Subscribe to a Weekly Series

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt | Series: | Level:

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 own food.

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[25] who is a mourner- 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.

Rav 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.

Rav 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:

  • 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 chupah) [36].
  • For the sake of family harmony (shalom bayis)[37].
  • If otherwise there will be no minyan at the wedding[38].
  • 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[41].

Rama quotes a view that any mourner may attend a wedding if he serves[42] as a waiter[43] 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[44].

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 for a mourner to take part in any mitzvah meal – except a wedding – which takes place at his home; Rama, Y.D. 391:2. Sheva Berachos should be avoided as well; see Pnei Baruch, pg. 214, note 30, and pg. 460; Nishmas Yisrael, pg. 294 and Badei ha-Shulchan 391:34.

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 Aruch.

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 attend; ibid.

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 121. 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. See also Badei ha-Shulchan 391:11.

21. She’elas Yaavetz 2:180; Rav E. 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 E. 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 K’hilchasah 65:66.

28. Minchas Shelomo 2:96-12. According to Rav 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]; Rav 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 73.

41. Tzitz Eliezer (Even Yaakov 56). Not all poskim agree with this leniency.

42. Some poskim maintain that he may only be a waiter in the kitchen or in a side room, not in the main banquet hall; see Da’as Torah 391 quoting Beis Meir and Aruch ha-Shulchan 391:13.

43. A “waiter” means serving the entire meal, just like any other waiter who is employed by the caterer; Rav S.Z. Auerbach and Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Pnei Baruch, pg. 216, note 35.

44. Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-11.

Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and

Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at [email protected]