Child appropriate activities for Bein HaMetzarim – Three Weeks and Nine Days - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Child appropriate activities for Bein HaMetzarim – Three Weeks and Nine Days Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Av 5783

Topic : Three Weeks , Shayla ,


Note from Shayla: Lately we’ve received a few questions asking what kind of activities are appropriate for children during Bein HaMetzarim (the Three Weeks or Nine Days).[1] Here are some of the questions:

  1. Can I take my kids to amusement parks or other fun activities during the Three Weeks?
  2. Can I take my daughter (almost 3) horseback-riding during the Nine Days? What about to a gymboree?
  3. Can my kids play in the kiddie pool in our backyard during the Nine Days? How about the sprinkler?


This teshuva discusses children in particular. For background on Bein HaMetzarim – the laws, customs, and reasons for them – see our blog post Bein HaMetzarim: Are we avoiding celebration, pleasure, or danger?

“On one foot”

Children are not obligated in mitzvot, but parents are obligated in the mitzvah of chinukh, educating their children to follow the Torah and perform mitzvot according to what is appropriate for their age and developmental stage. There is a general rule that chinukh does not apply to mourning the loss of a relative, even for an older child.

There’s some dispute as to whether children who have reached the age of chinukh – somewhere between six and nine years old in this case – should be educated to mourn with the community. The upside is they learn about our past, present, and future, and feel part of our people. The downside is they may not fully understand the idea of mourning and they may come to resent these laws and customs.

Children who are too young to understand, certainly those aged six and under, do not need to limit any of their activities during this time. Horseback-riding, gymborees, amusement parks, kiddie pools are allowed throughout. At some point parents and caretakers should introduce some age-appropriate, positive, educational messages appropriate for this period, such as the importance of kindness and ahavat chinam – loving each other without a reason.

Sometime around the age of seven a child will understand enough to start observing more of the laws and customs of this time. Celebrations or parties should not be encouraged, although there is room to be lenient if a child was invited to a birthday party and not going could result in negative feelings (on the child or host’s side).

Generally, children don’t swim for pleasure during the Nine Days (or week of Tisha B’Av), although some communities allow for swim lessons, and it may be permitted primarily to cool off, especially if it’s not a real pool but a wading pool.

It’s preferable not to play dance music throughout the Three Weeks and to refrain from listening to music during the Nine Days. Reflective music, particularly songs appropriate for the times, are permitted during the Three Weeks and possibly during the Nine Days. One may be lenient with children who are used to releasing energy or exercising to music, especially if the child turned on the music. If no alternative works one can play music for reasons beyond simple enjoyment, such as to calm a child, help them relax before bed, get through a car ride, or do household chores. Exercise common sense with the type of music and when it’s necessary. If you regularly listen to happy Jewish music when preparing for Shabbat on Friday you may do so during the Three Weeks, and, if needed, before Shabbat Chazon.

Parents should make sure the child understands the period to the best of their ability and should not introduce children to content that will overly upset them. It’s important that children do not resent these practices. In cases where there is a problem, check with a halakhic authority or rely on the opinion that there’s no chinukh for mourning.

In depth

The mitzvah of chinukh

In general, only those who have reached halakhic majority, the age of mitzvot, are obligated to observe the commandments. However, in addition to the Torah commandment to teach children Torah, there is also a mitzvah of chinukh, education, to teach and encourage children to observe mitzvot beginning at the appropriate age and developmental stage.[2] For example, the gemara states that when a child learns to speak they are taught the first line of Shema and the verse “Torah tziva lanu Moshe…” ”Moshe commanded us the Torah…”

A full examination of the scope of this mitzvah is beyond this teshuva, but we’ll review some basics. Rashi in Sukka explains that there is a rabbinic obligation for a parent to educate their child.[3] It is generally accepted that the mitzvah of chinukh is a rabbinic obligation incumbent on the parent, but there are dissenting opinions. Some explain that children who are capable of understanding and performing a mitzvah also have some sort of obligation.[4] Some indicate that the mitzvah of chinukh predates the Talmudic era. For example, Chayei Adam explains, the obligation is based on the verse, “Educate the child in their own way,” the Netziv from the mitzvah of loving God, and Meshekh Chokhma from a statement God made about Avraham.[5]

Rambam and Shulkhan Arukh explain that children should start learning slowly around age three, according to their level; organized study with a teacher only begins around age six or seven.[6] Many halakhic authorities similarly differentiate between formal Torah study which starts later, and modeling behavior, which should begin around age three. In a similar vein, Mishna Berura teaches that once a child understands that some actions are prohibited, around age three, their parent should stop them from transgressing Torah prohibitions, but the mitzvah to teach them to perform positive mitzvot doesn’t begin until they reach an age of understanding, generally no earlier than age six.[7]

Halakhic authorities also note that there’s a difference between giving a child something prohibited – such as non-kosher food – versus not preventing a child from taking it themselves.[8] In the laws of Shabbat Shulkhan Arukh and Rema state that a parent is obligated to reprimand and stop their child from transgressing Torah prohibitions, such as eating non-kosher meat, and may not actively encourage their child to do something that is rabbinically prohibited.[9] Though they do not have to stop them, one should create a situation where their child habitually acts in ways that are rabbinically prohibited.[10]

“A child does not mourn”

As noted in the background article, many of the laws and customs of this time period parallel those of mourning the death of a close relative. Chazal (the sages in the time of the Talmud) taught that “a katan (child) does not mourn.”[11] Although there are some halakhic authorities that offer alternate explanations, Shulkhan Arukh rules that there is no obligation of chinukh when a child loses a close relative.[12]

On the other hand, the gemara in Moed Katan states that when a close relative dies, we tear keriya (rending the garment) for children “because of grief.”[13] Commentaries such as Rashi note that this reason is provided specifically because there is no chinukh in this case; keriya is not performed for the child’s education. Some understand that the child’s state fuels the adult’s grief and Tur explains that it is to encourage the adults to eulogize the deceased.[14]

Why don’t we educate children to mourn the loss of a relative? Is this the case for mourning the Temples?

Several reasons are given for the opinion that there is no mitzvah of chinukh for mourning. Many of these reasons are relevant for the communal mourning of Bein HaMetzarim and Tisha B’Av.

One school of thought is that mourning is painful and inappropriate for children. Consequetly, Chayei Adam states that on Tisha B’Av children do not have to observe any laws of mourning, and may even wear leather shoes.[15] As Rav Asher Weiss explains, “This contains a lesson about the ways of chinukh – the essence of chinukh should be about the joy of a mitzvah and the enjoyment found in Torah [study], so even when one grows old they will not turn away from it, and therefore they [Chazal] did not apply the enactment of chinukh to anything painful.”[16]

Alternatively, Rav YD Soloveitchik teaches that the essence of the mitzvah to mourn is internal grief, the laws and traditions are there as external expressions of this internal state.[17] Children who are unable to comprehend the loss should not be made to observe these external expressions. If a child isn’t expected to understand the recent death of a close relative, how can they understand the distant, abstract mourning of Bein HaMetzarim?

Minkhat Chinukh suggests that since chinukh is meant to prepare the child to observe mitzvot when they reach majority, it may only apply to constants like prayer and tzitzit; mourning for a close relative is not necessarily a mitzvah they will have to perform.[18] He ultimately rejects this reasoning and rules chinukh also applies to mitzvot a child may not have to perform in adulthood. Rav Moshe Feinstein revives this idea and teaches that children should be educated to mourn during Bein HaMetzarim, as it’s a custom that will continue until the redemption.[19] Ultimately he rules that since we are mourning the loss of the mitzvot of the Temple a child should observe the customs even if they can’t fully comprehend the loss.

Nevertheless, Shulkhan Arukh does list certain mourning customs at this time that do apply to children – such as haircuts and laundering their clothes.[20] Magen Avraham assumes that this is due to chinukh and suggests that this may be for their own mourning or to enhance that of the adults around them, but it’s possible that communal mourning applies to children even though individual mourning does not.[21]  Mishna Berura agrees, although he brings a dispute as to whether children should observe these laws as adults do, or only the week of Tisha B’Av.[22]

As wine is prohibited during the Nine Days, Rema rules that a child should drink the wine from havdala on Shabbat Chazon. Rema does not indicate what age and can be understood as ruling that there is no chinukh for mourning here. Yet Magen Avraham limits this to children who do not know how to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, who he allows to eat meat and drink wine throughout the Nine Days.[23]

Shulkhan Arukha also rules that children do not study Torah on Tisha B’Av.[24] Magen Avraham teaches that a child who understands what they read should study the sad stories of the destruction.

Yet others explain that there is no general mitzvah of chinukh for mourning, and the laws that specifically mention children have other reasons. In general, She’agat Aryeh explains that the only customs that apply to children are things that adults do for them and are not allowed to do for themselves – laundry, haircuts, and Torah study – otherwise the adults may be distracted from their own mourning.[25] Similarly, Taz states that children don’t really experience joy when they study Torah, they abstain from learning on Tisha B’Av because their teacher is happy to teach them.[26]

Rav Nachum Rabinovitch ruled that the laws of mourning during Bein HaMetzarim do not apply to children who have not reached the age of mitzvot, and they can still listen to music and go in the pool.[27] Adults in charge may facilitate these things for children but should not add activities for their own enjoyment. He adds that the children should still be taught about the Beit HaMikdash and our prayers that it be rebuilt speedily in our days.


Children are not obligated in mitzvot, but parents are obligated in the mitzvah of chinukh, educating their children to follow the Torah and perform mitzvot according to what is appropriate for their age and developmental stage. Starting around age three parents should not encourage their child to do something prohibited by the Torah, and may be obligated to actively stop them if they get into something on their own. Children begin to learn prayers such as Shema and do some mitzvot when they are physically ready, but for most mitzvot the age of chinukh begins around six or seven.

There is some question if there is chinukh for laws of mourning. In general most halakhic authorities rule that there is no mitzvah of chinukh for children who lose a relative, although they still tear keriya (rent their garment). Some halakhic authorities rule that there is also no chinukh for the communal mourning during Bein HaMetzarim and Tisha B’Av. Others say that some of the laws and traditions apply to children, either because the children’s behavior is related to that of adults who are obligated, or because communal mourning is stricter, or because children should be taught to miss the mitzvot of the Temple. While we generally rule leniently when there is a dispute regarding rabbinic laws, such as the laws of mourning, it’s not clear such blanket leniencies should be applied to a case of communal mourning.

Children before the age of chinukh (under six to nine years old)

Consequently, it seems that until the age of six or seven children do not need to refrain from fun activities geared to them during the Three Weeks and Nine Days. However, if the activity is something the adult would do for fun on their own it’s preferable not to schedule such activities during the Nine Days. Therefore, taking children under the age of seven on carnival rides for children or to a dance party or concert geared to young children is permitted throughout the Three Weeks. At these ages children may also go to the pool during the Nine Days, and there’s no issue setting up a wading pool or sprinkler for children.

From the age of chinukh (under six to nine years old)

Starting at age six or seven things are a bit more complicated. Children realize that something is different; they may have learned a bit about this period. On the other hand, most children have only a shaky grasp on history (and abstract thought in general), and they can’t really understand grief. If children are off from school they need more entertainment, not less.

We suggest a three-pronged approach that includes:

  1. Age-appropriate, positive educational messages and activities
  2. Adoption of certain laws and customs of mourning
  3. Refraining from imposing customs that are not explicitly taught
  4. Age-appropriate, positive educational messages and activities

Around age six or seven children should be taught a bit about the Temple; it’s possible they can appreciate the power of a place to unite the entire Jewish people in God’s service and inspire the nations of the world to join. At first these lessons should focus on the positive. We can teach them that God made a beautiful world and instructed us to follow the Torah and mitzvot to make it better; to do that we have to work together, love each other and respect each other. As the child gets older we can teach them about the reasons for the destruction, the hardship of exile, the mistakes we keep repeating – based on the child’s ability to understand these ideas.

Although we pray and have faith that the redemption will come speedily in our days and these children will not have to mourn these losses as we do now, there is still reason for this chinukh. It’s important for children to feel part of the Jewish people, and that means internalizing our past, present, and future, and acting like adults in some ways. While they hopefully do not need to learn how to mourn, they do need to learn how and why we follow Jewish laws and traditions.

  1. Adoption of certain laws and customs of mourning

Somewhere between the ages of six and nine, depending on the needs of the child and family, start introducing more of the laws of mourning. While children should already refrain from haircuts and laundry when adults do, they aren’t really equipped for mourning and a child may view these customs as punishments and this can be detrimental for their overall chinukh.[28]

Music for children: If listening or dancing to music is not a regular activity, observing this custom may not be difficult; simply avoid putting on “dance” music for the Three Weeks. It’s also acceptable for a parent to decide not to play such music, but to allow a child to put it on for themselves. One may play non-dance music to calm children or help them do tasks.

Children who use music or dance as a way to release their energy may have a harder time, and insisting a child observe this custom is unnecessary. It may be better to discuss with the child and arrange for some sort of observance – if not for the entire Three Weeks then for part of this time (Nine Days, week of Tisha BAv, or even just the day before). Similarly, one could suggest the child listen to the music with headphones.

Swimming: Older children should refrain from swimming for pleasure during the Nine Days. If you set up a sprinkler or small pool for younger children you don’t need to stop an older child from joining in; at that age such things are generally less about fun and more about cooling off, which is permitted.

  1. Refraining from imposing customs that are not explicitly taught

Special activities and outings: During the Three Weeks older children may go on trips that don’t include celebrations or live music (or swimming during the Nine Days). During the Nine Days it’s preferable to try to focus on educational activities or mitzvot such as volunteering or seeing relatives, but fun activities such as horseback riding, hiking and camping, and even arcades and bowling are technically allowed.

Parents should use their judgment based on the child’s age, maturity level, and what their peers are doing. In cases of doubt or difficulty, rather than forbidding an activity, it may be preferable to allow it but to incorporate or balance it out with something educational – volunteering or even a movie with a message about kindness.


[1] Bein HaMetzarim, literally “between the straits” is a period of public mourning for the destruction of the Temples and subsequent exiles between the fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av, often referred to as the Three Weeks. The Nine Days is a second, heightened stage of mourning beginning the first day of Av.

[2] Mishna Erkhin 2:2; TB Sukka 42a-b; The mishna and gemara list different developmental steps necessary for understanding different mitzvot. See also Chagiga 4a.

[3] Ritva Megila 19b; Ran Megila 6b; Meiri Brakhot 20a.

[4] Compare Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9 to Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:1; Shulkhan Arukh HaRav 186:3.

[5] Chayei Adam 66:1 citing Mishlei 22:6; Ha’Emek Davar Devarim 11:1; Meshekh Chokhma Vayera 12.

[6] Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De’ah 245:5; Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:1; Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9; Shulkhan Arukh HaRav 343:2 explicitly states that the rabbinic law applies to both sons and daughters.

[7] Mishna Berura 343:3

[8] Trumat HaDeshen II 62:1; Responsa Chatam Sofer OC 83:8

[9] Shulkhan Arukh OC 343. In context the law is that the father is obligated and not the Beit Din. There’s some debate as to the age when this applies (based on Rambam Hilkhot Ma’akhlot Assurot 17:27-28 and Hilkhot Shabbat 24:11). There’s also discussion as to whether this only applies to a father and son, or also to daughters and/or mothers. See Terumat HaDeshen 94; Be’er Heitev 2; Kaf HaChayim 9; Pitkhei Teshuva Shulkhan Arukh YD 396:2.

[10] There’s some debate as to what one should do if they see a child above the age of chinukh, generally assumed to be around 6-7, doing something prohibited. Rambam and Shulkhan Arukh rule that only parents are obligated, while others such as Rema and Tosafot indicate that others must as well. Some later halakhic authorities rule according to the former for rabbinic prohibitions and the latter for Torah prohibitions. (Mishna Berura 343:7)

[11] TB Moed katan 14b

[12] YD 396:3

[13] Moed Katan 14b

[14] Rashi and Mordechai 870 ad loc.; Tur YD 340; Bach Shulkhan Arukh ad loc.;

[15] Chakhmat Adam 152:17

[16] Minkhat Asher Arba Tzomot 42

[17] Shiurei HaRav, Inyanei Aveilut, 39

[18] 264:9

[19] Igrot Moshe YD I 224

[20] OC 551:14

[21] Ad loc. 38

[22] Ad loc. 71-72. In general, there are leniencies that allow laundering children’s clothes, especially until the week of Tisha B’Av or if they don’t have anything clean to wear.

[23] Mishna Berura 269:1. Peninei Halakha applies this law to fast days (Shabbat 24 “Laws of a minor,” 2).

[24] 554:1

[25] Gevurat Ari Ta’anit 30a

[26] See Taz ad loc. 1

[27] Responsa Siakh Nakhum 32 “Minhagei Aveilut Ketanim b’Yimei Bein HaMetzarim” Iyar 5767

[28] As noted in the background article, there are several opinions that allow for laundering children’s clothes and dressing children in freshly laundered clothing.

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

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