There is a famous Mishnah that is cited towards the end of Masechet Ta’anit (4:6) that states:
“Mishenichnas Av, Mema’atin Besimcha”
“When the month of Av arrives, we decrease our happiness”.
The reason for this is because the month of Av is known to be a difficult time for the Jewish people as seen throughout history; a time when many different calamities befell the Jewish people.23 We understand that we must decrease our happiness during this time; however, we are unsure of how this can be achieved on a practical level.
The Gemara in Yevamot (43a) states a few practical things that demonstrate examples of decreasing joy. These include decreasing one’s business endeavours (i.e. commerce, trade) and refraining from building and planting during the month of Av.
The Rambam (Hilchot Taanit 5:6) when codifying this Halacha states that “when the month of Av arrives we decrease our happiness…It is forbidden to cut hair, to launder clothes and to wear clean clothes”. Based on this, the Lechem Mishneh asks: Why did the Rambam not quote the Gemara in Yevamot that spoke about limiting business activities? The Lechem Mishneh answers that the Rambam saw the decrease in business activities only as a midat chasidut, and not as a Halacha and therefore he did not list it in the activities that one must undertake in order to decrease their joy during the month of Av.
It is interesting to note that the Rambam states this ‘decrease’ of joy during the month of Av as Halacha. Contrastingly, the Tosfot in Megillah (5b) state that during the month of Av we are not allowed to be joyous at all (i.e. an issur of being joyous) and consequently the Magen Avraham brings this down as Halacha.
It seems from the wording of the Rambam that he does not hold there is an ‘issur’ of being joyous; rather he says we must decrease or limit our joy. However, this is a difficult opinion, as the limits or boundaries of this Halacha are vague. Additionally, the Gemara in Yevamot is also hard to understand, for it only states instances which cause a decrease in joy, and does not state explicitly that a person is obligated to decrease in happiness with the arrival of Av.
Rav Soloveitchik (Harerei Kedem 136) suggests a novel idea to answer these questions. The Rav states that there is a halachic distinction between the days following Rosh Chodesh Av, and the days of the week of Tisha B’Av. During the days of the week of Tisha B’Av, there are a number of activities that are forbidden (cleaning clothes, getting a hair cut) due to Bnei Yisrael being in a state of Aveilut. However, during the days following Rosh Chodesh Av, none of these activities are forbidden; the only din that applies in these days is that of ‘decreasing in joy’. This decrease in joy is a chiyuv of aveilut which is not connected to specific actions, rather connected to internal feelings and kavanot (aveilut shebalev - ‘aveilut of the heart’). Thus, the only actions connected to aveilut which are to be done (or not to be done) during these days, are those that will cause a person to feel this aveilut shebalev. This feeling is subjective and is dependent on the minhag of the nation at a specific time and place.
Therefore, in the Gemara in Yevamot, the way to decrease in joy and feel aveilut shebalev was by decreasing business activities. However, the Gemara (and also the Rambam) did not rule that a person was obligated to decrease his joy in this manner - as those actions were specific for the minhag of that time and place.
This is the reason that the Rambam too, did not list that decreasing business activities is one of the ways to decrease joy in Av. Specifically decreasing business activities is not the issur that must be dealt with in order to decrease joy. Rather, the way to decrease joy can come about through many different ways - each way specific to the minhag of the nation at the time.24
23 See Mishnah Ta’anit (4:6) for the five events that occurred to the Jewish people on the ninth of Av during history.
24 The Rav suggests that in our times we decrease our simcha by not consuming meat and wine during the first nine days of Av.
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