May 16, 2024
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Celebration, Serenity and Mourning: Moed Katan 19a

She returned from the cemetery on Friday afternoon, Erev Sukkot, just before sundown, after bidding him a final farewell. She took off her shoes and sat down on the living room floor. Then she got right up again. She went to the table and lit the yahrzeit candle, the Yom Tov candles and the Shabbat candles. She welcomed in the Yom Tov and the Shabbat. On Monday, Chol Hamoed Sukkot, she dragged herself to work. She missed him terribly. And she missed the shiva.

The Shiva is the seven-day mourning period immediately following the burial of a deceased relative, during which one stays at home, sits on a low chair, wears no shoes and is comforted by a stream of visitors. After the shiva one goes to work. A second period of mourning sets in for 23 days. This period is called the shloshim during which time certain restrictions observed during the shiva continue to apply, including not shaving, not cutting one’s hair and not attending celebrations.

The arrival of Yom Tov terminates the shiva that a relative began to observe before Yom Tov. Similarly, the arrival of Yom Tov terminates the period of shloshim that a relative began to observe before Yom Tov. In a situation where the deceased died on Erev Yom Tov, shiva may last for only a few short moments before Yom Tov, and there will be no continuation of the shiva following Yom Tov. Similarly, if Yom Tov arrives after the relative began to observe the shloshim, there is no continuation of the shloshim after Yom Tov, unless the deceased is a parent.

The arrival of Shabbat, however, does not cancel the shiva or the shloshim. If Shabbat would cancel the shiva there would never be a shiva. On Shabbat, the mourner may leave his house to attend synagogue and mourning is conducted in private. Although Yom Tov has the power to cut short the shiva and the shloshim, it does not have the power to cancel them entirely so that they are never experienced at all. One must have observed shiva or shloshim, even for only a moment, in order for Yom Tov to cut them short. If, however, there was no opportunity to observe even a moment of shiva or shloshim before the arrival of Yom Tov, such as where the relative died during Yom Tov, the full shiva and shloshim are observed after Yom Tov, and the shloshim are counted from the day of the burial.

Why does Yom Tov cut short the shiva and shloshim?

According to Rabbi Eliezer, it is because the eight days of Sukkot and Pesach overlap the days of the shiva. Where, however, Yom Tov lasts for less than seven days, as in the case of Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Eliezer rules that the shiva is not cut short but resumes after Yom Tov.

Rabbi Gamliel disagrees. The power of Yom Tov to cut short the shiva has nothing to do with the overlap of days. It is more fundamental. On Yom Tov, explains Rabbi Gamliel, we are commanded to celebrate, “Vesamachta bechagecha, you shall rejoice on your festivals.” Celebration and mourning are incompatible. Although people have been known to laugh and cry at the same time, one cannot be commanded to do so. Not only would this be an impossible task, it would also be disrespectful to the deceased. Therefore, since we are required to celebrate all the Yomim Tovim and since all the Jewish festivals are called “Mo’adim,” they all have the power to cut short the shiva, irrespective of whether they are seven-day or one-day festivals. Accordingly, the arrival of each of Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot cut short the shiva. And that is the halacha.

Just as Yom Tov has the power to cut short a shiva, it has the power to cut short the shloshim, provided that the relative began to observe the shloshim, even momentarily, before Yom Tov. Accordingly, if the relative sat through the complete shiva, and the seventh day of the shiva was Erev Yom Tov, he may shave and cut his hair in the honor of Yom Tov. In this situation, unless the deceased is a parent, the shloshim will not be resumed after Yom Tov. This is because, at least for a moment in time on Erev Yom Tov, between getting up from the shiva and shaving, the relative observed the shloshim.

Although Yom Tov does not have the power to cancel the shloshim that was not begun before Yom Tov, it does have the power to shorten it. This is because the days of Yom Tov are considered part of the shloshim. Accordingly, if the deceased died on Erev Pesach and a moment of shiva was observed before Yom Tov, only 15 days of shloshim will be observed after Pesach. This is because the moment of shiva observed before Yom Tov, for which one gets seven days credit, plus the eight days of Yom Tov itself, are deducted from the shloshim. If the deceased died on Erev Shavuot and a moment of shiva was observed before Yom Tov, only 15 days of shloshim will be observed after Shavuot. If the deceased died on Erev Rosh Hashanah and a moment of shiva was observed before Yom Tov, only seven days of shloshim will be observed after Rosh Hashanah. This is because the arrival of Yom Kippur cancels the remainder of the shloshim observed between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Accordingly, in such a situation, the relative may shave on Erev Yom Kippur. If the deceased died on Erev Sukkot and a moment of shiva was observed before Yom Tov, only eight days of shloshim will be observed after Sukkot. This is because the moment of shiva observed before Yom Tov, for which one gets seven days credit, plus the eight days of Sukkot, plus Shemini Atzeret, a festival all of its own, for which one gets seven days credit, plus one day Simchat Torah are deducted from the shloshim. The reason why Shemini Atzeret, an independent festival in its own right, does not cancel the shloshim but only shortens it, is because no shloshim was observed before Yom Tov. You must experience the mourning of the shloshim, even for a moment. If you did not, Yom Tov cannot cancel it.

If mourning is incompatible with Yom Tov, why is it not incompatible with Shabbat? Yom Tov is about outward manifestation of joy, “simcha,” whereas Shabbat is about inward serenity, “oneg.” On Shabbat we celebrate creation. Both life and death are part of creation. Oneg Shabbat is the attempt to come to terms with the way God created the universe.


Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, zt”l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Mo’ed,” available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Eyal-Guide-Shabbat-Festivals-Seder/dp/0615118992 or by e-mailing Raphael at [email protected].

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