Having entered the period of Bein Hametzarim–the period between the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av, or the Three Weeks as the period is commonly known, we reflect this week on a specific issue that is often relevant during this time: saying the shehecheyanu blessing.
There are many instances in which we recite the shehecheyanu blessing: upon eating a new fruit; upon wearing a new garment; upon purchasing something of value and importance; upon the birth of a baby daughter; and similar situations.
Should shehecheyanu be recited in these circumstances, when they occur in the Three Weeks? To what degree must one seek to refrain from reciting the blessing in this period? Is there a difference between Shabbos and weekdays for the purpose of saying shehecheyanu? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Who Brought Us to This Time
The shehecheyanu blessing is recited on special occasions of joy, expressing thanks to Hashem for “bringing us to this time.”
Because the period of the Three Weeks is a time of mourning, a time when we feel the full force of the Destruction of the Temple and mourn its loss, many halachic authorities write that one should refrain from reciting shehecheyanu on a new fruit, new garment or new property during this time.
The Beis Yosef (551) cites this halacha from the Maharil (31), who quotes the Sefer Chassidim that one should refrain from saying shehecheyanu in the Three Weeks.
However, the Maharil himself adds that this applies only to something that can be deferred until after the Ninth of Av, such as eating a new fruit or buying a new garment. For something that cannot be deferred, such as a Pidyon Haben, neither the mitzvah nor the recitation of shehecheyanu should be put off.
When eating the new fruit cannot be postponed until later (for instance, where there won’t be an opportunity to eat the fruit later), the Darchei Moshe understands, based on the Maharil, that one should refrain from eating the fruit. However, he notes that Shut Binyamin Ze’ev does not concur with this, and implies that if there won’t be an opportunity to say the relevant shehecheyanu later, it is permitted to do so during the Three Weeks.
These respective rulings are noted in the Shulchan Aruch and by the Rema (551:17). Note that according to the Aruch Hashulchan (551:38), the custom was only to refrain from reciting shehecheyanu in the Nine Days. This, however, is not the common custom.
Reciting Shehecheyanu on Shabbos
Different Poskim relate to the issue of saying shehecheyanu during the Three Weeks with different degrees of severity.
The Magen Avraham (551:42) cites the Arizal that it is forbidden (the Arizal uses the word assur) to say shehecheyanu during this time, and that the prohibition applies even on Shabbos. By contrast, the Vilna Gaon states that this is a “chumra yeseira,” an overly stringent practice. In his opinion, one does not need to refrain from saying shehecheyanu in this period.
The Mishnah Berurah (551:98) writes that this difference of opinion is a good reason for striking a compromise: one should refrain from reciting shehecheyanu on weekdays, but it is permitted to do so on Shabbos. This follows the ruling of the Sefer Chassidim, who writes that it is permitted to say shehecheyanu on Shabbos.
Based on this, the Magen Avraham (and Mishnah Berurah) write that even if one will not find a particular new fruit after the Three Weeks, so that according to the Rema it is permitted to recite shehecheyanu even during the period, wherever possible one should not do so on a weekday, but rather wait for Shabbos to eat the fruit and say the shehecheyanu blessing.
As the Shaarei Teshuva (551:38) notes, the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah is the subject of a significant dispute among authorities. While Ashkenazim may certainly rely on the lenient ruling of the Mishnah Berurah and others, many Sefardi authorities are stringent (based predominantly on the stringent approach of the Arizal), and a common custom among Sefardi communities is to refrain from saying shehecheyanu even on Shabbos.
Is Shehecheyanu a Mitzvah?
The Taz (551:17) writes that based on the ruling of the Rema, whereby when reciting shehecheyanu after the Three Weeks is not possible, it is permitted to do so during the period, one may say shehecheyanu (and eat the fruit) on the first possible day, and there is no need to wait.
The reason for this leniency, which is cited from Rav Yosef Katz of Cracow, is the concern that a person might die. Since a person does not know which day is his last, he may eat the fruit as soon as possible, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of reciting shehecheyanu.
He compares this to a ruling concerning writing on Chol Hamo’ed, where we find that it is permitted to write anything related to an ongoing case in Beis Din, and there is no need to wait until after Yom Tov is over. The reason for this leniency is that the relevant witness or litigant might die, so that it is imperative to write down any relevant information as soon as possible. Likewise, out of concern for an untimely death, it is permitted to recite shehecheyanu as soon as possible over a fruit.
Other authorities clearly do not agree with the Taz. One possible reason is the status of the shehecheyanu blessing. Based on the Gemara (Eruvin 40b), it seems that the shehecheyanu blessing on fruit is reshus, optional, rather than actually obligatory (this is not the case for new garments or utensils). The Sefer Ha-Eshkol (Hoda’ah 23) understands this to mean that there is no obligation to see (or eat) a new fruit, implying that one who does see a new fruit is obligated to recite the blessing. However, the Beis Yosef (225:7) cites the Rashba who says that the entire beracha is optional, even upon seeing a new fruit. This is also the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah (225:9).
Nonetheless, the Mishnah Berurah (225:19) writes that a person should be careful to partake of new fruit, citing the Yerushalmi that a person must show how he appreciates and values Hashem’s creation. The Korban Ha-Eidah writes that according to one interpretation, it is particularly important to recite the shehecheyanu blessing, by which “a person given thanks and praise to Hashem for creating good things that people enjoy.” Yet, the blessing still falls short of a full obligation.
Thus, one possible reason for disputing the ruling of the Taz is that the shehecheyanu blessing does not involve a full obligation, so that we are not concerned that a person might die before reciting it.
Purchases in the Three Weeks
Based on the ruling that one should not recite shehecheyanu during the Three Weeks, we learn that one should also not buy any clothing or other valuable items that would require a person to recite the blessing (see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 122:2, Mishnah Berurah 551:99).
Based on this, it seems that it is permitted to buy items in during the Three Weeks if no shehecheyanu blessing is recited upon their purchase.
For instance, it is customary to recite the shehecheyanu blessing only upon wearing a new item of clothing, and not upon its purchase. Based on this custom, many maintain that there is no prohibition against buying a new garment in the Three Weeks (before the Nine Days), as long as it is not worn until after the period, when the shehecheyanu will be recited (see Nechamas Yisrael, p. 40, footnote 70, citing Rav Chaim Kanievsky).
However, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is reported to have disagreed with this: Since the obligation of the shehecheyanu is incurred upon the purchase, one may not buy the item even if the shehecheyanu is delayed. He might still agree with the ruling of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in case one bought a garment that required alterations, and was therefore unfit for wearing at the time of purchase.
It is of course permitted to wear a new garment in the Three Weeks if shehecheyanu was already recited at the time of purchase, before the period commences. The concern is only for the shehecheyanu blessing itself.
An important teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:80) addresses the question of buying a new car in the Three Weeks, before the Nine Days. He writes that if the car is for personal use, “it is obvious that this is prohibited,” because of the shehecheyanu blessing that is recited.
However, if the car is being bought for family use, and not for personal use alone, the blessing that would be recited is not shehecheyanu but rather hatov vehameitiv. In this case, Rav Moshe writes that it is permitted to purchase the car, and only forbidden to do so in the Nine Days, because of the joy involved in such a significant purchase (which he compares to a “joyful construction” which is prohibited).
What is the halacha concerning a joyful experience that a person has in the Three Weeks period: should shehecheyanu be recited or not?
Concerning the birth of a daughter, for which the common custom (as ruled by the Mishnah Berurah) is to recite shehecheyanu, a number of contemporary authorities have stated that the regular shehecheyanu blessing should be recited (Mekadesh Yisrael 29, Nitei Gavriel 17:19, Avnei Yashfei 5:80).
A similar idea is found in cases when a person inadvertently eats a new fruit. For example, if somebody mistakenly recited a beracha rishona on a fruit which requires a shehecheyanu, several authorities (see Shaarei Teshuva 551:38) state that one should recite shehecheyanu as usual (see, however, Kaf Hachaim 215).
However, Rav Moshe writes (in the above teshuva) that when a person needs to buy a car for business purposes, he does not need to refrain from purchasing the car during the Three Weeks, and thereby incur a financial loss. Concerning the shehecheyanu blessing, he writes that the person should not say the blessing upon purchasing the car, but rather wait until after the Three Weeks period before reciting the blessing.
While the case seems similar to the question of eating a new fruit, the accepted ruling for fruit is that after eating a fruit for the first time, one can no longer recite shehecheyanu the next time it is eaten (see Mishnah Berurah 225:11). We can distinguish between the cases, in that the joy of a new car extends for a significant time, while the joy of a new fruit is limited to a shorter time. For the car, one can therefore say shehecheyanu after the Three Weeks—which is not true of the fruit.