Inquiry of Welfare on Tisha b’Av [Talmud Tuesday]
With today being the ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha b’Av), I wanted to explore a facet of the day, which is not asking about how someone else is doing. This is found in the Tosefta1:
ואין שאילת שלום לחבירים בתשעה באב
ולהדיוטות בשפה רפה
And there is no inquiry of welfare to friends on the ninth of Av;
And to common folks, with loose lips.
Similarly, we find in the Talmud Yerushalmi2:
אין שואלין בשלום חבירים בתשעה באב
אבל משיבין את ההדיוטות בשפה רפה
It was taught:
We do not inquire of welfare of friends on the ninth of Av;
But we do respond to commoners with loose lips.
While we do not find a parallel text to these in the Babylonian Talmud,3 it is certainly part of the halakhic tradition and ends up getting codified in pretty much this language by Rabbi Yosef Karo in his “Set Table”4:
והדיוטות שאינם יודעים ונותנים שלום, משיבים להם בשפה רפה ובכובד ראש
One does not inquire into one’s friend’s welfare on the ninth of Av;
And with commoners who do not know and make a welfare-inquiry, respond to them loose-lippedly and with heaviness of head5
The main issue is not to ask a friend how they are doing, although it’s unclear why. However, it does not say that greeting them (אמירת שלום) is altogether forbidden. Perhaps these add up to a sense of sadness, although not ignoring the other person. These lead into the other part of the statement in dealing with common folks, from which we glean that you are not supposed to ignore them, but also not answer them as if it were a normal day.
I wonder why the Tosefta and Yerushalmi do not phrase it to forbid the saying of hello, but – instead – forbid the inquiry of someone else’s wellbeing? Could it be because of course you can say hello, but asking as to someone’s welfare might draw someone away from the spirit of the sadness of the day or not fit in with the spirit of the sadness of the day? This damper on interpersonal communication as to their welfare can certainly enhance the sadness of the day – not only not being able to find out from others how their lives are going, but also not being asked for one own’s personal wellbeing.
1. תוספתא תענית ג:יב↩
2. תלמוד ירושלמי תענית א:ח↩
3. Although there is a somewhat parallel text, albeit not referring to the ninth of Av: “תנו רבנן: חברים אין שאילת שלום ביניהן, עמי הארץ ששואלין מחזירין להם בשפה רפה ובכובד ראש. והן מתעטפין ויושבין כאבלים וכמנודין כבני אדם הנזופין למקום עד שירחמו עליהם מן השמים” (תענית יד:)↩
4. שלחן ערוך, אורח חיים תקנד:כ↩
5. Basically, respond to this person in a grave, serious manner.↩