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Mama Deb
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Nine Days

Today, as I write, is Rosh Chodesh Av. (Oh no, nonsense syllables!) This means it's the New Moon, or the first day, of the Jewish month of Av, and thus the beginning of the nine day period called, oddly enough, the Nine Days. This occurs at the end of the three week period called the Three Weeks, and will end on Tisha B'Av, which occurs on the ninth day of Av and means The Ninth of Av. So, the naming isn't so hot. It's not a happy time of year; we should come up with nice names?

The Three Weeks begin on the 17th of Tammuz, which is a minor fast (daylight only). It's when the walls of Jerusalem were breached. It also begins a time of minor mourning. This means we refrain from wearing new clothes, listening to live music and holding weddings. Many of those men who shave the rest of the year do not shave during the Three Weeks. Some people refrain from unnecessary travel as well.

This intensifies during the Nine Days - we do not *buy* new clothes, and many do not do laundry or wear clean clothes - they manage this by putting on all the outerwear they intend to use for those days and taking them off again in a "fashion show." We do not swim - a hardship in summer. We only bathe when necessary - we modern folk are very sensitive, so that may mean every day. We do not eat meat; we do not drink wine

Except for the Sabbath or preparing for the Sabbath. There is no mourning on the Sabbath. Also, if there is some sort of celebration, such as a bris or the completion of a holy book, it is permitted to eat meat.

This ends on Tisha B'Av, which is a major fast day. That means no food, water, anointing oneself, bathing or having sexual relations for 25 hours. This being TB"A, it also means unlaundered clothing and refraining from sitting in regular chair (as mourners do) until the afternoon. We also refrain from studying Torah or greeting one another. On TB"A, both Temples were destroyed. We were expelled from Spain in 1492. And we remember other calamities, like the Crusaders in Germany or the Shoah. It's just not a happy day.

And I fast very badly. I think we're planning on attending a day long program, which should work fine. And I'll have my new cross stitch project by then. It's a picture of the Western Wall. Highly appropriate.


I hope I'm not "exoticizing" you or anything like that, but I find your posts about ritual and tradition fascinating. As someone raised in a family with no religion or ritual whatsoever, I really enjoy hearing about the ways you celebrate and remember. I feel like I missed out sometimes.

My family never observed TB"A when I was growing up. They're good with Yom Kippur, but that's generally the only fast day they observe. Coincidentally, at this time, it's the only one I observe also, although that may be subject to change in future.

Anyway, the only time I've observed the holiday was eight years ago when I was a camp counselor at a Reform summer camp. It was a pretty intense experience, although I wasn't able to fast because I was afraid it would impair my ability to look after fifteen nine-year-olds. (It's also generally well over 100 degrees during the daytime in south Texas, which is where the camp was. Of the few staffers who did try to fast, one fainted, and all wound up drinking water in the heat of the day.) Still, we had special services for the kids -- many of whom had never observed the day before, either -- and hearing the Lamentations chanted gave me chills.

I didn't observe TB"A until after I was married - in fact, baalat tshuva (woman raised nonobservant who becomes observant as an adult) that I am, I had never actually fasted before that day. And that summer we had a major heatwave that was still going on that day and we had not installed an air conditioner in our apartment yet. It's a very long day - it doesn't end until after 9PM. We spent it mostly in an airconditioned synagogue, which helped, but I was still ill before the day was over.

And then I couldn't keep anything down. Not food; not water. We were frankly terrified - calling people, considering going to the emergency ward, everything. And then. I ate a pickle. It stayed down. And I was able to rehydrate and refuel. After that, we broke all our fasts with gatorade, taking it to synagogue before nightfall on Yom Kippur. These days, I'm not permitted to drink sports drinks because of my blood sugar, but I've discovered that V8 juice, lightened with some lemon-lime seltzer, works about as well. And, more often than not, I break the fast early.

I have not had to break the Yom Kippur fast early, for which I am grateful.