The Sages prohibited laundering clothes during the week in which Tisha Be-Av falls (Ta’anit 26b). This is an expression of mourning; out of pain and identification with the deceased or with the Temple’s destruction, one ceases to take care of himself and pamper himself. Ironing and dry cleaning are included in this prohibition.
One may not even wash clothes in order to wear them after Tisha Be-Av, because one who does laundry appears as though he is taking his mind off of mourning over the Temple’s destruction. One also may not instruct a non-Jewish cleaner to wash one’s clothes for use after Tisha Be-Av (SA and Rema 551:3, MB ad loc. 34).
Just as one may not wash clothing during this period, one also may not wear freshly laundered clothing. This includes spreading fresh sheets on a bed, putting a freshly laundered tablecloth on a table, and using freshly laundered towels or cloth napkins.
Sephardim observe all the prohibitions on washing clothes as they appear in the Mishna, i.e, only during the week of Tisha Be-Av. Ashkenazim, however, are stringent regarding all of these prohibitions from the beginning of Av. In honor of Shabbat Ĥazon, however, even Ashkenazim customarily wear freshly laundered Shabbat clothes (Vilna Gaon; see MB 551:6).
Since the prohibition on wearing laundered garments lasts for several days, there is a custom to prepare a sufficient amount of “worn” clothes for this period. The procedure is as follows: before the prohibitions take effect, one must wear multiple articles of clothing in succession, each for about an hour or more. This way, the garments are no longer considered freshly laundered and thus may be worn during the prohibited period. One who did not manage to prepare clothes for himself before the prohibitions began to take effect may take a laundered garment, throw it on the floor, and even step on it. By doing so, it is no longer considered laundered and may thus be worn.
During this period, one may wear clean underwear and socks and change soiled hand towels. Since people are accustomed nowadays to changing these items frequently, changing them does not have any element of pleasure; rather, it is simply removing something repulsive. However, since it is difficult to know exactly when these items have reached the point of becoming repulsive enough to be changed, in a case of uncertainty it is preferable to place the fresh ones on the floor before wearing them. In a time of need, when one is left without any clean underwear, one may wash underwear even on behalf of adults. However, it is preferable, when possible, to add one’s children’s clothes to this load of laundry. 1
If one’s shirt becomes stained in a way that makes him look unpresentable, and he has no other shirt to wear, he may clean the stain with water, for the sake of human dignity (kevod ha-briyot). If the stain does not come off with water alone, he may use soap. 2
One may not wear festive clothes during this period, even if they are not freshly laundered. This prohibition applies during the week of Tisha Be-Av for Sephardim and from the second day of Av for Ashkenazim. Therefore, one must remove his Shabbat clothes at the conclusion of Shabbat Ĥazon.
However, in anticipation of a brit mila, the father, mother, mohel, and sandak may bathe and wear festive clothes, and if necessary may shave and cut their hair (MB 551:3). Close relatives of the boy’s parents, such as their parents and siblings, may wear festive clothes but may not cut their hair. The other guests may wear respectable clothes but may not wear festive clothes, such as those worn on Shabbat (see Rema 551:1; Sha’arei Teshuva 551:3; MB 551:3; Halikhot Shlomo 14:9).
- According to Ashkenazic custom, one may wear laundered clothing on Shabbat Ĥazon. This follows the Vilna Gaon’s opinion, cited in mb 551:6. Nonetheless, one should not change one’s bedding, because that is unnecessary.
The suggestion to throw freshly laundered clothes on the floor is cited in Minĥat Yitzĥak 10:44, in the name of Kerem Shlomo. In earlier generations, the custom was that it was prohibited to change underwear and socks, as is implied in mb 551:6 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 551:91 in the name of Ben Ish Ĥai. Today, however, we are more finicky, and we find it very difficult to tolerate the odor of these garments. Therefore, the accepted practice today is to wear laundered underwear and socks. This position is also cited in Piskei Teshuvot 551:17. See Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 4:27, which states that one should throw them on the floor for an hour. Ben Ish Ĥai, Devarim 6, permitted washing head scarves, because we find dirty head scarves repulsive. The same law applies to adults’ underwear: In a time of need, one may wash them during the Nine Days, similar to children’s clothes, as explained in the following section.
Shining shoes: According to most poskim, this is not considered washing clothes and it is permissible even during the week of Tisha Be-Av. So states Yabi’a Omer, oĥ 3:31. Igrot Moshe, oĥ 3:80 permits shining shoes as long as one does not bring them to a burnish. In addition, Igrot Moshe, oĥ 3:79 prohibits dry cleaning, equating it to regular laundering.
It should be noted that in Djerba (Brit Kehuna) as well as in some Moroccan Jewish communities, the custom was that washing clothes was prohibited from the first of Av. ↩
- It seems that spot cleaning a stain with water alone is not included in the prohibition of washing clothes. Accordingly, Gesher Ha-ĥayim 21:10-11 states that one may wash a stain with water during the shiva period. Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 4:14 concurs. If one cannot go out in public without cleaning the stain with a small amount of soap, he may do so. This is permissible because, first, it may be that rubbing out a stain while wearing the garment is not considered a prohibited form of laundering, and second, the value of human dignity is so great that it overrides even certain prohibitions (Ber. 19b). ↩