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Listening to Music and Haircutting on Fast Days

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 568) writes that one should not conduct himself in a frivolous, free-spirited manner on a fast day, or indulge in pleasure and enjoyment. A practical expression of this Halacha is a ruling by Hacham Ovadia Yosef forbidding listening to music on a fast day. Of course, on Shiba Assar Be’Tammuz and Tisha B’Ab we in any event abstain from music, as music is forbidden during the three weeks from Shiba Assar Be’Tammuz through Tisha B’Ab. However, according to Hacham Ovadia, listening to music is forbidden even on Asara Be’Tebet and Som Gedalya, because one should not engage in enjoyable activities on a fast day.

In fact, the Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909) ruled that one should not listen to music even the night before a fast day, despite the fact that eating and drinking are permissible until early in the morning. In Yalkut Yosef (p. 73), Hacham Bitan writes that he asked Hacham Ovadia Yosef about this ruling of the Ben Ish Hai, and Hacham Ovadia said that one should follow this stringency. Thus, listening to music is forbidden even the night before a fast day.

Is it permissible to shave or take a haircut on a fast day? Of course, shaving and haircutting are forbidden on Tisha B’Ab, but are they permissible on other fasts?

As we have seen, Halacha forbids engaging in frivolity and in enjoyable activities on a fast day. Haircutting is a chore, and not an enjoyable experience. As such, it should seemingly be permissible to shave and take a haircut on fast days. Indeed, Hacham Ovadia Yosef ruled that it is permissible to shave and take a haircut on fast days, and this ruling is codified in Yalkut Yosef (listen to audio recording for precise citation). Although Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1869), in his work Ru’ah Haim, ruled that haircutting is forbidden on fast days, suggesting proof from the Talmud, and this is also the ruling of Hacham Ben Sion Abba Shaul (Israel, 1923-1998), in his Or Le’sion, Hacham Ovadia rules leniently. In his view, shaving and haircutting are permissible on fast days, and there is no need to act stringently in this regard.

Summary: It is forbidden to engage in frivolity or enjoyment on fast days. Thus, for example, it is forbidden to listen to music on all fast days, even the night before the fast. Shaving and haircutting are permissible on fast days, except on Tisha B’Ab.