The nine days is the period in which we mourn the calamities and misfortune of the Jewish people and is the most intense part of the three weeks. It’s a time of grieving over the destruction of the first and second Beit Hamikdash, along with the associated tragedies. Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Av and ending on Tisha B’av, these days occupy a special status of mourning. To intensify the feeling of grief, during the nine days, foods and activity that are traditionally associated with joy are forbidden and many comforts such as laundry are forbidden unless absolutely necessary.
The nine days reach a crescendo on the fast of Tisha B’av, a day that is spent almost entirely in mourning. This is the day on which the destruction of both the first and second Beit Hamikdash occurred, as well as many other tragic events, making it the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. It is also used as a time to reflect and lament the countless pogroms, crusades, expulsions and holocausts that have dogged our nation through the centuries.
In order to truly mourn the tragedy of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash on Tisha B’av, the Gemara decreed that in the nine days we further decrease our joy, even more than during the three weeks. This differs from the beginning of the three weeks in which we practice a lesser extent of mourning and fewer prohibitions. During the three weeks, various practices of mourning are observed, including prohibitions on weddings and haircuts, music is forbidden and no public celebrations are held.
During the nine days, the mourning is intensified as it becomes closer to Tisha B’av, and so stricter prohibitions are adhered to. During this time we do not bathe or wash clothes other than for hygienic reasons rather than pleasure, eat meat or drink wine, except on Shabbat, redecorate or do building works and it’s forbidden to buy or alter clothing.
While many are careful to avoid doing any dangerous activities in the three weeks, the custom is to be extra careful during the last nine days. This is because many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this period making it a very ominous and exceptional time. Events such as the destruction of both the first and second Beit Hamikdash, the breaching of the walls around Jerusalem and the Jewish expulsions from England, France and Spain all occurred during the nine days.
In more recent history the Germans declared war during the 9 days on the 9th Av 1914 precipitating World War One. This had devastating repercussions for the Jewish people and ultimately led to the Second World War, the Holocaust and the death of over six millions Jews making this period very ominous and potentially dangerous. To try to prevent more tragedies from occurring people are encouraged to avoid dangerous activities and be particularly cautious, even more so than in the three weeks. Therefore, it is encouraged to try to avoid having surgery unless urgent and refrain from activities such as swimming and travelling.