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Buying Clothes During Sefirah

The period between Pesach and Shavuos contains a mourning period–different days depending on one’s custom–during which certain joyous behaviors are forbidden (commonly called Sefirah because this period also includes the counting (“sefirah” in Hebrew) of the Omer). These mourning customs have developed over time. However, I often hear confusion about the permissibility of buying new clothes during this mourning period. The short answer is that it is allowed. The long answer is that it might not be allowed.

During the mourning period prior to the summer fast day of Tisha B’Av, we experience an intense mourning over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Among the activities forbidden by custom is reciting the “Shehecheyanu” blessing on new fruits or new clothes. Some early authorities rule that this also applies to the Sefirah, such as the author of Keli Yakar (Olelos Efraim 2:107) and the Eliyah Zuta (593) in the name of Rabbeinu Yerucham (1:5). Yosef Ometz (845), Rav Chaim Palaggi (Mo’ed Kol Chai 6:12) and his son Rav Yitzchak Palaggi (Yefeh La-Lev 2:493) say that the custom is to refrain from wearing new clothes during Sefirah. However, the vast majority of authorities make no mention of this custom to refrain from reciting the blessing of “Shehecheyanu” during Sefirah.

Four customs seem to have developed about this issue:

No Shehecheyanu — Some people are strict and do not do eat new fruits or buy new items that would necessitate a Shehecheyanu blessing. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (Ma’amar Mordekhai Le-Mo’adim U-Li-Zemanim 20:55) says that some have this practice (yesh nohagim).

Yes Shehecheyanu -Some have no such practice whatsoever and feel free to eat new fruits and buy new clothes. Rav Eliyahu (ibid.) says that this is the standard practice (ve-khen nohagim). Kaf Ha-Chaim (593:4) and Mishnah Berurah (593:2) take this approach, as well.

Only On Fruits — Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Da’as 1:24) distinguishes between reciting a Shehecheyanu on new fruits and on buying new things. He argues that the practice of refraining from reciting Shehecheyanu on new fruits is a mistake and should not be observed. You do not even need to annul your custom before discontinuing it because it is an error. However, he suggests refraining from wearing new clothes during Sefirah, based on the comments of Rav Chaim Palaggi and others (mentioned above). If there is a need to wear new clothes, wear them for the first time on Shabbos, when there is no mourning and therefore no problem in reciting “Shehecheyanu.”

If Necessary — Some desire to act strictly and refrain from doing anything that necessitates reciting a “Shehecheyanu” during Sefirah. However, when a need arises–such as a sale or a young man returned for a brief yeshiva break who needs to go shopping–you buy the clothing and wear it for the first time on Shabbos or at a mitzvah celebration like a circumcision (Peninei Halakhah, Zemanim 3:11 says that this should be the practice for those who are strict).

If someone asks me whether they may buy clothes during Sefirah, I tell them the first view above, adopted by the Mishnah Berurah and Kaf Ha-Chaim. But really there are more views. When it comes to customs, custom is as custom does. They evolve over time organically. I suspect that the strict opinion is slowly gaining ground because of confusion with the Three Weeks. Eventually, people will observe the two mourning periods in the same way. Perhaps this will become the standard custom. Until then, we still have the Mishnah Berurah.