which leads to extreme kula! Halacha has many dispensations for chassan and kallah and one sticking to his shitta and ruining their wedding in the name of “halacha” is just plain wrong, especially as there is no specific mekor in Gemara for the Three Week restrictions and was actually established by later poskim (Rishonim).
To gain further clarity, this author raised this questionwith Rav Chaim Yosef Blau shlit"a, son of mv"r Rav Yaakov Blau zt"l and a Moreh Tzedek of the Badat”z Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim, and he answered similarly to what I answered previously, that even according to the machmirim (which he was as well - see footnote 8), if the chasuna is ready to start and it is already the night of the 17th of Tamuz, nevertheless, they should still get married.
Rav Blau proceeded to cite an excellent proof to his ruling from the Rema in HilchosShabbos(Orach Chaim 339, 3). The Rema ruled that even though we hold that one may not get married on Shabbos, still, in a case when it was not previously possible, and only now when it is already Shabbos the wedding was ready to take place, they should still get married right then! This is due to Kavod HaBriyos of the chassan and kallah, and has the status of shaas hadchak, extenuating circumstance.
He added that the Rema was not just being hypothetical in his ruling; it was based on an actual Maaseh Shehaya (case) detailed in Shu”t HaRema (125). If so, Rav Blau concluded, then certainly in this case, they should have the wedding on the spot, especially as the whole restriction not to get married during the Three Weeks is at most derabbanan, and the Gemara states (Brachos 19b) "Gadol Kavod HaBriyos Shedocheh Lo Sa’aseh SheBaTorah”, which is referring to Issurei Derabbanan. This refers to the rule that basic human dignity can at times trump Rabbinic consideration, this case included.
A fascinating insight indeed!
This article was written L’Iluy Nishmas R’ Chaim Baruch Yehuda ben Dovid Tzvi, L’Refuah Sheleimah for R’ Shlomo Yoel ben Chaya Leah and l’zechus Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua sheleimah teikeif umiyad!
For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also currently writes a contemporary halacha column for the Ohr Somayach website titled “Insights Into Halacha”. http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/.
 This three-week season is referred to as such by the Midrash Rabbah (cited by Rashi in his commentary to Eicha Ch. 1, verse 3).
 See Mishna in Maseches Ta’anis 26b and accompanying Gemara. According to Rav Saadiah Gaon, as cited by the Shibolei Leket (263, Ha’arugah HaTishiis,Seder Taanis,Din Arbah Tzomos, pg. 252), these three weeks are the same three weeks that Daniel fasted, and therefore maintains that we should not eat meat nor drink wine the entire ‘Three Weeks’! Additionally, the Kol Bo (62) adds that since on Shiva Assar B’Tamuz the Korban Tamid and its Nisuch HaYayin were batul, there are those who are nahug not to eat meat or drink wine already starting from then. However, it must be noted that others, including the Shibolei Leket himself, are of the opinion that Daniel fasted during Chodesh Nissan; and that although several authorities cite such an opinion [see for example Tur & Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 551, 9), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 133, 8) and Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Devarim 15); not that they actually rule that way), nevertheless, abstaining from meat and wine the entire ‘Three Weeks’ is not the normative halacha.
 This is following general Ashkenazic minhag; many Sefardim only start restrictions on beginning of the week that Tisha B’Av falls out on. Although there is no mention of such in the Gemara, these 'Three Week' restrictions follow Ashenazic practice as instituted by many Rishonim and later codified by Ashkenazic authorities including the Rema (Darchei Moshe - Orach Chaim 551, 5 & Haghah ad loc. 2 & 4), the Derech Hachaim (ad loc. 1), the Shevus Yaakov (Shu” t vol. 2, 35), the Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 133, 8), the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (122, 1), the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 551, 8) and the Mishna Berura (ad loc. 18). Although there are several Sefardic authorities who maintain that Sefardim should at least follow the Ashkenazic minhag of starting the 'Nine Days' restrictions from Rosh Chodesh Av [including the Kenesses HaGedolah (Orach Chaim 551, Haghos on the Tur 5) the Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Devarim 4, 5, & 12), andKaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 551, 44, 80, & 142)], nevertheless, most Sefardim are only noheg these restrictions from the actual week of Tisha B’Av as per the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 551, 10). See Shu”t Yabea Omer (vol. 6, Orach Chaim 46), Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 4, 36) and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch,Orach Chaim 551, 1).
 See Shulchan Aruch, Rema and their commentaries to Orach Chaim 551.
 However, it is important to note that there are certain specific situations where many poskim do give dispensation for haircuts during the Three Weeks (and in certain extreme situations even during the Nine Days). See Bach (Orach Chaim 551, 7), Taz (ad loc. 14), Elya Rabba (ad loc. 27), Ba’er Heitiv (ad loc. 18), Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. 18), Bais Meir (beg. Orach Chaim 551), Shu”t Sheilas Yaavetz (vol. 1, 77), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (Orach Chaim 158 and Yoreh Deah 348 s.v. v’ee golayach), Shu”t Noda B’Yehuda (Kamma, Orach Chaim 28 and Dagul Mervavah - Orach Chaim 551, 4), Shu”t Maharam Shick (Yoreh Deah 371), Mishna Berura (551, 87 and Shaarei Tziyun ad loc 93), Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 82), Shu”t Igros Moshe (Choshen Mishpat vol. 1, 93 and Orach Chaim vol. 4, 102 and vol. 5, 24, 9), Shaarim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (120, Kuntress Acharon 8 and 122, 5), and Maadanei Shlomo (Bein HaMetzarim pg. 53 and 54). For more on this topic, see R’ Zvi Ryzman’s recent excellent Ratz KaTzvi on Maagalei HaShana (vol. 2, Sefiras HaOmer, 14) at length.
 The actual case Rav Moshe was referring to was when Shiva Assur B’Tamuz fell out on a Sunday. Hence, with no other dates available, he permitted the chassuna to commence on Motzai Shabbos, before the onset of the actual fast. However, this does not mean that if one can plan a wedding on the 16th of Tamuz with the Chuppah before shkiya that they should wait around until after nightfall to start the wedding. Obviously, Rav Moshe would only permit that if one was stuck (l’tzorech) and would optimally prefer the wedding to at least commence while still the 16th of Tamuz (meaning before shkiya). See Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 1, 375), as well as Shu”t Videbata Bam (152 s.v. v’shamati and v’laasos), and Rabbi Yitzchok Frankel’s Kuntress Yad Dodi (pg. 132, Hilchos Bein HaMetzarim, Question 1 a-c; who cite Rav Dovid Feinstein shlit”a’s explaining his father, Rav Moshe’s, shitta). This author has heard that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky as well ruled akin to Rav Moshe and permitted a wedding on the eve of the 17th of Tamuz when there were no other alternatives except to wait until after Tisha B’Av.
 However, the Rivevos Efraim makes an important point. He stresses that in light of the fact that the Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 551, 207) mentions many machmirim that the prohibitions start from the night of Shiva Assur B’Tamuz (see footnote 8) and not the following morning, therefore one may only rely on this to take a haircut only ‘l’tzorech gadol’. Indeed, when Rav Moshe later revisited this topic (Shu”t Igros Moshe - Orach Chaim vol. 3, end 100, s.v. u’vadavar & Orach Chaim vol. 4, 112, 2) he stressed that his hetter is only ‘l’tzorech gadol’.This understanding was also stressed by Rav Dovid Feinstein as cited in Shu”t Videbarta Bam (152 s.v. v’shamati). See also Shu”t Shraga HaMeir (vol. 2, 13) who ruled similarly, that one may exclusively be lenient if it is ‘shayach nivul gadol’.
 See Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (ibid and vol. 8, 168, 7), Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 2, pg. 127, 6), Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Ch. 13, footnote 1; quoting Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl), Doleh U’Mashkeh (pg. 207 - 208 and footnote 507; however Rav Elyashiv zt”l held that only need to be stringent from Tzeis HaKochavim, and not shekiyah), Halichos Even Yisrael (Yemei Bein HaMetzarim, pg. 326, 1), Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 10, 26), Shu”t Divrei Moshe (33), Moadim U’Zmanim (vol. 8, 338), Chut Shani (Hilchos Shabbos vol. 2 pg. 325), and Shu”t Shraga HaMeir (vol. 2, 13). This author has heard Rav Blau zt”l’s shitta from his son Rav Chaim Yosef, Mo”tz of the Bada”tz Eida HaChareidis aChraidis Hof Yerushalayim and Rav of Shechunas Pag”i.
This consensus follows the opinions of the Chida (Shu”t Chaim Sha’al vol. 1, 34) who maintains that even though the walls of Yerushalayim were breached in the daytime of Shiva Assur B’Tamuz, nevertheless, the preceding night was also time of war, and the paraniyos already started from that evening and Chazal were more lenient merely regarding eating and drinking. The Butchatcher Rav (Eshel Avraham, Orach Chaim 551, 2) was extremely stringent about this as well, and even from Bein Hashmashos. However, it is known that Rav Elyashiv zt”l held (cited in Doleh U’Mashkeh ibid.) that one needs to be stringent only from Tzeis HaKochavim, and not shekiyah. Additionally, as mentioned previously, the Kaf Hachaim (ibid.) cites many authorities who were makpid with the restrictions starting from nightfall.
 For more on this topic, see Rabbeinu Efraim al HaTorah (Parshas Vayechi s.v. Binyomin ze’ev yitraf).
 This author has heard from Rav Efraim Greenblatt (shlit”a) [zt”l], the noted Rivevos Efraim, that “l’tzorech gadol” for a haircut to allow leniency would include meeting the president or an important dignitary, which attending while not properly groomed would be looked upon askance.
 Shu”t Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. 1, 168 s.v. aval). See also the recently published Mesores Moshe (vol. 2, 258, pg. 132).
 Mishna Berura (549, 1), based on the Rambam (Hilchos Taaniyos Ch. 5, 1). See Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s essential Ezras Torah Luach (5776; pg. 125 - 126) who exhorts us to the importance of this, especially in our times, to specifically rectify the Aveiros that caused the destructions of the Batei HaMikdash. He adds that it is a ‘Mitzvah Gadol’ to set a time daily to learn sefer Chofetz Chaim to this end. Other Gedolim, such as Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer (cited in Halichos Even Yisrael, Yemei Bein HaMetzarim, pg. 326, 2), would make sure to perform a special daytime Tikkun Chatzos (see Mishna Berura 551, 103, citing the Arizal) to this end.
Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.
L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda.