The Mourning Period of Sefirah

What Are the Guidelines for Aveilus Observed During the Sefirah Weeks?

Reason for Mourning

The midrash teaches that one reason for the counting of the omer is so that we again experience the excitement of anticipating the receiving of the Torah (quoted by Ran, end of Pesachim). At the same time, it is unfortunate that this very same part of the year has witnessed much tragedy for the Jewish people. Indeed, the Mishnah (Eduyos 2:10) points out that the season between Pesach and Shavuos is a time of travail. One major calamity that befell us during this season is the plague that took the lives of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. They died within several weeks in one year between Pesach and Shavuos because they did not treat one another with proper respect (Yevamos 62b). The world was desolated by the loss of Torah until Rabbi Akiva went to the southern part of Eretz Yisroel to teach five great scholars, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yosi, and Rabbi Elozor ben Shamua, who became the upholders of the future of Torah.

Again, in the time of the Crusades, terrible tragedies happened to the Jewish communities of the Rhine River Valley during the period between Pesach and Shavuos (Taz and Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493). Some of these catastrophes are recorded in the Kinos that we recite on Tisha B’Av. The reciting of “Av Harachamim” after Kerias HaTorah on Shabbos was introduced as a testimonial to remember these holy communities who perished in sanctification of Hashem’s Name rather than accept baptism.

What Practices Are Prohibited?

Because of the tragic passing of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, the minhag was establishedto treat the sefirah period as a time of mourning and to prohibit the conducting of weddings during this season. It is interesting to note that, although it is forbidden to hold a wedding during this season, if someone schedules a wedding during this season in violation of the accepted practice of the community, we do not penalize him for having done so (Teshuvos Hage’onim #278). Thus, although this person violated the community rules by scheduling the wedding, others may attend the wedding (see Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95). There are poskim who permit weddings under extenuating circumstances, such as concern that a delay may cause the engagement to be broken (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 493:2).

In addition to abstaining from weddings, certain other mourning practices are observed during the period of sefirah. One does not take a haircut during this season (Tur Orach Chayim Chapter 493). However, if there is a bris during sefirah, the mohel, the sandek, and the father of the baby are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion (Rema), but not the kvatter or those who are honored with “cheika,who are those who bring the baby closer to the bris (Mishnah Berurah 493:12). Those who are permitted to have their hair cut in honor of the occasion may even have their hair cut the evening before (Mishnah Berurah 493:13).

Dancing is not permitted during the sefirah season (Magen Avraham). Listening to music is likewise prohibited (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:166; Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111; Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30). One is permitted to teach, learn, or play music if it is for his livelihood (Shu”t Igros Moshe 3:87). This is permitted since he is not playing for enjoyment. However, one should not take music lessons for pleasure.

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that if a wedding took place on Lag B’omer or before or on Rosh Chodesh Iyar (in places where this is the accepted practice, see below), it is permitted to celebrate the week of sheva berachos with live music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95). There are others who disagree (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 1:111. See Piskei Teshuvos Chapter 493 footnotes 39 and 81, who quotes many authorities on both sides of the question.).

Although certain mourning practices are observed during sefirah, many practices that are prohibited during the three weeks or the nine days preceding Tisha B’Av are permitted. For example, house remodeling, which is prohibited during “the Nine Days”is permitted during the sefirah period (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 3:30). Similarly, although during the Nine Days one is discouraged from doing things that are dangerous, no such concern is mentioned in regard to the period of sefirah. Thus, although the Minchas Elozor reports that he knew of people who would not travel during sefirah, he rules that it is permitted and that this practice is without halachic basis (Shu”t Minchas Elozor 4:44).

In a similar vein, according to most poskim, one may recite a brocha of shehechiyanu on a new garment or a new fruitduring the period of sefirah (Maamar Mordechai 493:2; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:4). The Maamar Mordechai explains that the custom not to recite shehechiyanu is a mistake that developed because of confusion with the three weeks before Tisha B’Av, when one should not recite a shehechiyanu (Maamar Mordechai 493:2). However, there are early poskim who record a custom not to recite shehechiyanu during the mourning period of sefirah (Piskei Teshuvos, quoting Leket Yosher).

It is permitted during sefirah to sing or to have a festive meal without music (Graz; Aruch Hashulchan). It is also permitted to make an engagement party (a vort) or a tnoyim during the sefirah period, provided that there is no music or dancing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim Chapter 493 and Magen Avraham).

When Do We Observe Mourning?

There are numerous customs regarding which days of sefirah are to be kept as a period of mourning. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the mourning period runs from the beginning of the sefirah counting and ends on the thirty-fourth day of the omer count (Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim Chapter 493; Kaf Hachayim 493:25). In his opinion, there is no celebration on Lag B’Omer, and it is forbidden to schedule a wedding on that day! The source for this opinion is a medrash that states that the plague that caused the deaths of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended fifteen days before Shavuos. According to the Shulchan Aruch’s understanding, the last day of the plague was the thirty-fourth day of the omer. Thus, the mourning ends fifteen days before Shavuos, on the day after Lag B’Omer.

However, the generally accepted practice is to treat the thirty-third day of the Omer count as a day of celebration (Rema and Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim Chapter 493, quoting Maharil) because, according to this tradition, the last day of the tragedy was the thirty-third day of the Omer (Gra). There are several other reasons mentioned why Lag B’Omer should be treated as a day of celebration. Some record that it is celebrated because it is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (Birkei Yosef; Chayei Adam, Klal 131:11; Aruch Hashulchan). Others say that it is celebrated because it is the day that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to leave the cave in which he had been hiding (Aruch Hashulchan). Another reason recorded for celebrating this day is because it was the day that Rabbi Akiva granted semichah to his surviving disciples (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:26). Others record that it was the first day that the mann began falling for the Jews in the desert (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #233, s.v. Amnam yodati).

According to Maharil and Rema, the evening of Lag B’Omer should be included in the mourning period and the celebration should not begin until daytime. In their opinion, Lag B’Omer is still counted as one of the thirty-three days of mourning. The aveilos period ends on the morning of Lag B’Omer because of a concept called miktzas hayom ki’chulloh, which means that the last day of mourning does not need to be a complete day (Moed Katan 19b). If one observes the beginning of the day in mourning, the entire day is included in the count of the mourning days. For this reason, someone getting up from sitting shiva does so on the morning of the seventh day. Observing mourning requirements at the beginning of the seventh day satisfies the requirement to observe the seventh day of shiva. Similarly, one satisfies the requirement to observe the thirty-third day of sefirah mourning by observing mourning only at the beginning of that day. According to this approach, one should not conduct a wedding on the evening of Lag B’Omer, but only in the daytime. This is because we paskin according to the opinions that the principle of miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies only if the mourning was observed in the daytime, and it is insufficient to observe aveilos only in the evening of the seventh day.

However, there are other opinions that permit scheduling a wedding already on the evening of the thirty-third, at least under extenuating circumstances (see Graz 493:5; Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28; Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159). Some explain that, since we consider Lag B’Omer to be a day of celebration, it is not counted as one of the days of mourning (see Chok Yaakov 493:6 and Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 493:28). Thus, there are some poskim who contend that there are only thirty-two days in the sefirah mourning period (Graz 493:5). Another reason to permit scheduling a wedding the evening of Lag B’Omer is based on the opinion that miktzas hayom ki’chulloh applies even when one observes the mourning only at night (Ramban, Toras Ho’adam, Chavel edition page 215). Thus, according to this approach, it is sufficient to have the beginning of the night of Lag B’Omer as a mourning period. (It should be noted that, according to this opinion, shiva ends in the evening of the seventh day, not in the morning.)

When Lag B’Omer falls on Shabbos or Sunday, there is a dispute among early poskim whether it is permitted to get a haircut on Friday in honor of Shabbos. The accepted practice is to permit it (Rema, Orach Chayim 493:2 and Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Apparently, the combined honor of Shabbos and the approaching Lag B’Omer together supersede the mourning of sefirah. Some poskim even permit a wedding to take place on the Friday afternoon before Lag B’Omer that falls out on Sunday (Shu”t Ha’elef Lecho Shelomoh, Orach Chayim #330). (Bear in mind that the custom in Eastern Europe, going back hundreds of years, was to schedule weddings on Friday afternoon.)

Are those who follow the practice of observing mourning during the beginning of sefirah permitted to play music during Chol Ha’moed? This subject is disputed by poskim, but the accepted practice is to permit music during Chol Ha’moed (see Piskei Teshuvos 493:6).

There are several other customs that observe the mourning dates of sefirah in different ways. Some observe the mourning period the entire time of sefirah until Shavuos except for Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh Chodesh (and also, presumably, Lag B’Omer). Therefore, they permit the playing of music on Chol Ha’moed and holding weddings and playing music on Rosh Chodesh. (One cannot have a wedding on Chol Ha’moed for an unrelated reason. The sanctity of Yom Tov precludes celebrating a wedding on this day; see Moed Katan 8b.)This approach is based on an early source that states that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died only on the thirty-three days of sefirah when tachanun is recited, thus excluding the days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha’moed, and Rosh Chodesh (Bach, Orach Chayim quoting Tosafos). If one subtracts from the forty-nine days of sefirah the days of Pesach, Chol Ha’moed, Rosh Chodesh, and the Shabbosos, one is left with thirty-three days. It is on these days that the mourning is observed. (This approach assumes that in earlier times tachanun was recited during the month of Nisan and during the several days before Shavuos.)

Another, similar, custom is to observe the mourning period only from the second day of Iyar until Rosh Chodesh, with the exception of Lag B’Omer. This approach assumes that the mourning period is only on the days when tachanun is said, but does not assume that there are thirty-three days of mourning.

Yet another custom recorded is to refrain from taking haircuts or making weddings from the beginning of sefirah until the morning of Lag B’Omer, but after Lag B’Omer to observe partial mourning by refraining from weddings, although haircuts are permitted. This approach follows the assumption that the original custom of aveilus during sefirah was based on the fact that the plague that killed the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ended on Lag B’Omer. Later, because of the tragedies of the Crusades period, the custom developed not to schedule weddings between Lag B’Omer and Shavuos. However, the mourning period instituted because of the tragedies of the Crusades was not accepted as strictly, and it was permitted to take haircuts(Taz, Orach Chayim 493:2). This is the prevalent custom followed today by Ashkenazim in Eretz Yisroel.

Still others have the custom that the mourning period does not begin until after Rosh Chodesh Iyar, but then continues until Shavuos (Maharil, quoted by Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3). This approach assumes that the thirty-three days of mourning are contiguous, but that the mourning period does not begin until after the month of Nisan is over. In Salonica, they observed a Sefardic version of this custom: They practiced the mourning period of sefirah from after Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuos. However, they took haircuts on the thirty-fourth day of the sefirah count (cited by Shu”t Dvar Moshe, Orach Chayim #32).

A similar custom existed in many communities in Lithuania and northern Poland, where they kept the mourning period of sefirah from the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the morning of the third day of Sivan. According to this practice, weddings were permitted during the three days before Shavuos. This practice was based on the assumption that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva died after Lag B’Omer until Shavuos (Aruch Hashulchan, based on Gemara Yevamos). Magen Avraham reports that this was the custom in his area (Danzig/Gdansk); Chayei Adam reports that this was the practice in his city (Vilna); and Aruch Hashulchan report that this was the custom in his community (Novardok). These customs are followed to this day in communities where weddings are allowed after Pesach until the end of the month of Nisan.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that although these customs differ as to which days are considered days of mourning, the premise of most of the customs is the same: Thirty-three days of sefirah should be observed as days of mourning in memory of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, these different customs should be considered as one minhag, and the differences between them are variations in observing the same minhag (Shu”t Igros Moshe 1:159). This has major halachic ramifications, as we shall see.

Can One Change From One Custom to Another?

We would usually assume that someone must follow the same practice as his parents – or the practice of his community –­­ because of the principle of al titosh toras imecha, “do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8). This posuk is understood by Chazal to mean that we are obligated to observe a practice that our parents observed. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that many of the different customs currently observed are considered to be one minhag, and that, when this is the case, changing from one custom to another that is based on the same halachic considerations does not constitute changing one’s minhag and therefore permitted. There is evidence that other, earlier poskim  agreed that a community may change its custom how it observes the mourning days of sefirah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #142). According to this opinion, the specific dates that one observes are not considered part of the minhag and are not necessarily binding on each individual, as long as he observes thirty-three days of sefirah mourning.

How Should a Community Conduct Itself?

The Rema rules that, although each of the various customs mentioned has halachic validity (Darkei Moshe, Orach Chayim 493:3), each community should be careful to follow only one practice, and certainly not follow the leniencies of two different customs. If a community follows two different practices, it appears that Hashem’s chosen people are following two different versions of the Torah, G-d forbid.

Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the Rema is discussing a community that has only one beis din or only one Rav. Under these circumstances, the entire community must follow the exact same practice for sefirah. However, in a city where there are many rabbonim and kehilos, each of which has its own custom regarding the observance of sefirah, there is no requirement for the entire community to follow one practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe Orach Chayim 1:159). Thus, there is no requirement that everyone in a large city follow the same custom for sefirah, unless it has been accepted that the community has one standard custom.

Of course, as in all matters of halacha, each community should follow its practices and rabbonim, and each individual should follow the ruling of his Rav.

Attending a Wedding During One’s Mourning Period

If a friend schedules a wedding for a time that one is keeping sefirah, one is permitted to attend and celebrate the wedding, even listening to music and dancing (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:159).

Thus, although I am required to have a mourning period during sefirah of at least thirty-three days, I may attend the wedding of a friend or acquaintance that is scheduled at a time that I keep the mourning period of sefirah. However, Rav Moshe rules that if one is going to a wedding on a day that he is keeping sefirah, he should not shave, unless his unshaved appearance will disturb the simcha (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:95).

We should all hope and pray that the season between Pesach and Shavuos should cease from being a time of travail, but instead revert to being a time of total excitement in anticipation of the receiving of the Torah.

How Many Should be Saying Kaddish?

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Since, in Parshas Vayechi, we read of Yaakov Avinu’s last instructions to his children, this is an appropriate week to discuss some of the laws of kaddish.

How Many Should be Saying Kaddish?

Question: Is it better that each mourner recite only one kaddish, or that all the mourners recite all the kaddeishim?

Answer: Most people are under the impression that whether the “mourner’s kaddish” (kaddish yasom) is recited by only one person or whether many recite it simultaneously is a dispute between the practices of Germany and those of Eastern Europe. However, we will soon see that this simplification is inaccurate. There were many communities in Eastern Europe where kaddish was said by only one person at a time, and this was the universal Ashkenazic practice until about 250 years ago.

The custom that many people recite the mourner’s kaddish simultaneously was accepted and standard Sefardic practice (meaning the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East), going back at least to the early 18th century (see Siddur Yaavetz, comments after Aleinu), although when this custom was instituted is uncertain. But before we explore the issue of whether more than one person may say kaddish simultaneously, let us first examine the origins of reciting the mourner’s kaddish altogether.

Origins of kaddish

Although the Gemara refers to kaddish in numerous places (Brachos 3a, 57a; Shabbos 119b; Sukkah 39a; Sotah 49a), it never mentions what we call kaddish yasom, the kaddish recited by mourners, nor does it recommend or even suggest, anywhere, that a mourner lead the services. The Gemara, also, makes no mention of when kaddish is recited, with the exception of a very cryptic reference to kaddish recited after studying aggadah (see Sotah 49a). A different early source, Masechta Sofrim, mentions recital of kaddish before borchu (10:7) and after musaf (19:12). The fact that the Gemara says nothing about a mourner reciting kaddish or leading services is especially unusual, since the most common source for these practices is an event that predates the Gemara. The Or Zarua, a rishon, records the following story:

Rabbi Akiva once saw a man covered head to toe with soot, carrying on his head the load that one would expect ten men to carry, and running like a horse. Rabbi Akiva stopped the man, and asked him: “Why are you working so hard? If you are a slave and your master works you this hard, I’ll redeem you. If you are so poor that you need to work this hard to support your family, I’ll find you better employment.”

The man replied, “Please do not detain me, lest those appointed over me get angry at me.”

Rabbi Akiva asked him: “Who are you, and what is your story?”

The man answered: “I died, and everyday they send me like this to chop and carry these amounts of wood. When I am finished, they burn me with the wood that I have gathered.”

Rabbi Akiva asked him what his profession was when he was alive, to which he answered that he had been a tax collector (which, in their day, meant someone who purchased from the government the contract to collect taxes) who favored the rich by overtaxing the poor, which the Or Zarua calls “killing the poor.”

Rabbi Akiva: “Have you heard from your overseers whether there is any way to release you from your judgment?”

The man responded: “Please do not detain me, lest my overseers become angry with me. I have heard that there is no solution for me, except for one thing that I cannot do. I was told that if I have a son who would lead the tzibur in the recital of borchu or would recite kaddish so that the tzibur would answer yehei shemei rabba mevorach…, they would release me immediately from this suffering. However, I did not leave any sons, but a pregnant wife, and I have no idea if she gave birth to a male child, and if she did, whether anyone is concerned about teaching him, since I have not a friend left in the world.”

At that moment, Rabbi Akiva accepted upon himself to find whether a son existed and, if indeed he did, to teach him Torah until he could fulfill what was required to save his father. Rabbi Akiva asked the man for his name, his wife’s name, and the name of the town where he had lived. “My name is Akiva, my wife’s name is Shoshniva and I come from Ludkia.”

Rabbi Akiva traveled to Ludkia and asked people if they knew of a former resident, Akiva, the husband of Shoshniva, to which he received the following answer: “Let the bones of that scoundrel be ground to pulp.” When Rabbi Akiva asked about Shoshniva, he was answered: “May any memory of her be erased from the world.” He then inquired about their child, and was answered: “He is uncircumcised — for we were not interested in involving ourselves even to provide him with a bris milah!” Rabbi Akiva immediately began his search for the son, whom he located — it turned out that he was already a young adult. Rabbi Akiva performed a bris milah on him and attempted to teach him Torah, but was unable to do so. For forty days, Rabbi Akiva fasted, praying that the child be able to study Torah, at which time a heavenly voice announced: “Rabbi Akiva, now go and teach him Torah!”

Rabbi Akiva taught him Torah, shma, shmoneh esrei, birchas hamazon, and then brought him to shul in order for him to lead the tzibur by reciting kaddish and borchu, to which the tzibur responded, yehei shemei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’olmei olemaya and “Baruch Hashem hamevorach le’olam va’ed.

At that moment, Akiva, the husband of Shoshniva, was released from his punishment. This Akiva immediately came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream and told him: “May it be Hashem’s will that you eventually reach your eternal rest in Gan Eden — for you have saved me from Gehennom.” (This story is also found, with some variation, in the second chapter of Masechta Kallah Rabasi.)

Other versions

When a different rishon, the Rivash, was asked about this story, he reported that it is not found in the Gemara, but perhaps its origin is in Midrash Rabbah or Midrash Tanchuma. He then quotes a story from the Orchos Chayim similar to that quoted by Or Zarua. In conclusion, the Orchos Chayim emphasizes that, for the twelve months of mourning, a mourner should recite the last kaddish of the davening and maftir on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and lead the services for ma’ariv every motza’ei Shabbos (Shu’t Harivash #115).

A similar story is recorded in an earlier midrashic source, the Tanna Devei Eliyahu, where the protagonist is not Rabbi Akiva, but his rebbe’s rebbe, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, end of the fifth chapter of Sotah). In this version, the man was punished until his son turned five and the son was educated to the point that he could answer borchu in shul (Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 17). No mention is made of the son reciting kaddish. However, the halachic sources all quote the version of the Or Zarua, in which the protagonist of the story is Rabbi Akiva.

Merits for the deceased

This story serves as the basis for the practice that a mourner lead the services and recite kaddish. Relatively little of this topic is discussed until the time of the Maharil, who was asked the following question:

“Should someone who is uncertain whether his father or mother is still alive recite kaddish?”

To this question, frequent in earlier times when cell phones were not so commonplace, the Maharil replied that he is not required to recite kaddish and he should assume that the person is still alive (Mishnah, Gittin 3:3). Once the parent reaches the age of eighty, one should view it as uncertain whether the parent is still alive. Upon this basis, I am aware of a gadol be’yisrael who had escaped Hitler’s Europe before the war, who began to recite kaddish for his parents once the Nazis invaded the part of Russia where his parents were living.

The Maharil continues that if there are two people in shul, one who is reciting kaddish for a deceased parent, whereas the other is uncertain whether his parents are still alive, that the second person should not recite kaddish. This is because of the halachic principle of ein safek motzi midei vadai, someone who has a questionable claim does not preempt someone who has a definite claim or right – in this instance, the person whose parents might still be alive should not recite kaddish, rather than someone whose parents are known to be deceased. We see from this ruling that the Maharil assumes that kaddish is recited by only one person at a time.

The Maharil explains that, for this reason, he himself did not say kaddish when he was uncertain whether his parents were still alive. He then explains that someone who is not sure whether his parents are still alive and is capable to lead the services properly should lead the services in honor of his parents (Teshuvos Maharil #36).

Conclusions based on the Maharil

We see from the Maharil’s discussion that:

Only one person recites kaddish at a time.

The reason that someone whose parents are alive should not recite mourner’s kaddish is because he is taking the kaddish away from people who are mourners.

If there is no mourner present to lead the services, then the person uncertain if he is a mourner should lead services, if he can do the job properly.

Obligatory versus voluntary kaddish

The Maharil (Shu’t Maharil Hachadoshos #28) was also asked how a minor can recite kaddish if it is a requirement, as only one obligated to fulfill a mitzvah may fulfill a mitzvah on behalf of others. The Maharil answered that the kaddeishim that are recited by the shaliach tzibur as part of davening cannot be recited by minors. These kaddeishim are obligatory and therefore must be recited by an adult, who thereby fulfills the mitzvah on behalf of the entire community. However, non-obligatory kaddeishim, such as kaddish derabbanan and the kaddeishim recited at the end of davening, may be recited by minors. As a curious aside, the Mesechta Sofrim (10:7) explains that these kaddeishim were established primarily as make-up for people who arrived late and missed the kaddeishim that are required.

It is interesting to note that, already in the time of the Maharil, people assumed that the mourner’s kaddeishim are more important than the kaddeishim recited by the chazzan. The Maharil points out that this is incorrect, since the kaddeishim recited by the chazzan are required, and it is greater to perform a mitzvah that one is required to observe than one that is not required (gadol ha’metzuveh ve’oseh mimi she’eino metzuveh ve’oseh). The main merit that one performs for his deceased parent is to recite the kaddeishim that are said by the chazzan as part of davening.

Since minors cannot serve as chazzan, the Maharil considers it a great merit that they receive maftir, which a minor may receive, since they thereby recite borchu in front of the tzibur.

Mourner’s kaddish on weekdays

It appears from the Maharil’s responsum that, prior to his era, kaddish yasom was recited only on Shabbos and Yom Tov. In his day, a new custom had just begun in some communities to recite mourner’s kaddish on weekdays. The reason for the new custom was to enable minors to recite kaddish on a daily basis and to accommodate adults whom the tzibur did not want to lead the services.

Which kaddeishim should be said?

The Maharil writes that although these kaddeishim are not required, but only customary, they should still be recited after a shiur is completed, after bameh madlikin is recited Friday evening, and after pesukim are recited, such as when we recite kaddish after aleinu and the shir shel yom. He rules that someone whose parents are still alive may recite these kaddeishim. However, if his parents do not want him to recite these kaddeishim, he should not.

One at a time

At this point, let us address our opening question: Is it better that each mourner recite only one kaddish, or that all the mourners recite all the kaddeishim?

It appears that, initially, whoever wanted to recite what we call today the mourner’s kaddeishim would do so. Knowing the story of Rabbi Akiva, it became an element of competition, different people trying to chap the mitzvah, which sometimes engendered machlokes and chillul Hashem. To resolve this problem, two approaches developed for dealing with the issue. Among Sefardim, the accepted approach was that anyone who wanted to say kaddish did so, and everyone recited kaddish in unison. This practice is noted and praised by Rav Yaakov Emden in his commentary on the siddur (at the end of Aleinu). Among the Ashkenazim, the approach used was to establish rules of prioritization, whereby one person at a time recited kaddish.

These lists of prioritization are discussed and amplified by many later Ashkenazi authorities, thus implying that, in the Ashkenazi world, the early custom was that only one person recited kaddish at a time. We do not know exactly when the custom began to change, but by the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, several major Ashkenazi authorities, among them the Chayei Odom (30:7) and the Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #159; Yoreh Deah #345), discuss a practice whereby kaddish was recited by more than one person simultaneously. About this time, we find another custom in some communities, in which the mourner’s kaddish was said by only one person, but where everyone who chose could join in the recital of a kaddish derabbanan that was recited at the end of the daily morning prayer (see Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #1:122), presumably after the rav taught a shiur in halachah.

Merged community

With this background, we can understand the following mid-nineteenth century responsum. A community had two shullen and several shteiblach. The main shul was in serious disrepair, so they made an agreement to close all the smaller shullen in order to pool resources and invest in one large, beautiful new shul and have no other minyanim. Included in this decision was a new takkanah that all mourners would now recite all the kaddeishim in unison. Subsequently, some individuals claimed that the community should follow the practice of the Rema and the Magen Avraham of prioritizing the recital of kaddish and have one person say it at a time. The community leaders retorted that this would create machlokes, since there was only one shul and many people would like to say more kaddeishim than they can under the proposed system. Apparently, the dispute even involved some fisticuffs. The community sent the shaylah to Rav Ber Oppenheim, the rav and av beis din of Eibenschutz. He felt that the community practice of having all the mourners recite kaddish together should be maintained, but first wrote an extensive letter clarifying his position, which he sent to Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the premier halachic authority of central Europe at the time. I will refer to Rav Ettlinger by the name he is usually called in yeshiva circles, the Aruch Laneir, the name of his most famous work, the multi-volumed Aruch Laneir commentary on much of Shas. The Aruch Laneir’s reply was subsequently published in his work of responsa called Shu’t Binyan Tziyon.

The Aruch Laneir contended that one should not change the established minhag of Germany and Poland, in practice for more than three hundred years, in which only one person recites kaddish at a time. He further notes that although the Yaavetz had praised the practice that several people recite kaddish in unison, the Yaavetz himself had lived in Altoona, Germany, where the accepted practice was that only one person said kaddish at a time. (The Aruch Laneir notes that he himself was the current rav of Altoona and had been so already for several decades.)

Furthermore, the Aruch Laneir contends that one cannot compare Ashkenazic to Sefardic observance for a practical reason. The Sefardim are accustomed to praying in unison, and therefore, when they say kaddish, everyone exhibits great care to synchronize its recital. When Ashkenazim attempt to recite kaddish in unison, no one hears the kaddeishim. The Aruch Laneir notes that when the kaddish derabbanan is recited by all mourners, the result is a cacophony. He writes that he wishes he could abolish this custom, since, as a result, no one hears or responds appropriately to kaddish.

In conclusion, the Aruch Laneir is adamant that where the custom is that one person at a time recite kaddish, one may not change the practice. On the other hand, we have seen that other authorities cite a custom whereby all the mourners recite kaddish in unison.

Conclusion: How does kaddish work?

The Gemara (Yoma 86a) records that any sin that a person commits in this world, no matter how grievous, will be atoned if the person does teshuvah. This does not mean that the teshuvah accomplishes atonement without any suffering. Some sins are so serious that a person must undergo suffering in this world in addition to performing teshuvah, before he is forgiven.

The greatest sin a person can be guilty of is chillul Hashem. Only teshuvah, suffering, and the individual’s eventual demise will be sufficient to atone for this transgression. Thus, a person’s death may result from his having caused a chillul Hashem.

The Maharal of Prague had a brother, Rav Chayim, who authored a work entitled Sefer Hachayim, in which he writes that most people die because at some point in their life they made a chillul Hashem. The reason a mourner recites kaddish is to use the parent’s death as a reason to create kiddush Hashem – by reciting kaddish – thus, atoning for the original chillul Hashem (Sefer Hachayim, end of chapter 8). May we all merit to create kiddush Hashem in our lives.

The Nine Days

The Mishnah teaches that “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim b’simchah,” “When Av enters, we decrease our happiness,” (Taanis 26b). Although the Mishnah does not clarify exactly how we demonstrate our decreased happiness, the Gemara (Yevamos 43a) includes four activities that are banned: (1) one should decrease one’s business activities, (2) one should refrain from construction and planting intended for joyous reasons (Yerushalmi Taanis, cited by Tosafos to Yevamos 43a s.v. Milisa), (3) one should not conduct weddings and (4) one should not make a festive meal to celebrate an engagement. (This is the interpretation of the Gemara as explained by the Tur Orach Chayim 551 and by the Ramban in Toras Ha’adam; cf. Rashi ad loc., who explains the Gemara differently.)

WHAT IS INCLUDED IN CONSTRUCTION AND PLANTING FOR “JOYOUS REASONS”?

The Mishnah Berurah rules that any construction not necessary for one’s dwelling, but performed for expansion, is prohibited (551:12). Similarly, an improvement to the appearance of a house such as painting, hanging new drapes, wall papering and all house decorating cannot be done during the Nine Days (Piskei Teshuvos). Gardening to enhance the appearance of the property is also forbidden. However, it is permitted to weed, water or mow the lawn during the Nine Days, since these activities are not for enhancement. It is also permitted to plant and maintain a vegetable garden during the Nine Days.

MAY I EXPAND MY HOUSE DURING THE NINE DAYS TO CREATE AN ADDITIONAL APARTMENT?

While writing this article, I was asked the following shaylah: A family is expanding their residence to accommodate an additional apartment for a married daughter and her family. For the apartment to be ready on schedule, the contractor needs to work during the Nine Days. Is this permitted? It would seem that it is permitted to do this expansion during the Nine Days, since its purpose is to provide normal living accommodations, and not for enhancement.

MAY ONE ENHANCE A SHUL DURING THE NINE DAYS?

Renovations and enhancements for purposes of a mitzvah are permitted during the Nine Days. Therefore, it is permitted to beautify and enhance a shul, yeshivah, or mikvah building or grounds during the Nine Days (Rama 551:3). All repair work on existing structures is permitted during the Nine Days (Shulchan Aruch 551:1).

MAY ENHANCEMENT WORK BE PERFORMED BY A NON-JEW?

There is a halachic difference between a non-Jew working as a Jew’s employee, or as a contractor who is paid for the job. One may not hire a non-Jewish employee to do work that a Jew himself may not do. However, a non-Jewish contractor may build an addition on a Jew’s property during the Nine Days (see Bach; Eliyahu Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah). One should offer the contractor some financial compensation to refrain from working on your property during the Nine Days, but one is not required to offer a significant amount of money to get him to wait until after Tisha B’Av (Mishnah Berurah).

WEAVING DURING THE NINE DAYS

The Talmud Yerushalmi cites an early custom not to weave during the Nine Days. The reason for this custom is fascinating. The Hebrew word for “warp” (the lengthwise threads on a loom) is “shesi.” This word reminds us of the “shesiyah” stone, which is the foundation stone of the world on which the aron rested in the Beis HaMikdash. In order to remind ourselves that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, we refrain from weaving during the Nine Days (cited by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch 551:8).

WHAT PROHIBITIONS APPLY TO CLOTHING DURING THE NINE DAYS?

One may not wear new clothes during the Nine Days, nor may one tailor or purchase new clothes or shoes (Shulchan Aruch 551:6-7). Similarly, it is prohibited to dry clean clothes or iron them (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). We also refrain from changing tablecloths, towels, and bed linens (Shulchan Aruch 551:3). However, it is permitted to repair shoes and clothes during the Nine Days (Piskei Teshuvos 551:ftn. 157). Although the Mishnah and the Gemara (Taanis 26b and 29b) prohibit doing laundry and wearing freshly laundered clothing only from the Motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av, the Ashkenazic custom is to refrain from Rosh Chodesh (Rama 551:3). Because we do not wear freshly laundered clothes during the Nine Days, one should prepare before Rosh Chodesh sufficient clothing already worn since it was last laundered. Towels should also be used at least once before Rosh Chodesh in order to allow their use during the Nine Days. If one’s clothing becomes sweaty or soiled during the Nine Days, one is permitted to change into clean clothes (see Aruch HaShulchan 389:7). It is permitted to launder children’s clothes and linens until the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av (Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Odom). There is a dispute among poskim until what age this applies. The Rama is lenient and implies that one may launder all children’s clothing, whereas several later poskim are stricter (see Piskei Teshuvos ftn. 232, and Chanoch Lanaar, 21:2). It is permitted to spot-clean a garment if one is concerned that the stain will set. Furthermore, it is permitted to soak a garment that is dirty without completing its laundering in order to make it easier to clean after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 511:18).

WHAT DO I DO IF I AM IN A HOTEL DURING THE NINE DAYS?

If I am forbidden to use freshly laundered bed linens during the Nine Days, what do I do if I am staying in a hotel or as a guest in someone’s home during the Nine Days? May I use the freshly laundered sheets? The poskim permit guests to use fresh bed linens, since most people are very uncomfortable using unlaundered bed linens slept on by someone else (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 10:44; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 13:61). The Minchas Yitzchak suggests dirtying the linens on the floor a little before using them. Depending on circumstances, one might also be able to bring one’s own used linens. In any instance, one should instruct the hotel not to change the linens once he has used them (until after Tisha B’Av) since the basis to be lenient no longer applies.

PLEASURE BATHING DURING THE NINE DAYS

The Gemara does not mention any prohibition regarding bathing during the Nine Days. To quote the Ran, “Washing one’s body is permitted whether in hot water or cold – and even the entire body – for Chazal only prohibited washing on Tisha B’Av itself. However, meticulous people have the custom not to bathe the entire week.” On the other hand, the Tur, quoting Avi Ezri, writes that the widespread custom is to forbid bathing from Rosh Chodesh until after Tisha B’Av. Furthermore, he states that one who violates this custom is in violation of “al titosh toras imecha,” – do not forsake the teaching of your mother, here referring to the customs of the Jewish people. The Shulchan Aruch records two customs; one to refrain from bathing from Rosh Chodesh and the second to refrain only during the week of Tisha B’Av. The accepted Ashkenazic custom is to not bathe for pleasure during the entire Nine Days, but bathing for hygienic and health purposes is permitted. A rav should be consulted as to when and how this applies.

WHY IS OUR PRACTICE TO BE MORE STRINGENT THAN THEY WERE AT THE TIME OF THE GEMARA?

In the times of chazal, the memories of the Beis HaMikdash were still very fresh and a shorter period of mourning was a sufficient reminder. Unfortunately, with the golus continuing for so long, we require a longer period of mourning to bring us into the frame of mind of mourning for the loss of the Beis HaMikdash.

WEARING SHABBOS CLOTHES

One may not wear Shabbos clothes or other unusually nice clothing during the weekdays of the Nine Days. (In most places, the custom is to wear Shabbos clothes on Shabbos Chazon.) A notable exception is that the celebrants of a bris are permitted to wear Shabbos clothes, since for them the mitzvah is a bit of a Yom Tov. In some places, the accepted custom is that they do not do so when the bris falls between Shabbos Chazon and Tisha B’Av.

WHO IS CONSIDERED A CELEBRANT REGARDING THESE HALACHOS?

According to all opinions, the baby’s parents, the sandek, the mohel, and the woman who brings the baby to the bris (the kvaterin) may wear Shabbos clothes (Rama 551:1). Other opinions extend this heter to include the grandparents and other relatives (Shaarei Teshuvah end of 551:3; see also Piskei Teshuvos), as well as the people who are honored with placing the baby on the kisei shel Eliyahu, those who bring the baby closer to the bris (“cheika”), and the man who functions as the kvatter (Eliyah Rabbah). One should ask one’s rav for directions as to what to do. (Incidentally, this discussion is a source on which the ruling that family members attending a bris the rest of the year should wear Shabbos clothes is based!)

EATING MEAT AND DRINKING WINE

Although the Gemara prohibits eating meat and drinking wine only on the day before Tisha B’Av, the accepted Ashkenazic practice is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine or grape juice from Rosh Chodesh. (Many Sefardim permit eating meat on Rosh Chodesh itself, while others permit this until the Motzei Shabbos before Tisha B’Av.) Early poskim rule that someone who ignores this minhag violates the prohibition of “al titosh toras imecha,” (Mordechai Taanis #639). In addition, some poskim rule that a person who eats meat or drinks wine during the Nine Days violates a Torah law, since the Jewish people have accepted this custom as a vow (Aruch HaShulchan 551:23). IF A MOURNER IS PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT, WHY IS ONE NOT PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT DURING THE NINE DAYS?

This is a very good question. Indeed, the halachos of mourning do not prohibit a mourner from eating meat or drinking wine. The reason one refrains from eating meat and drinking wine during the Nine Days is to remind one of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, where Hashem was served by offering korbanos of meat and wine. This reason does not apply to mourning for the loss of a close relative. An alternative reason given is that the mourning of the Nine Days is so one does not forget the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, and by forgoing meat and wine, we are more likely to remember this loss (Tur Orach Chayim 552). A mourner will not forget his loss during the week of shivah, and therefore there is no need to forbid meat as a reminder. It is permitted to eat meat at a seudas mitzvah such as on Shabbos or at a bris, pidyon haben, or siyum. People who would usually attend the seudah may join and eat meat. During the week of Tisha B’Av, only a small number of people may eat fleishig at a seudas mitzvah. For example, eating fleishig is restricted to close family members, the sandek and mohel, and an additional minyan of people. A sick person is permitted to eat meat during the Nine Days. Similarly, someone who has a digestive disorder but can tolerate poultry may eat poultry during the Nine Days. Also, a woman who is nursing or pregnant and is having difficulty obtaining enough protein in her diet may eat poultry or meat during the Nine Days. In these situations, it is preferable for her to eat poultry rather than meat, if that will satisfy her protein needs (Aruch HaShulchan 551:26). A person who eats meat because he is ill or attending a seudas mitzvah will not violate either the vow discussed above or “al titosh” because klal Yisroel accepted the minhag of not eating meat with these exceptions in mind (Aruch HaShulchan 551:26).

AT WHAT TYPE OF SIYUM IS IT PERMITTED TO EAT MEAT?

One may serve meat at a siyum where the completion of the learning coincides with the Nine Days and where one would usually serve a festive fleishig meal. One should not deliberately rush or slow down the learning in order to have a fleishig siyum during the Nine Days (Eliyah Rabbah 551:26; Mishnah Berurah 551:73; Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). However, it is permitted to deliberately schedule a seder of learning in advance so that its siyum falls during the Nine Days if this will encourage more Torah to be learned (Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). Some poskim record that they deliberately delayed siyumim that fell during the Nine Days and celebrated them after Tisha B’Av (Aruch HaShulchan 551:28). One may not eat fleishig leftovers of a seudas mitzvah during the Nine Days (Eliyah Rabbah 551:26; Mishnah Berurah 551:73). Incidentally, one sees from these sources that a bris should be celebrated with a fleishig meal, because if not, why are allowances made to eat meat at a seudas bris during the Nine Days? This proves that the seudas bris is not complete without serving fleishigs.

IS ONE PERMITTED TO USE WINE VINEGAR IN A RECIPE DURING THE NINE DAYS?

Yes, it is permitted to use wine vinegar since it tastes totally different from wine (Rama 551:9). It is also permitted to drink beer, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages during the Nine Days (see Rama 551:11).

MAY ONE TASTE THE FOOD ON EREV SHABBOS CHAZON?

In general, it is a mitzvah of kavod Shabbos to taste the food being cooked for Shabbos to make sure that it tastes good (Magen Avraham 250:1, quoting Kisvei Ari). On Erev Shabbos during the Nine Days, one may also taste the food. However, one should try not to swallow food containing meat ingredients (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah 42:61). No bracha is recited when tasting a small amount of food, unless one swallows it (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 210:2).

IS IT PERMITTED TO FEED CHILDREN MEAT ON EREV SHABBOS?

In general, it is not permitted to feed children meat during the Nine Days, including erev Shabbos. Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that if the children are fed their Shabbos evening meal before the rest of the family has accepted Shabbos, one may feed them meat at this meal because this is their Shabbos meal (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:21:4).

HOW DOES ONE MAKE HAVDALAH DURING THE NINE DAYS?

One recites Havdalah on wine or grape juice. If a young child present is old enough to make brachos but not old enough to understand that we do not eat meat during the Nine Days, that child should drink the Havdalah cup. If there is no such child available, the person reciting Havdalah should drink the wine or grape juice himself.

MAY ONE HAVE A FLEISHIG MELAVA MALKA DURING THE NINE DAYS?

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one may not, since it is not a universal practice to have a fleishig melava malka (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:21:4).

WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMEONE RECITES A BRACHA ON MEAT AND THEN REALIZES THAT IT IS FORBIDDEN TO EAT THE MEAT?

A person who recites a bracha on meat and then realizes that it is the Nine Days, should eat a little of the meat so that his bracha is not in vain, a bracha levatalah. Eating a tiny bit does not provide any simcha and therefore does not conflict with mourning (Sdei Chemed 5:278:5 and 5:368:4). Furthermore, the person is eating the meat only in order to avoid reciting a bracha in vain.

MAY ONE EAT FLEISHIG SOUP DURING THE NINE DAYS? Although it is a dispute among poskim whether this is prohibited, Ashkenazim are strict not to eat soup made with meat or chicken. However, it is permitted to eat food cooked in a fleishig pot that contains only pareve ingredients (Mishnah Berurah 511:63).

LITIGATION DURING THE MONTH OF AV

The Gemara (Taanis 29b) teaches that a Jew who has litigation with a non-Jew should avoid scheduling the adjudication during Av, since this is a month in which the mazel for Jews is bad. Should one avoid litigation for the entire month, or only until after Tisha B’Av? Some poskim assume that one should avoid litigation the entire month of Av because the entire month has the same mazel (Magen Avraham). Other poskim rule, however, that the bad mazel is only until the 10th of Av, when the mourning period for Tisha B’Av ends, or until the 15th, which is considered a Yom Tov. The Chasam Sofer (commentary to Shulchan Aruch) explains that Av has two different mazelos, one before Tisha B’Av and another one afterwards. While the earlier mazel is bad for the Jews, after Tisha B’Av a new mazel begins that is good for the Jews. Thus according to these opinions, there is no problem with scheduling the litigation for shortly after Tisha B’Av.

THE REWARD FOR OBSERVING THE NINE DAYS

The Midrash (Midrash Rabbah, Shmos 15:21) teaches that Hashem will bring forth ten new creations in the era of Moshiach: 1. He will create a new light for the world. 2. He will bring forth a freshwater spring from Yerushalayim whose waters will heal all illness. 3. He will create trees that every month will produce new fruits that have curative powers. 4. All the cities of Eretz Yisroel will be rebuilt, including even Sodom and Amora. 5. Hashem will rebuild Yerushalayim with sapphire stone that will glow and thereby attract all the nations of the world to come and marvel at the beauty of the city. 6. The cow and the bear will graze together, and their young will play together. (See Yeshaya 11:7). 7. Hashem will make a covenant with all the creatures of the world and banish all weapons and warfare. (See Hoshea 2:20.) 8. There will be no more crying in the city of Yerushalayim. 9. Death will perish forever. 10. Everyone will be joyful, and there will be an end to all sighing or worry. The Kaf HaChayim (551:1) states that everyone who meticulously observes the halachos of the first ten days of Av, thereby demonstrating his personal mourning over the churban of Yerushalayim, will merit to witness these ten miracles. May we all merit to see these miracles speedily and in our days.