Shabbat Parashat Pinchas| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Why is eating new fruit considered such a pleasure that it is forbidden during the Three Weeks (between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av)? Also, is it permitted on Shabbat?
Answer: As far as the actual practices of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days, we would prefer not to rule definitively, as the practices depend very much on family and/or community minhag. These are best dealt with on the more local level. However, it is worthwhile to remove some confusion on the source, rationale, and parameters of this halacha/minhag.
The issue is actually not the eating of the fruit per se but the fact that when eating new fruit one is required to make the beracha of Shehechiyanu. The wording of that beracha implies that we are happy to have reached this period of time, but the sadness of this time of the year makes it inappropriate to make such a statement. The source is actually post-Talmudic (as is not uncommon in these halachot). The Sefer Chasidim (840) says: “There are pious ones from the early pious people who would not eat any new fruit between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, for they said: how can we make the blessing that ‘He gave us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this time.’ There are those who make the beracha on new fruit when they came across them on the Shabbatot between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av.” The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 551:17) phrases it as follows: “It is good to be careful not to say “Shehechiyanu” on fruit and clothes during the Three Weeks, but on a Pidyon Haben you say it and do not lose out on the mitzva.”
The weak language of these sources makes it sound as less than a standard halacha or even minhag. The G’ra (ad loc.) calls this practice an extreme stringency. He proves that even a mourner on the day of a parent’s death is permitted to make Shehechiyanu if the need arises, and therefore, there is no way that the Three Weeks could be more severe. The Magen Avraham (551:42) makes a fundamental distinction that many accept (but the G’ra does not). He says that it is not that a person should be in too sad a state to make Shehechiyanu, but that the period of time is a tragic one. The Three Weeks is an objectively sad time for all, as opposed to the time of mourning where the individual is sad, but the time is a normal one.
We should point out that the aforementioned sources do not say that it is impossible to make Shehechiyanu during this time, but that the situation should be avoided by not eating new fruit and wearing new clothes. (For clothes, there are additional problems during the Nine Days, beyond the issue of Shehechiyanu (see Shulchan Aruch, ibid.:6)). Not only do we say Shehechiyanu at a Pidyon Haben, but the Rama (551:17) says that if the only time the fruit will be available to make Shehechiyanu is during this time, then one does not lose the opportunity.
One common occurrence where there is major discussion among poskim is, as you asked, on Shabbat. On one hand, even though laws of aveilut almost disappear on Shabbat, our issue is praising the time of year, which, despite Shabbat, is a problem during the Three Weeks. On the other hand, because of the mitzva of oneg Shabbat, we do not want to refrain from things that add to our enjoyment. While there is no clear consensus on the matter, different factors can help decide whether it is preferable to eat the foods and make Shehechiyanu or not (see Piskei Teshuvot 551:53). One is how close it is to Tisha B’av. Another is how important eating the new fruit is for the enjoyment of Shabbat.
The most important thing, in general, in regard to the laws and customs of the Three Weeks is to keep things in perspective. While many of the specific customs are relatively recent and sometimes one can argue upon them halachically, there should be a pervasive atmosphere of dampened joy. The specific customs are important and often binding vehicles to that end, but the heart of the mitzva is the mood itself.
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