By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
WHICH FESTIVE OCCASIONS MAY A MOURNER ATTEND?
When a close relative passes away, the family is required to sit shivah,
followed by a three-week period of less "severe" mourning called sheloshim.
One who loses a parent observes a full year of mourning, starting with the
day of burial(1) and ending twelve months later.(2) This extended period of
mourning, known as "twelve 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, the mourning period for parents is longer than for
any other relative.(3) [A child should not mourn for "twelve months" if a
parent explicitly requested that he not do so.(4)]
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 rabbi
for a ruling.(6)
Note: Our discussion only covers the mourning period known as "twelve
months." The laws for shivah [or sheloshim 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
following are three main views:
1.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)
2.The restriction applies [mainly(11)] to meals of mitzvah celebration such
as 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); and 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)
3.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 bris, 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 [as in the third view], and even a
wedding may be attended if the simchah will be marred by the mourner's
absence [as in the second view].
But after positing all of the above, the Rama goes on to say that it has
become the custom that a mourner does not attend any meal outside of his
home, neither meals of a social nature [as in 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 as to 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 shelishis.(23) Other poskim do not agree with this leniency
and do not differentiate between Shabbos and weekdays.(24)
But most poskim agree that a relative who is a mourner(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 meal. 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 only refreshments or snacks are served.
Harav S.Z. Auerbach was asked whether the Rama's custom refers only to
meals eaten outside 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 being played.
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 go 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 rabbi, there could be room for leniency to allow
the following mourners to attend a wedding:
1. Parents and grandparents of the groom and bride.(34)
2. Siblings [who have been living together in one home].(35)
3. A shoshvin (one who escorts the bride or groom to the chupah).(36)
4. For the sake of family harmony (shalom bayis).(37)
5. If otherwise there will be no minyan at the wedding.(38)
6. The mesader kiddushin.(39)
7. A cantor, sexton, musician, photographer, or anyone whose livelihood
depends upon being present.(40)
8. In certain unique situations, when the absence of a relative will
seriously interfere with the happiness of the groom or bride.(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
1 Mishnah Berurah 568:44.
2 During a leap year, no mourning is observed during the thirteenth month;
the restrictions end after twelve months.
3 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:255. See Nekudos ha-Kesef Y.D. 402 on 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;
Nishmas Yisrael, pg. 294.
6 Each case must be evaluated on its own merit, as sometimes there are
extenuating circumstances, such as family obligations or shalom bayis
issues, which may affect the final decision.
7 Sheloshim observed for other relatives generally follows the same
guidelines as the "twelve 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 ha-Shulchan.
9 Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-5.
10 Smag, quoted in Beis Yosef Y.D. 391, but not directly quoted in Shulchan
11 Apparently, this view also holds that festive meals of a social nature
are prohibited [since this is stated explicitly in 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 b'Yehudah 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. [See Radvaz on
Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 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
15 Nimukei Yosef, quoted by Rama Y.D. 391:3. 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 Rav Akiva Eiger, Dagul
Mirevavah 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 melaveh
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 See sources quoted in note 115. 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 a bar mitzvah; Pnei Baruch, pg. 224, note 63.]
18 Provided that no music is played; She'arim Metzuyanim b'Halachah 212:1.
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, pgs. 261-262).
20 See Da'as Kedoshim Y.D. 391, who permits eating in a hotel.
21 She'elas Yaavetz 2:180; Rav Efrayim Z. Margaliyos, 26; Kol Bo, pg. 361;
Gesher ha-Chayim, pg. 233.
22 But a Sheva Berachos, etc., is prohibited even according to this view.
23 Eating these meals in 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 Yaakov 56).
26 Even during the shivah or sheloshim.
27 She'elas Yaavetz 2:180; Rav Efraim Z. Margaliyos, 26; Pischei Teshuvah
391:4; Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:161. There is an opinion (Shach Y.D. 393:7) that
holds that a public show of mourning is only prohibited during the Shabbos
of the shivah. If so, this leniency does not apply; Shemiras Shabbos
28 Minchas Shelomo 2:96-12. 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 whether all poskim
are in agreement; see Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:161 who allows attending a shalom
zachar only if the mourner's absence will be noticed.
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 21:7-9.
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 after the chupah.
32 Unless the mourner is honored with reciting a berachah under the chupah.
33 While there is no clear decision or binding custom, the Rama seems to
rule according to 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 child's wedding even during shivah]; Harav
S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 65:66 and Tikunim u'Miluim)
concerning Sheva Berachos.
35 Gilyon Maharsha 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 Rav 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 Baruch, pg. 227, note
41 Tzitz Eliezer (Even Yaakov 56). Not all poskim agree with this leniency.
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 Y.S. Elyashiv,
quoted in Pnei Baruch, pg. 216, note 35.
43 Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-11.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
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