A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
SELECTED HALACHOS RELATING TO PARSHAS YISRO
WHICH 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 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 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
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
[Continued next week]
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. 294.
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 ha-Shulchan.
9. Gesher ha-Chayim 21:8-5.
10. S'mag, 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 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 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. 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 Rabbi 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 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, note 63.]
18. Provided that no music is played; Shearim Metzuyanim B'halachah 212:1.
19. Chochmas Adam 161:2; Derech ha-Chayim; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 212:1; Tuv
Ta'am v'Daas 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.