“Once the month of Ab begins, we minimize our happiness”
These days are dedicated to prepare ourselves for mourning the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash. In order to do that, we minimize our happiness and enjoyment, avoiding certain activities related to personal pleasure (see this) and refraining from the consumption of what is considered luxurious food: meat and wine. Meat and wine were also offered in the Bet haMiqdash as sacrifices (qorbanot) or libations (nisukhin), abstaining ourselves from these foods also expresses our longing for the Bet haMiqdash.
The Mishna in Ta’anit (26B) mentions the prohibition to eat meat and drink wine in the Se’udat haMafseqet, namely, during the meal right before the fast of Tish’a beAb begins. And this is the custom of Yemenites Jews, to avoid meat and wine during the meal before the fast.
Over the time, most Jews extended the restriction of eating meat and drinking wine for a longer period of time. The Shulhan ‘Arukh (551:9) mentions three different customs: Those who refrain form meat and wine 1. from the 17th of Tamuz. 2. from the beginning of the month of Ab . 3. only during the week of the 9th of Ab (this is the Minhag of Jews from Damascus, Syria).
In the following lines we will explain the standard Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions on this matter.
In most Sephardic communities the tradition is to avoid eating meat from the beginning of the month of Ab. Rabbi Obadia Yosef z”l mentions that in most Sephardic communities it is customary to begin with the restriction of meat only after Rosh Hodesh .
In Ashkenazi communities, and in some Sephardic communities (Yerushalayim, for example), people avoid eating meat also during the day of Rosh Hodesh (today) following the tradition of the Ari z”l (Penine Halakha).
The restriction from meat includes also avoiding poultry, but consuming fish is allowed during the nine days.
This restriction, obviously, does not apply on Shabbat. On the contrary, during this Shabbat and next Shabbat, we should eat meat in honor of the Seventh day.
A person who is sick or weak, or a nursing woman during the first thirty days after giving birth, are allowed to eat meat during these days. The rabbis advise that, when possible, they should eat chicken instead of red meat.
Children are not subject to the restriction of meat. But Rabbi Obadia Yosef recommends that one year before the Bar or Bat Mitsva, once they understand better the meaning of mourning, they also should avoid eating meat.
If a Se’udat Mitzva, such as Berit Mila, takes place during these days, it is allowed to serve meat in it (In the old days, in many communities meat was not served at a Se’udat Mitzva because the Shehita, the Kosher slaughtering of animals, was discontinued once the month of Ab began and meat was not available).
The Ashkenazi custom is to refrain also from drinking wine during the nine days.
The Sephardim have three different traditions. There are those who 1. include the restriction form wine for nine days. 2. those who restrict themselves from wine only during the week of Tish’a beAb. 3. those who do not include at all the restriction from wine during the nine days.
Other alcoholic beverages, such as beer, are not forbidden during the nine days.
Each person should follow his or her community’s tradition.