The people of Israel have had homes all over the world but never forgot that they were once expelled from Jerusalem and Israel, their true home. During the three weeks leading to the day of mourning for the Temple on the 9th of Av, Jews from different parts of the world commemorate their loss.
According to the Jewish tradition when a family member passes away, the close relatives of that person will engage in certain mourning practices to commemorate the loss of their loved one. There are also periods of collective mourning where the entire people of Israel grieve over historic losses. The three week period of time between 17th of the month of Tammuz and the 9th of of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar, is a time of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Although this loss occurred many thousands of years ago, the Jewish people have not forgotten what was lost and pray for the time that Jerusalem and the Temple will be rebuilt both spiritually and physically.
The Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish communities have varying traditions on how this mourning is observed. Ashkenazi Jews draw their customs mainly from Eastern Europe while Sephardi Jews draw their customs for North Africa and Spain. The Ashkenazi tradition is much stricter, with many rules forbidding certain activities starting from the 17 of Tammuz. However, for the Sephardic community, the restrictions start at the beginning of the month of Av and reach a climax during the week of the 9 of Av itself. In general, Sephardic Jews have a more lax interpretation of Jewish law, even though both interpretations are considered valid in the Orthodox Jewish world.
THE ASHKENAZI TRADITION
For the Ashkenazim, starting on the 17 of Tammuz leading up until the 9th of Av, one is forbidden from purchasing an object that brings pleasure. Decorating the home and planting a garden are refrained from during this period of time. Ashkenazi Jews also don’t shave, receive haircuts, or celebrate weddings beginning with the 17 of Tammuz leading up to the 9 of Av. Sewing is also forbidden, as is swimming and bathing for pleasure. Ashkenazi Jews are also forbidden from eating meat, except for Shabbat and other special occasions.
THE SEPHARDIC TRADITION
Starting at the beginning of the month of Av, Sephardic Jews don’t sew new clothing nor buy new clothes. Sephardic Jews also won’t decorate their homes, paint the walls, or play musical instruments. However, one is permitted to sing, shave, cut ones hair, eat meat, and drink wine. Only starting with the very week of the 9 of Av do more serious restrictions take effect in order to commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in the Sephardic tradition. Starting with the week of the 9 of Av, Sephardic Jews are forbidden to shave, cut their hair, launder their clothes, bathe for pleasure, eat meat, or drink wine.
These mourning practices help the Jewish people remember the loss of what they loved. There is a legend that Napoleon once heard a congregation of Jews mourning and crying from inside a synagogue on the 9th of Av. When he found out that they were mourning for the destruction of their temple even though it had happened thousands of years ago, he proclaimed that if the Jewish people cared so much for their temple that more than a thousand years later they were still crying over its loss, then they would surely get it back.
By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United with Israel