Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Vayechi
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
And he ordained a seven-day mourning period for his father (50:10)
WHICH OCCASIONS MAY A MOURNER ATTEND
When a close relative passes away, the family is required to sit
shivah, followed by three-week period of less "severe" mourning
called shloshim. One who loses a parent observes a full year of
mourning, starting with the day of burial(1) and ending 12
months later(2). This extended period of mourning, known as "12
months", was instituted by the Sages in order to pay proper
respect to parents. Since a child is obligated to honor parents
even after their death, this mourning period for parents is
longer than for any other relative(3). [A child should not mourn
for "12 months" if a parent explicitly requested that he not do
One of the main features of this extended mourning period is
the restriction on attending festive meals which take place
outside of the mourner's home(5). In the view of the Rabbis,
partaking of festive meals outside of one's home is
inappropriate for one who is in mourning. But what exactly
constitutes a festive meal and what does not is a subject of
much debate among the Rishonim and is further complicated by the
various customs which have evolved over the years. What follows
is an attempt to clarify the sources so that the reader can
present his specific case to his rav for a ruling(6).
Note: Our discussion covers the mourning period known as "12
months" only. The laws for shivah [or shloshim for a parent(7)]
are stricter and are not the subject of this discussion.
THE VIEWS OF THE RISHONIM
There are different views among the Rishonim(8) as to the type
of meal which is restricted [Note that only the meal is
restricted. It is clearly permitted for a mourner to attend a
bris, a pidyon ha-ben or any other mitzvah ceremony [other than
a wedding] before the meal begins(9)]:
The restriction applies only to meals which are strictly of a
social nature and have no religious significance (seudas
ha-reshus). Any mitzvah celebration, e.g., a wedding, bris, bar
mitzvah, etc. may be attended(10).
The restriction applies [mainly(11)] to meals of mitzvah
celebration like weddings, bar-mitzvahs, brissim, etc. This is
because the mitzvah itself lends a festive atmosphere to the
occasion. There are two exceptions: 1) Weddings - if the absence
of the mourner will cause great distress to the groom or bride
and mar their simchah(12); 2) A meal which the mourner is
obligated to eat, such as korban pesach or ma'aser sheini during
the time of the Beis ha-Mikdash(13).
The restriction applies only to weddings [or sheva berachos] and
remains in effect even if the absence of the mourner will cause
distress to the groom or bride(14). Other mitzvah celebrations,
such as a pidyon ha-ben, bar mitzvah or siyum, are permitted(15).
THE VIEW OF THE SHULCHAN ARUCH
Shulchan Aruch deals with this issue from two different angles.
First, the Rama rules that the basic halachah is a compromise
between the second and the third views listed above. Thus he
rules that all mitzvah celebrations - other than weddings - may
be attended [like the third view], and even a wedding may be
attended if the simchah will be marred by the mourner's absence
[like the second view].
But after positing all of the above, the Rama goes on to say
that the custom has become that a mourner does not attend any
meal outside of his home, neither meals of a social nature [like
the first view] nor any type of seudas mitzvah, including a bris
or a pidyon ha-ben. While the Rama's custom is recorded in all
of the later poskim and has become the accepted minhag yisrael,
there are conflicting opinions whether the custom covers all
meals outside the home or whether there are some exceptions.
Some poskim mention a siyum(16) or a seudas bar mitzvah(17) as
exceptions(18), while others specifically include them in the
Rama's ban and prohibit attending them(19).
The Rama's custom notwithstanding, it is clear that a mourner
is not forbidden to eat a meal outside of his home if otherwise
he would not have a place to eat. Thus it is permitted, for
example, to invite an out-of town mourner who needs a place to
eat(20), or to invite a mourner's family for supper when
circumstances have made it difficult for them to prepare their
DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF IT IS SHABBOS OR YOM TOV?
Some poskim(21) maintain that the Rama's custom of not eating
meals outside of the mourner's home applies only to weekday
meals; on Shabbos it is permitted to attend certain meals(22),
e.g., a bris, a Seudas Shabbos or a group Seudah Shlishis(23).
Other poskim do not agree with this leniency and do not
differentiate between Shabbos and weekdays(24).
But the poskim are in agreement that a relative(25) - whose
absence from a simchah will surely be felt or noted by the
participants - may attend any meal on Shabbos, even a sheva
berachos. This is because it is prohibited to make a public
display of mourning on Shabbos(26). If people will notice that a
relative who should be there is not present, it is as if the
"mourning" is taking place publicly(27).
WHERE NO MEAL IS SERVED
The Shulchan Aruch quoted above discusses only attending a meal
outside of the mourner's home. There is no mention, however,
about partaking in a simchah where refreshments or snacks are
Harav S.Z. Auerbach was asked whether the Rama's custom refers
only to meals eaten out of the home or also to attending a
kiddush or a simchah where refreshments are served. He answered
that a mourner is permitted to attend such a kiddush or a
simchah, congratulate the celebrants, partake minimally of the
food and then leave(28). He noted that even such limited
participation should be avoided if there is dancing or music
Harav Auerbach added that it is permitted to attend in this
limited fashion only in order to celebrate a simchah or a
mitzvah observance. It is prohibited, however, for a mourner to
attend any function whose purpose is purely social. Thus it is
prohibited for a mourner to invite people to his house, or to be
invited to other people's homes, for a social gathering even if
no meal is served(29).
ATTENDING A WEDDING - SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
As previously stated, a mourner may not attend a wedding
celebration. Nor may he enter a wedding hall while a wedding is
taking place, even if he will not be eating there or actively
participating in the wedding.
There are three views quoted in Shulchan Aruch(30) about
attending the chupah only(31): Some allow it; others allow it
only if the chupah takes place outside of the wedding hall,
e.g., in a shul [or outdoors]; others prohibit even that(32) and
require the mourner to stand outside the shul [or hall] while
the chupah is taking place(33).
Upon consultation with a rav, there could be room for leniency
to allow the following mourners to attend a wedding:
Parents and grandparents of the groom and bride(34);
Siblings [who have been living together in one home](35);
A shoshvin (one who escorts the bride or groom to the
For the sake of family harmony (sholom bayis)(37).
If otherwise there will be no minyan at the wedding(38).
A rav, whose job is the be the mesader kiddushin(39);
A cantor, sexton, musician, photographer or anyone whose
livelihood depends upon being present(40);
In certain, unique situations, when the absence of a relative
will seriously interfere with the happiness of the groom or
bride, some poskim permit their attendance(41);
Rama quotes a view that any mourner may attend a wedding if he
serves as a waiter(42) and does not partake of the food while in
attendance at the wedding dinner. It has become customary that
only relatives rely on this leniency(43).
1 Mishnah Berurah 568:44.
2 During a leap year, the thirteenths month does not count; the
restrictions end after 12 months.
3 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:255. See Nekudos ha-Kesef Y.D. 402 to Taz 9.
4 Shach Y.D. 344:9.
5 It is permitted to take part in any meal - except a wedding -
which takes place at the mourner's home; Rama Y.D. 391:2. When
possible, sheva berachos should be avoided as well; see Pnei
Baruch, pg. 214, note 30, and pg. 460, and Nishmas Yisrael, pg.
6 Each case must be evaluated on its own merit, as sometimes
there are extenuating circumstances, such as family obligations
or sholom bayis situations, which may affect the final decision.
7 Shloshim observed for other relatives generally follows the
same guidelines as "12 months" for a parent.
8 There are also various interpretations among the latter
authorities in explanation of the views of the Rishonim. Here,
we have followed mainly the interpretation of the Aruch
9 Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-5.
10 S'mag, quoted in Beis Yosef Y.D. 391, but not directly quoted
in Shulchan Aruch.
11 Apparently, this view also holds that festive meals of a
social nature are prohibited [since this is stated explicitly in
the Gemara Moed Katan 22b], but it still maintains that mitzvah
celebrations are stricter.
12 Ra'avad, quoted by Rama, as explained by Aruch ha-Shulchan
Y.D. 391:5. [The actual situation described in the source deals
with the wedding of an orphan.] See, however, Noda beYehuda Y.D.
1:100 who maintains that this exception applies only if the
wedding will otherwise be canceled.
13 Accordingly, this exception does not apply nowadays; ibid.
[See Radvaz on Rambam Hilchos Avel 6:6 for an explanation.]
14 Ramban, as explained by Aruch ha-Shulchan Y.D. 391:6. If the
mourner's absence will cause the wedding to be canceled, it
would be permitted to attend; ibid.
15 Nimukei Yosef, quoted by Rama. According to this opinion,
attending a bris is questionable, since it is debatable whether
or not a bris is considered a festive occasion; Rama, ibid.
16 See Shach Y.D. 246:27, as apparently understood by R' Akiva
Eiger, Dagul M'revavah and Pischei Teshuvah in Y.D. 391. See
also Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-6; 22:2-6. According to this view, it
is permitted to attend a Melava Malkah whose purpose is to raise
funds for charity if no music is played; She'arim Metzuyanim
B'halachah 212:1; Nishmas Yisrael, pg. 274.
17 Ibid. This applies only to the meal that takes place on the
day of the bar mitzvah or if the bar mitzvah boy recites a
drashah. [Contemporary poskim note that nowadays the custom is
to be stringent concerning bar mitzvos; Pnei Baruch, pg. 224,
18 Provided that no music is played; Shearim Metzuyanim
19 Chochmas Adam 161:2; Derech ha-Chayim; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
212:1; Tuv Ta'am v'Da'as 3:86. But even according to this view
it is permitted to attend a siyum if the mourner himself is the
mesayem (Beis Lechem Yehudah Y.D. 391:2; see Mishnah Berurah
669:8) or if the siyum is being held in memory of the deceased
(Nishmas Yisrael, pg. 261-262).
20 See Da'as Kedoshim Y.D. 391 who permits eating in a hotel.
21 She'alas Ya'avetz 2:180; R' Efraim Zalman Margalyios, 26; Kol
Bo, pg. 361; Gesher ha-Hachayim, pg. 233.
22 But a Sheva Berachos, etc., is prohibited even according to
23 Eating these meals with the company of friends enhances the
special Shabbos atmosphere. If the purpose of the meal is purely
social, however, it may be prohibited according to all views.
24 Pischei Teshuvah 391:2 and 4; Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:161.
Seemingly, this is also the view of all the major poskim who do
not differentiate between Shabbos and Yom Tov.
25 Or a close friend; Tzitz Eliezer (Even Ya'akov 56).
26 Even during the shivah or shloshim.
27 She'alas Ya'avetz 2:180; R' Efraim Zalman Margalyios, 26;
Pischei Teshuvah 391:4; Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:161.
28 According to Harav Auerbach's opinion, apparently, it is
permitted to attend any simchah where no actual meal is served.
While there certainly are sources upon which this decision may
be based (see Teshuvah me-Ahavah 3:77-1), it is not clear if all
poskim are in agreement; see Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:161 who allows
attending a sholom zachar only if the mourner's absence will be
29 This ruling is based on the words of the Shulchan Aruch and
Taz Y.D. 385:1, Teshuvos Binyan Olam 62 and Gesher ha-Chayim
30 Y.D. 391:3. See Aruch ha-Shulchan 12.
31 Chupah means the actual ceremony [even though music is being
played; Shevet ha-Levi 1:213]. It does not include the reception
before or after.
32 Unless the mourner is honored with reciting a berachah under
33 While there is no clear decision or binding custom, the Rama
seems to rule like the second view and Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-4
writes that this has become the custom.
34 Aruch ha-Shulchan Y.D. 391:10; Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:171 and
O.C. 4: 40-16 [who permits parents to attend a childs wedding
even during shivah.]
35 Gilyon M'harshah Y.D. 391:1.
36 Some poskim permit a shoshvin to attend the wedding but not
to partake of the food, while others allow him to eat if he also
"serves a little bit".
37 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:255; Tzitz Eliezer (Even Yaakov 56-9).
38 R' Akiva Eiger; Y.D. 391:3.
39 He should not, however, partake of the meal - Kol Bo, pg. 360.
40 See Kol Bo, pg. 360; Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-3; Pnei Boruch,
pg. 227, note 73.
41 Tzitz Eliezer (Even Ya'akov, 56). Not all poskim agree with
42 A "waiter" means serving the entire meal, just like any other
waiter who is employed by the caterer - Harav S.Z. Auerbach and
Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Pnei Boruch, pg. 216, note 35.
43 Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-11.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 5759 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.
The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben
Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr.
Jeffrey Gross firstname.lastname@example.org.
The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation
Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav
Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra