As we approach the nine days that culminate on Tisha Be’av, let us try to understand the laws of this day.
On Tisha Be’Av we find several halachic prohibitions that are not found during the three weeks proceeding it. Eating and drinking are prohibited beginning with sunset on the eighth of Av until nightfall at the conclusion of the ninth. Other prohibitions are washing, smearing oils, wearing leather shoes and marital relations. We may not learn Torah except for texts that relate to the bad things which have befallen the Jewish people. One should refrain from greeting fellow people and the very least refrain from saying “Shalom”. It is the accepted custom not to do work on Tisha Be’Av unless it is “davar ha’aved”, something that would cause significant financial loss. During Shacharit it is customary not to put on a Talit and Tefilin though Tzitzit is to be worn. (For details and exceptions pertaining to these prohibitions see OC/553-555)
Some of the above mentioned prohibitions are not part of the mourning process for the Mikdash but rather halachot that identify the day as a Taanit (day of fasting). The identity of other prohibitions is somewhat more problematic. Refraining from washing, smearing oils, wearing shoes and marital relations, are all part of the halachot that apply to mourning during the Shiva period. (See YD/ 380/1) Yet, all these halachot are found in reference to Yom Kippur as prohibitions of Taanit.
From the Brayta quoted in Masechet Taanit (30a) that states “all mitzvot that apply to a mourner during Shiva apply on Tisha Be’Av”, it is clear that the central consideration in prohibiting the above mentioned prohibitions is the customs of mourning. On the other hand, some of the details of Halacha applied to these prohibitions are relevant only from the prospective of the halachot of Taanit Tzibur.
Rav Soleiveitchik noted two such examples: In reference to washing on Tisha Be’Av it is prohibited to wash any part of ones body. During the Shiva period one may not wash his entire body even with cold water or even part of ones body with hot water. On the other hand one may wash part of his or her body during Shiva with cold water. The prohibition of washing any part of ones body even with cold water is a halacha of Taanit as found in the halachot of Yom Kippur.
According to the Rambam a person in mourning who is going on foot from one place to the next may wear leather shoes. In the halachot of Yom Kippur the Rambam does not mention such a leniency. When discussing the halachot of Tisha Be’Av, the Rambam states that one may not wear shoes as on Yom Kippur, not mentioning any leniency when walking from place to place. (See Hilchot Evel 5/6, Hilchot Shevitat Asor 3/7, Hilchot Taaniyot 5/10; see also Shiurie Harav pp 36) It should be noted that this is not the view of the Shulchan Aruch and Rama who are more lenient on this issue. (See OC 554/17) It therefore seems that these prohibitions do not stem from either the halachot of mourning or of Taanit individually, but rather stem jointly from both the element of mourning and the laws of Taanit.
Though most of the halachot of Tisha Be’Av apply all day, certain laws apply only until mid day. Amongst these are the custom not to do work and to refrain from wearing Tfilin and Tzitzit. It is clear that these halachot have nothing to do with the laws of Taanit but are part of the mourning process of Tisha Be’Av. Even so, it is not clear why certain laws of mourning apply all day while others apply only until mid day. The Gaon of Vilna (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna-Gra) explains that after mid day the Mikdash was set aflame which presents an element of comfort since God took out his anger on logs and stones rather than people. This explanation does not answer why certain halachot are suspended at mid day while others apply all day.
Rav Soleiveitchik suggested that the mourning of Tisha Be’Av has two elements to it. One is the halachot of Shiva that apply all day. The other is an element of Onen, the status of one who’s deceased relative has not been buried. An Onen is exempt from Mitzvot since he or she is meant to be fully occupied with the needs of the dead. So, too, with the Aninut (the state of one who is an onen) of Tisha Be’av, the purpose is to prevent any distraction to focusing on the destruction of the Mikdash. The prohibition to do work or wear Teflin and Tzitzit are meant to prevent such distractions. After mid day we view the situation as equivalent to the time after burial when one may be comforted and distracted from the dead, while only the halachot of mourning of Shiva still apply. So, too, on Tisha Be’Av after mid day the state of Onen is completed and only the state of Shiva and the halachot that stem from it remain.
We pray that God replace this Taanit defined by Aninut and Avelut with days of Joy and happiness with the building of the Mikdash.