Do the Laws of Mourning Apply on Purim?

BY RABBI YOSEF ZVI RIMON

The Mishnah lists special days that [prematurely] end a mourner’s shiva: “Shabbat counts as part of the seven days and does not end the shiva, while festivals end the shiva… Rabbi Gamliel says: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are like the festivals, but the sages say: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are like Shabbat” (Moed Katan 19a). This means that if a person buried his relative before one of the festivals, the festival interrupts the shiva and cancels it, while Shabbat does not interrupt the days of shiva, but is counted as one of the days. Regarding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the tana’im differed as to whether they are treated like a festival (and interrupt the shiva) or as Shabbat (and do not interrupt the shiva).

Does Purim interrupt shiva?

The Mishnah does not mention Purim as a day that interrupts shiva, and the rishonim argued about its status. According to Sefer HaMiktzo’ot (Rosh, Moed Katan 3:85), the reason the festivals interrupt shiva is that there is an obligation to rejoice in them, and so Purim, on which there is also an obligation to rejoice, also ends shiva.

On the other hand, Rabbeinu Gershom (Mordechai, Moed Katan 909), Maimonides (Laws of Mourning 11:3) and others believe that Purim does not end shiva, but rather counts as part of the seven days. Their proof is from the Mishnah, which did not count Purim among the festivals that end shiva. Practically, the Shulchan Aruch rules according to the opinion of the majority of the rishonim, that Purim does not end shiva (Yoreh Deah 401:7).

How is mourning on Purim practiced?

Among the poskim who rule Purim does not interrupt shiva, there is a dispute as to whether and how mourning is practiced on Purim. According to Maimonides, Purim is considered like a regular day of shiva in regards to mourning practices: “The dead are not eulogized on Chanukah and Purim, nor on Rosh Chodesh, but all the regular laws of mourning apply on these days.”

On the other hand, according to the Maharam of Rothenburg, since Purim is a joyous day, mourning practices are not observed on Purim, even though Purim does not end shiva. Purim is like Shabbat, on which mourning is practiced in private but not in public, and so on Purim, mourning is practiced privately. “A Jew once died three days before Purim, and I told [his relative] that he should not mourn [on Purim] in any way, for he must observe ‘mishteh v’simcha,’ and on Chanukah and Purim it is forbidden to eulogize and fast… but mourning practices done in private should still be practiced, for Purim is not better than Shabbat.”

The basis of the debate concerns the nature of the obligation to rejoice on Purim. In his interpretation of the view of the Maharam, the Ritva explains that Purim is characterized as a day of joy, explicitly comparing it to the biblical mitzvah of joy on the festivals. Therefore, there is a contradiction between the joy of Purim and mourning, which is the opposite of joy. The result is that the mitzvah of joy prevails over the mitzvah of mourning, because the mitzvah of joy on Purim is a national mitzvah (Megillah 5b).

On the other hand, in his interpretation of Maimonides’ view, the Ritva explains that even though it is a mitzvah to have joy and make a feast on Purim, these mitzvot do not override even the rabbinic rules of mourning. According to Maimonides, mourning practices do not interfere with the mitzvot of Purim, for a mourner can still read the megillah, give matanot l’evyonim and mishloach manot and make a seudah. In other words, though Purim possesses mitzvot that are joyous, Purim is not, in essence, a day of joy, and there is no fundamental contradiction between the mitzvot of Purim and the mitzvot of mourning, which can be observed side by side (Moed Katan 28b).

The practical halacha

There is a contradiction in the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling on this matter. In the laws of mourning (Yoreh Deah 401:7), he rules according to the Maharam, that one only observes mourning practices on Purim in private, because as a general rule, we follow the lenient view in matters of mourning. However, in the laws of Purim, he rules like Maimonides, that “all mourning practices are observed on Chanukah and Purim” (Orach Chaim 696:4–5). In practice, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim rule like the Maharam, that mourning is only observed in private on Purim. Therefore, on Purim, mourners observing shiva wear normal shoes, untorn shirts, and are permitted to greet others, as he can on Shabbat. However, marital relations and bathing in hot water remain forbidden, for these are private matters.

 

Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is the Nasi of World Mizrachi. He is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek, and serves as the Chief Rabbi of Gush Etzion, and Rosh Yeshivah of the Jerusalem College of Technology.

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