by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
(Thanks to Uriel, a US West Coast Jew working hard to merit aliyah and geulah, for these references.)
Tuesday is the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the mourning period of the 3 weeks, a day and time of many tragedies of Jewish history, the fall of the walls of Jerusalem and slaughter of her citizenry, and ultimately the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Jewish Temple).
There’s a variety of mourning customs observed during this period of 3 weeks (such as no haircuts, no music, no weddings), but the fact it falls in the middle of summer and school vacation also means people don’t necessarily avoid vacations or summer camp or trips during this time.
Also, because it’s a time of tradgety and judgement, we avoid judging others including reducing punishments to children and being especially careful to avoid violence of any type.
Uriel forwarded me these following halachic statements, brought from the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), that I hadn’t heard before: (edited for clarity)
The Shulhan Aruch was written as a strictly Halachic code, rarely includes Kabbalistic concepts in presenting Halachic guidelines. Yet, the Shulhan Aruch writes that during the three weeks one should not go outdoors to partially shady areas between the fourth and ninth hours (referring to Halachic hours) of the day (approximately 9:30am – 3:30pm) due to the demon “Keteb Meriri”, when this demon is most threatening. He adds that during this period, parents should make a point not to hit their children, and teachers should likewise refrain from smacking students, in order to avoid risks.
The Midrash Shoher Tob (Tehillim 91) speaks about a dangerous “demon” called “Keteb Meriri” that is covered with scales and hair, has eyeballs all over its body, and sees from the eye situated on its chest. It generally resides in areas that are partly sunny and partly shady, and moves by rolling like a ball. Anyone who comes near this demon, the Midrash comments, exposes himself to great danger. The Midrash in fact relates that there were schoolchildren who suffered harm as a result of “Keteb Meriri.” It is specifically during the three weeks of between Shiba Asar Be’Tamuz and Tisha B’Ab, the Midrash teaches, that this harmful spirit surfaces and poses danger.
The Midrash tells the story of Rabbi Abahu who saw a teacher with a branch ready to hit an unruly student. Rabbi Abahu sharply condemned the teacher, noting that “Keteb Meriri” was standing right behind him with an iron rod, ready to strike. This story shows the dangers of administering any type of corporal punishment during this period, when we are exposed to the dangers of “Keteb Meriri.”
For the same reason, one should refrain from unnecessary travel during the three weeks. Hacham Ovadia Yosef writes that the rule during this period is “Ashreh Yoshebeh Betecha” – “Fortunate are those who dwell in Your home,” meaning, it is far preferable to remain at home rather than travel. Children, especially, must be supervised very carefully during the three weeks so they are protected from danger. Although it is customary to allow recreational trips and swimming during this period, extra care must be taken to ensure safety. In particular, one must not travel alone, in a deserted area, between the fourth and ninth hours of the day – approximately 9:30am-3:30pm – during the three weeks, because of the danger posed by the “demons” which roam freely at that time. This refers only to deserted area; it is certainly permissible to travel to a city alone during these hours.
The Aruch Ha’shulhan cites authorities who limit this Halacha to uninhabited areas, such as forests and the like. Inside a city, however, the presence of many people, as well as the presence of Mezuzot on the doorposts, offers a degree of protection from this harmful spirit.
On one level, this restriction essentially renders this Halacha practically irrelevant nowadays, when we usually spend our time in towns, cities and other inhabited areas. Nevertheless, this Halacha demonstrates the importance of avoiding danger during this three-week period and keeping a “low profile,” as this period is particularly suited for mishaps and calamity, Heaven forbid.
How are we to understand this type of explanation nowadays? Further, on a practical basis (though anecdotal), there is a significant increase in injury and accidents among the religious Jewish community over the summer.
On a rational and statistical basis, we can easily say that because many more young people are involved in activities they generally don’t involve themselves in during the year, and further these activities have risks that they aren’t exposed to during the year, it’s a natural consequence that people hiking are going to fall and get hurt, people who rarely drive regularly are more at risk of an accident during vacation driving, etc.
On a spiritual basis we can invoke many explanations (such as people being less involved in Torah and good deeds, giving more openings to spiritual judgments).
The question is, should we be worried about demons or the more direct natural and easily understood risks of summer vacation season? Though this blog is Mystical Paths, personally I’ve already been cut off in the car 3 times by young chassidim in rental cars. I’m more worried about people being wild and carefree (careless) than a scaly hairy eyeballed creature, though if I run into such I’ll let you know.
May Hashem grant all of our readers a safe summer.
(Pictures – #1 is Hairy Eyeball Ale, I don’t know if it’s kosher or not but as a traditional beer it has a good chance it is. #2 is Rambutan hairy fruit from Indonesia.)