The Issur for an Avel to Attend a Simcha

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

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The Issur for an Avel to Attend a Simcha
by Rav Moshe Taragin

 Tomorrow, Shiv'a Assar be-Tamuz, marks the beginning of the period known as 'bein hameitzarim - between the tragedies.'  This three week period is punctuated on either end by terrible catastrophes which befell the Jewish nation during the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.  To commemorate these events, several aspects of mourning are adopted; the sequence increments in stages until it reaches its climax on Tisha be-Av.  The first stage of avelut which begins on 17 Tamuz and continues until after Tisha be-Av, is marked by moderate signs and practices of avelut.  It has been repeated in the name of the Rav zt"l that the scheme of these 3 weeks is patterned after the 12 month period of avelut yachid (the personal avelut kept after the passing of a parent).  During this prolonged period, an avel is prohibited from two experiences - taking a haircut (an issur which lasts until his friends notice and urge him to cut his hair "ad she- yig'aru bo chaveirav"), and a prohibition from attending an event of simcha.  It is precisely these two issurim which apply during this early period of three weeks.  This article will examine the latter issur which pertains to this phase of avelut - the prohibition of attending an event of simcha.

 The gemara in Mo'ed Katan (22b) cites the following distinction between avelut for a relative and avelut for a parent (which is more intense and longer lasting):  A regular avel may attend a beit hamishteh (literally a house of party) after 30 days have elapsed, while an avel for a parent may not attend for 12 months.  Upon first glance both the halakha itself as well as the disparity between regular avelut and avelut for parents each appear logical.  The fundamental theme which governs any avel is that he must refrain from experiences which cause simcha.  During the first week he may not shower, learn Torah or wear leather - experiences which cause enjoyment or pleasure.  The gemara in Mo'ed Katan (26b) asserts that during shiv'a an avel may not even hold a child since this will induce happiness.  By extension, an avel should be forbidden from attending and participating in any event of simcha.  That the duration of avelut for parents is extended and its relevant issurim longer in duration also comes as no surprise.

 There emerges, however, a position which forces us to reconsider our initial impressions.  Tosafot rules that an avel may attend a simcha without participating in the meal - the pivotal aspect of the joyful experience.  Clearly, this ruling accords with our previous conception of the issur, if indeed, attending such an event is forbidden since it will cause delight to the avel.

 The Ramban however, in his work entitled Torat Ha'adam - (See Afterword), after citing the lenient position, concludes that an avel may not attend a simcha even if he does not participate in the actual meal or related celebrations. Evidently, the Ramban viewed this issur in different terms. By not participating in the meal, presumably this avel is not rejoicing - and yet he is forbidden.  The Ramban viewed the issur in more 'formal' terms.  We previously discussed the prohibition of the avel receiving actual joy - be it from learning Torah, holding a child or attending a simcha.  In addition to this, an avel  may not be in a SITE of simcha - even if he doesn't participate since the dominant emotion at this event is incompatible with, and is the antithesis of, his avelut.  Even if he does not PERSONALLY experience simcha, he has situated himself in a site which is characterized and animated by an emotion which is diametrically opposed to his avelut.

 In fact, this distinction is latent within the very syntax of the gemara.  The gemara formulates the issur as follows:  "An avel may not attend the HOUSE OF MISHTEH".  Why did the gemara not merely stress that an avel may not derive joy from a mishteh, or participate in that mishteh?  By underscoring the issur of being found in "beit ha-mishteh," the gemara de-emphasizes the actual experience and highlights the affiliation with an event of simcha as the primary issur.

 The Ramban draws an equation to this issur which very much reflects this stance.  The gemara in Mo'ed Katan (14b) rules that avelut may not be conducted during a yom tov; instead it is either suspended or entirely canceled depending upon the schedule.  One might question this halakha.  After all, why don't we allow the avel to mourn and proscribe him from experiencing simcha of yom tov?  Just because it is yom tov, it does not necessarily mean that he is happy and cannot mourn!!  The Ramban declares "there is no avelut in a location of simcha."  These days are already designated as days of simcha.  Once this period is defined in this manner, avelut cannot be undertaken during this period.  The two experiences are incompatible and avelut is delayed.  Our case is similar - with one difference.  In the case of yom tov because the period was already pre-defined as yom tov, avelut cannot occur.  In the case of attending a simcha, since the PERSON is already designated as an avel he cannot attend a simcha so that he may preserve rather than compromise the nature of his avelut.  At their root though, the two cases are similar; they each attest to the fundamental polarity between simcha and avelut.

  What about an inverse case - in which the avel is experiencing simcha but does not actually attend the simcha? This idea manifests itself in two cases.  Tosafot rules that one may not even partake of the meal with the waiters in their dining room.  This is consistent with their position that the prohibition entails deriving joy by partaking of the meal.  In this light it makes little difference where that meal was eaten.  One who partakes is still deriving joy.  By contrast, the Mordechai quotes Rabbenu Tuvia who determines that one may eat with the waiters.  Apparently, this is not considered ATTENDING the simcha.  A second case is cited in the Beiy Yosef (Yoreh De'a 391) who quotes the Roke'ach.  Can we send food to the avel's house?  The Beit Yosef rules that we may, reiterating the notion that the prohibition is one of associating with the simcha rather than deriving benefit from it. Of course, there is a good degree of flexibility in these two cases.  One might permit eating a 'doggie-bag' at home since one doesn't really derive any simcha from that experience.  By contrast, one might forbid eating with the waiters since this does entail some form of attendance and association.  In a general sense though, these two cases - eating and partaking without attending - provide an inverse to the case of attending without eating.

 A second factor which must be considered is the type of event which is forbidden.  Tosafot rules that an avel may attend a berit mila since there is no simcha.  Tosafot bases his ruling upon the gemara in Ketubot (8a) which rules that we don't add "she-hasimcha bi-me'ono," as we do during birkhat ha-mazon of a wedding.  The gemara attributes this to the fact that the simcha is muted by the pain of the child.  Tosafot's ruling is certainly consistent.  The issur is to derive joy and in the case of mila this joy is muted.  One could, however, disagree with Tosafot's extrapolation.  Certainly we refrain from announcing and flaunting the simcha by reciting "she-hasimcha bi-me'ono."  Such unabashedness would be outright insensitive.  One cannot, however, deny that simcha DOES exist in some form.  Consequently, an avel who attends does experience joy - not the kind which is displayed, but joy nonetheless!!!  If, however, the issur is viewed as one of associating with an event of simcha, one has to pay close attention to the precise definition and classification of events.  The seu'da of a wedding is certainly categorized as seu'dat simcha - that is after all the principal mitzva of the evening.  Hence, anyone in attendance is associating with a simcha.  The seu'da of mila is not a seu'dat simcha but a seu'dat mitzva - ameal held to honor the mitzva.  Indeed, those who attend experience simcha but that does not automatically define the meal as seu'dat simcha or someone who attends as one who has associated with a simcha.  Ironically, by adopting the second view of the issur - that the avel may not associate with an event of simcha - greater leniency might be possible in the case of mila.

 Finally, we will consider the case of one who has ulterior motives for attending.  The Ramban cites a Ra'avad who permits an avel to attend the wedding of an orphan or widow who is his charge.  Being that the wedding would not take place without his presence, he is allowed to attend.  One might view this 'heter' as simple 'prioritization.'  Given the unique circumstances, the wedding takes precedence to his avelut.  However, several Rishonim (Maharam mi-Rotenberg, Mordechai) expand this leniency to include all instances in which someone attends a wedding because he has to, not because he wants to.  No mention is made of the importance or significance of the wedding; in all cases such a license is granted.  If, indeed, the issur entails associating with simcha by attending, one might conceivably place great importance upon the motive for attending.  Possibly, one is only associating with the simcha if he attends voluntarily. One who is forced to attend is not disrupting his avelut by associating with a simcha - his presence is out of pure exigency.

1. As in the past, oftentimes a halakha can be viewed from two distinct standpoints: as a practical one based on the actual experience, or as a formal one based on identification and 'categorization.'  Is the issur mishteh for an avel based upon the ACTUAL simcha he will receive or upon a formal notion of his not being associated with simcha during the duration of his avelut.
2. The easiest nafka minot as to whether a halakha is 'x' or 'y' are cases where 'x' is true and not 'y' or cases where 'y' is true but not 'x'.  By attending but not eating he isn't deriving joy but is attending and compromising his avelut.  By eating with the waiters or at home he is rejoicing but not attending.


 The Ramban was a prolific writer who authored many different genres.  The diversity of style within his canon is almost unparalleled.  His two major works were his commentary on Talmud as well as his commentary to the Torah. Particularly in the latter work, the breadth of his knowledge becomes readily apparent.  A two volume set of his writings is available which introduces the reader to this great wealth of material.

 The Ramban authored a work known as Torat Ha-adam which chronicles all the halakhot which apply to man as he nears and experiences his 'ultimate fate' - death.  The halakhot begin by addressing the laws pertaining to sick people and continue to discuss the laws of avelut and Tisha be-Av.  **************************************************************