1. They Are the First Nine Days of Av

Known as “the Nine Days,” the first nine days of Av are a time of heightened mourning. At this time, the Jewish nation mourns the calamities that befell our people during the destruction of the two Holy Temples, which happened nearly 500 years apart at the same time of year.

More About the Nine Days

2. They Are Part of the Three Weeks

This period of mourning begins, in smaller measure, nearly two weeks earlier on the fast of the 17th of Tammuz—the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Roman invaders. Known as “the Three Weeks” or bein hametzarim (“between the straits”), we observe this period by avoiding haircuts, purchasing new clothing, holding or attending weddings, and enjoying music.

More About the Three Weeks

3. They (Kind of) Culminate on the 9th of Av

The last of the nine days is the fast of 9 Av, known in Hebrew as Tisha B’Av—the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, when both Holy Temples were burned. But some of the mourning practices (more on those below) continue all the way until midday of Av 10.

What Is Tisha B’Av?

4. We Avoid Dangerous Activities

During the entire three-week period, many are careful to avoid any activities that may be dangerous, with even more caution during these final nine days. This includes walking alone in a secluded place, participating in dangerous sports, and even scheduling surgery that can be delayed until a different time.

More About Why and How We Avoid Danger at This Time

5. We Don’t Bathe or Do Laundry

For the duration of this period we do not bathe for pleasure or launder clothing (except for a baby’s)—even clothes that will not be worn during the Nine Days—or wear freshly laundered outer layers. Those who wish to change their clothes daily should prepare a number of garments and briefly don each of them before the onset of the Nine Days. It is then permitted to wear these “non-freshly laundered” garments.

6. We Do Not Eat Meat or Drink Wine

We do not eat meat (including poultry) or drink wine during this period, aside from Shabbat. If possible, even the havdalah wine or grape juice should be given to a child—younger than bar/bat mitzvah age—to drink.

The exceptions to this rule are meat and wine enjoyed as part of a meal that celebrates a mitzvah, such as a circumcision, bar mitzvah, or the completion of a tractate of the Talmud.

7. We Make Siyums

Some people make it a point to celebrate the completion of a tractate of Talmud, known as a siyum, which creates a “loophole” for eating meat. However, there are many who follow the practice of the students of the Baal Shem Tov, and are particular to participate in a siyum during the Nine Days, but nevertheless refrain from eating meat afterward.

Read: Why Make a Siyum During the Nine Days?

8. The Ari Passed Away During This Time

Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, known as Ari HaKadosh ("The Holy Lion") passed away on Av 5, 1572 CE. It was he who proclaimed, “In these times, we are allowed and duty-bound to reveal this wisdom,” opening the door to the integration of the teachings of Kabbalah—until then the province of a select few in each generation—into mainstream Judaism. His special day is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak period.

More About the Holy Ari

9. The Sadness Increases With Time

There are various stages within the Nine Days, and the sadness increases as we get closer to the destruction. Thus the week of 9 Av is more stringent than the days before it. The Sephardic custom, for example, is to observe the stringencies regarding bathing only in the week of Tisha B’Av.

Things further intensify on the 7th of Av, the day the destroyers entered the Temple complex. And then on the afternoon before 9 Av, we begin many of the practices of the fast day itself, such as desisting from most Torah study.

Read the Procedure of the Day Before Tisha B’Av

10. Shabbat Is Different

The Shabbat before the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Chazon (“Shabbat of Vision”) after the opening words of the day’s reading from the prophets (haftarah), the third of a series known as The Three of Rebuke. On this Shabbat, say the Chassidic masters, each individual is granted a vision of the Third Temple.

On this day, many of the mourning practices are suspended, and we may drink wine and eat meat. In some communities, people do not dress up for Shabbat as usual, and the prayers are sung to sad tunes. The Chassidic custom, however, is to desist from all public displays of mourning. In fact, the Rebbe encouraged us to celebrate with extra festivity to show that we are not mourning at this time.

More About Shabbat Chazon

11. We Learn More About the Beit Hamikdash

Rather than just sitting with sadness for our history of loss and destruction, this is a time to focus on internal growth and intense preparation for the joy that will yet come. The Midrash tells us that G‑d instructed the prophet Ezekiel: “The study of the Torah’s [design of the Holy Temple] can be equated to its construction. Go tell them to study the form of the Temple. As a reward for their study and their occupation with it, I will consider it as if they actually built it.” Through this study, a person fulfills his obligation to build the Temple.

Start Learning About the Holy Temple Here

12. G‑d Comforts Us Doubly

The Shabbat after the Nine Days is known as Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort, since that week’s haftarah begins with the words nachamu, nachamu ami (“Comfort, you shall comfort My nation”). This is the first of the series of readings known as The Seven of Consolation read in the seven weeks between the Ninth of Av and Rosh Hashanah.

Watch: Isaiah’s Double Vision