Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Minefield of Shailoh Asking

It seems inevitable that during the 3 weeks/9 days someone in my house is going to have a shailoh to ask a Rav about what is or isn't permissible during this time period. This year it was my turn, and I admit it took me almost three days to work out exactly how to word the questions I needed to ask so that there could be no chance of an error of interpretation on the part of the Rav being asked due to a poor English construction. I did a bit of research before asking the shailoh to see if the answer appeared anywhere on the various sites that have posted the "laws" of the 3 weeks/9 days.

My particular questions did not appear on these sites, but I was pleased to see that at least some of the points that people were complaining about just one year ago have been addressed. Last year there were a number of Rabbanim/sites that said it was forbidden to put on freshly laundered underwear during the 9 days--so far every site I've gone to has exempted underwear and socks from the "no laundered clothes" ban. Last year, in a line that still reverberates with me, a number of rabbanim/sites banned showering during the nine days outright except for a shower before Shabbos, and basically told those "who are accustomed to showering regularly" to speak to a Rav. This year a number of those rabbanim and sites are not outright banning showering but are giving reasons for when a shower could be acceptable--to remove sweat and dirt--and explaining how to make that shower different so that it doesn't fall into the category of "pleasure and joy" --using cooler water, for instance.

Where I think there needs to be some more thought given, perhaps for next year's announcements, is to the whole idea of "freshly laundered clothing." Every site I've gone to has said that you may not wear such clothing. HOWEVER, all the sites also present a way around this "dilemma." Prior to the 9 days it was suggested that you put on for a moment or two any and all clothing that you might wear during the 9 days. In this way the clothing would not qualify for "freshly laundered" since it had already been worn. Don't know about any other women out there, but I've no idea what I might want to or have to wear during these 9 days, so basically I'd had to have put on just about every single summer piece of clothing I own--and rehang and refold all of it. Now multiply this action times every person living in your household and you are talking about a seriously time and effort intensive activity.

Then there is this: what constitutes "freshly laundered"? If I washed a skirt 3-4 weeks ago and it has been hanging around in the closet until now, is that really "freshly laundered"? What about tops that may have spent a week or two or three or four in a dresser? I can logically understand the ban on wearing new clothing during this time period, but clean clothing (aka "freshly laundered") has me puzzled. It's not, here in the US, a luxury item and it isn't limited to a few people either. As a society we expect clean clothing on those around us, certainly if we are in a work environment. And no, most people are NOT in the habit of wearing the same items of clothing for an entire week, certainly not the women and probably not the men either.

Here's hoping that by next year someone has figured out a more helpful way of getting us into clean clothing during this time period.


Anonymous said...

"Here's hoping that by next year someone has figured out a more helpful way of getting us into clean clothing during this time period."

I've already figured it out. Just wear the clean clothing. Solved. It's narishkeit to say "don't wear freshly laundered clothing" and then saying "but it's ok if you wear it for 2 seconds and put it away."

abba's rantings said...

what did your parents do during the 9 days?

Rae said...

Problem is you need to get one rabbi with a known name to say that yes, you can wear clean clothes during this time, and you don't have to try on everything in your closet to do it. Once that happens the others feel safe enough in saying just wear clean clothes. But they have their fears of being the first to say "we've been wrong up to now and here's how we should be doing it."

Lissa said...

Asked one of my daughters who is working as a counselor in a sleepaway camp for girls if they made the campers try on what they would be wearing during the 9 days. Didn't happen. So the kids aren't seeing this and when they grow up why would they believe it has to be different?

Most sensible words I heard are from a rabbi who said that the difference should be between new and old, not clean and dirty. You don't wear new clothes during this time. Things that have been washed already are not new any longer so clean or not they are okay to wear.

Anonymous said...

"Problem is you need to get one rabbi with a known name..."

What ever happened to good old common sense? Why do you need a rabbi to tell you what common sense tells you is true? The second you see a guide for the 3 weeks/9 days that includes something like "for those who shower daily in the summer..." you should immediately toss it in the garbage and realize this unfortunate rabbi has no idea what he's talking about.

You think Hashem is looking down at his people trying on clothes and putting them back and smiling? Do you think He thinks "Ahhh! They really get the point of this time of mourning!"

I swear, it seems religion goes in, common sense goes out.

Miami Al said...

The bigger issue is that NONE of this creates any meaning. There is a story of Napoleon being outside a synagogue on Tisha B'av and being moved by the wailing and crying and convinced that the Jews would reclaim their homeland.

Now, we're much more stringent on behavior, but nobody cries on Tisha B'av.

Sure we avoid meat, and people switch to expensive cuts of fish they wouldn't buy during the year that costs more... here, chicken starts at $2/lb for less desireable cuts and goes up to $8/lb for boneless, skinless breast cutlets. Good fish starts at $9/lb and can get as high as $18/lb. People that live on pasta and cheap meats are suddenly buying Mahi Mahi and Chilean Sea Bass for the 9 days, WTF. Our local Kosher markets never stock fish beyond salmon and tilapia, except during the nine days when they look like a fish market.

This is a practice that has lost any connection to it's purpose. It would be nice if there was an American Rabbi of sufficient stature to suggest eliminating what passed for mourning 1000 years ago and focus on what would make a difference in the lives of contemporary Americans. I would think: no new novels/movies would be of more meaning than no "clean" clothing, but that would requiring acknowledging that Jews read books and watch movies.

I think it is harder for contemporary Jews to establish and real emotional connection to Tisha B'av, when the Temple Mount has been under Jewish sovereignty their entire lives. While that may have nothing to do under Halacha with exile and the rebuilding of the Temple, common sense dictates otherwise.

JS said...

It's a good point.

Our halachic system correctly views the destruction of both temples as catastrophic events in the Jewish universe and appropriately sets up the three weeks and nine days as periods of mourning and introspection. However, the physical manifestation of that mourning and introspection is, in many ways, outdated and meaningless in our contemporary society.

However, because we, in a sense, worship the past, we're unwilling and unable to call a spade a spade and acknowledge these problems. Way back when these rules and customs emerged, it was apparently a HUGE deal to have new clothing let alone freshly laundered clothing. Nowadays it's nothing. People buy new clothes without a second's thought. New clothing is widely available and dirt cheap. Mass manufacturing, outsourcing, and cheap labor has made it possible for even the poorest to get new clothing if they so desire. This wasn't always the case. It's not an accident that we thank God every morning for "clothing the naked" - poor people used to go unclothed. Same with laundering clothing. You can take $2 worth of quarters and launder an entire weeks worth of clothing in about 2 hours. And that's if you don't have your own washer/dryer. You used to have to go to the well/pump and draw water or go down to the river and spend HOURS to wash just a small amount of clothing. And without real detergents like we have nowadays it didn't really get all that clean anyways. Ditto for showering/bathing and hot water.

Our halachic "luxuries" and "pleasures" are out of step with modern realities. You want people to suffer a bit and mourn? How about this? I'm not necessarily advocating all of this, but these are all modern pleasures.

1) No TV or Internet other than strictly news stories or whatever is necessary for work.

2) No novels or magazines or other pleasure reading.

3) No air conditioning, or raise the air conditioner.

4) No lavish meals. Meals should be bare-bones and simple.

5) No talking on the phone or texting unless necessarily for work or emergencies.

Oh and maybe this wouldn't be too bad either: No "fake" siyums set up for the nine days just to eat meat. Seriously, it's just nine days (less including Shabbos). You can stop being a shnorrer for a few days. It won't kill you.

ProfK_offspring said...

[i]Oh and maybe this wouldn't be too bad either: No "fake" siyums set up for the nine days just to eat meat. Seriously, it's just nine days (less including Shabbos). You can stop being a shnorrer for a few days. It won't kill you.[/i]

Hah. My rav lectured about this very thing a few weeks ago during his shabbos drasha. Of course, I love milchigs, so the meat prohibition doesn't bother me in the slightest.

From my perspective, it's absolutely killer for me not to have music and it definitely has the desired effect. But as I told my mother yesterday: Yiddishkeit generally makes sense and having to put on 9 days of clothes in one day to get rid of a ridiculous freshly laundered requirement (and this was the first time I'd heard of it) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Allen said...

I thought the prof was pulling our legs with the try on all your clothes so they won't be freshly cleaned bit, but a check on the websites for all the major national organizations showed it to be on those sites.

I agree with a lot of the comments above but I started thinking of why clothing of all things should be so much in the forefront. Keep in mind that a lot of our frum population differs from each other. For some they already don't read secular books, magazines or newspapers, they don't get on the Internet, they don't listen to music, they don't have television or go to the movies. So what are you going to take away from these types of people during this mourning period? Yes, you guessed it--meat, showers and clean clothes. That they are a throwback to a way earlier time period and aren't living in the real world of now seems to make no difference.

Our area has been under a major heat advisory for the last few weeks. All the media are telling people that for safety they should be showering in lukewarm to cool water at least once a day and more if they get overheated. There is also an advisory for high pollen and dander count up. One of the network affiliate stations had a special program about how to reduce your exposure to the pollen and dander and keep yourself healthy. Obviously staying indoors when possible with a strong filtered air conditioner was on there. But if you have to go outside, as most people have to do, the program said to CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES OFTEN. With the humid air and lots of sweating going on the pollen and dander glue thejmselves to your clothing. Putting on already used clothing doubles your exposure.

That would make clean clothing move out of the luxury area into the area of pikuach nefesh.

JS said...

I won't single out the restaurant here since I'm sure they're not the only guilty party, but they are heavily advertising their "9 days menu" and are offering all-you-can-eat buffets the entire time. The advertisement further encourages its customers to have a siyyum there and invite all their friends so they can partake of the meat menu (which is not stopped during the 9 days).

How is this possibly in the spirit of the 9 days?

Might as well advertise like this:
"Come and mourn the destruction of the Temple while stuffing your face with our greasy food!"

Or better yet:
"What better way to prepare for Tisha B'Av when we read Eicha, a story of starving Jews who were forced to eat their own children, than stuffing your face with our greasy food!"

Miami Al said...

What frustrates me is not that we worship the past, a proper respect for the past is key to a culture based upon tradition, it's a failure to put things in perspective or even understand what is a tradition.

Some of these restrictions date back to Bavli, who were truly effected by the destruction, but certain restrictions date back to Europe. Ashkenazi custom has also divorced our practices from their original intent. Making meatless from the week of Tisha B'av to start on Rosh Chodesh Av (moving mourning to Rosh Chodesh is bizarre in and of itself) has made it a longer window of time that results in these silly reasons to break it.

The Halachic literature has restrictions added by the leadership when it was appropriate, and work arounds and abandoning old restrictions when it no longer worked for the people.

Somehow, the trauma of the Holocaust not only wiped out 1/3 the people, it wiped out any confidence in our ability to control our destiny. So we observe "mourning" as was done centuries ago in Eastern Europe -- and in a way that it probably wasn't actually done but rather recorded as what people should do -- instead of a way that brings meaning to us, because our leadership lacks the ability to adapt as their predecessors did.

JS said...

You mentioned that the practice is divorced from the intent - this is exactly what bugs me. I'd say the practice has supplanted the intent to the point where the intent is the practice.

The intention isn't to mourn or to be introspective or to contemplate why the temple was destroyed and has not yet been rebuilt, the intent is to have dairy and fish and not meat. The intent is to wear previously worn garments and not freshly laundered ones. The intent is to have cool showers and not hot ones. The intent is to have instructional swim in camp but not recreational swim.

In this litany of laws, customs, and stringencies we've forgotten what the whole point is. And, in typical Talmudic thinking, it's all about the loopholes. So, now we're two steps removed. Not only have we forgotten the original intent, we've also looking for every possible scheme and ploy for getting out the actual practice. So, you have people trying on their underwear for 2 seconds instead of mourning. You have people going to contrived siyyums so they can have some meat instead of being introspective.

It's no different than the yeshiva guys who are proud of and show off their "sefira beards."

Reminds me of a funny story I once heard. There's a custom to say the word "tizkaru" in the last paragraph of the sh'ma with a long Z sound. The sentence says "[The tzitzit are] so that you will remember [tizkaru] all my commandments..." If the word is mumbled it would sound like tiskaru which means to be rewarded. We don't want it to sound like we're just looking to be rewarded, so we over-emphasize the Z sound in tiZkaru.

Anyways, the story goes that this rabbi went down to the kotel and he saw someone fervently praying out loud. The man was saying the sh'ma and when he got to the 3rd paragraph he kept saying tizkaru over and over with a loud Z sound. The same thing would happen every morning. Finally, the rabbi had to ask the man "why do you keep saying the word tizkaru over and over?" The man responded, "Because if I say the word correctly God is sure to reward me!"

tesyaa said...

Josh Yuter had a seminal post several years ago that touched on the nature of the mourning restrictions. REALLY worth reading in its entirety. What I've copied below is just a short excerpt:

Another example of this phenomenon is how we treat the halakhot of the three weeks / 9 days. According to the Gemara (bTan 29b - 30a) the only prohibitions during this time are against laundry and haircutting and these only apply for the week preceeding 9 Av. However, various customs have arisen including prohibiting eating meat and listening to music. These extra prohibitions presumably help us feel the loss of the Temple.

Assuming we follow the tradition that the temple was destroyed because of sinat hinam - baseless hatred - then how does not eating meat or listening to music help? Most people I've asked admitted that they would think less of someone who violated these customs of mourning. Ironically these customs which were created to help feel the hurban engender the feelings which destroyed it in the first place. The ultimate meaning of the Hurban gets lost in the symbols we've created.