It has been over six months since the petira of my mother, Greta Schlossberg, Gelah bas Ze’ev, a”h. I experienced a year of aveilus (mourning) when my father passed away 15 years earlier, and now I am in the year of aveilus for my mom.
The purpose of this article is to discuss general issues on the practice of aveilus and describe my experience. However, I would like to stress, before I begin, the importance of always discussing any questions and issues with one’s own rav to receive proper guidance on halacha and minhag. In Pirkei Avos it is said, “Asei lecha rav – Establish a rav for yourself.” A strong relationship and rapport with one’s rabbi is always important, but it is during aveilus, especially, that one needs clarity on how to observe it properly.
A Hug for the Neshama
Shiva is the beginning of healing from grief, and being surrounded by family and friends is very important and very comforting. In my case, my parents had lived in Baltimore for over 70 years, and many hundreds attended the levayas (funerals) and subsequent shivas. Shiva allowed many to reminisce with us about the beautiful lives of our parents, relating fond memories and wonderful stories of both my father and mother.
My focus in this year of aveilus is to always be in shul on time to recite Kaddish during Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv. Kaddish is not a sad tefila. Rather, it is a tefila sanctifying the name of Hashem. Its purpose is to raise the neshama (soul) and for the aveil to to memorialize the niftar by causing others to sanctify the name of Hashem when they say amen yehay shmay…. My parents were indeed the ones who taught me the importance of ensuring that others have the opportunity to perform mitzvos.
All my activities revolve around the zmanim of tefila betzibur (prayer times). Of course, davening with a minyan should be one’s goal at all times, not just during aveilus. So far, I missed one Mincha betzibur because I was traveling, but knowing in advance that I would be in the air, I arranged for someone to say Kaddish in my place. I have also heard that Rav Pam once said, “Kaddish is like a hug for the neshama of the niftar, and if one misses saying Kaddish, he should learn mishnayos in its place, because learning a mishna is like a kiss to the neshama.”
When a parent passes away, the 12 months of aveilus pertains to all the children, and the sons say Kaddish for 11 months after the petira. The loss of a spouse, brother, or sister starts a 30-day period of aveilus, which also applies when a parent, chas veshalom, loses a child.
Shiva, the first seven days, is the initial stage of aveilus, when the family observes stringent restrictions and expresses great appreciation for those who come to comfort them. The next period is the shloshim, the first 30 days following the death, when some restrictions are eased, followed by the rest of the 12 months. These periods are sometimes revoked. For example, if the person passed away right before a Yom Tov, the Yom Tov cancels the shiva but not the shloshim. If someone is already in shloshim, Yom Tov cancels the shloshim. So, if a person passes away a few days before Rosh Hashanah, Yom Tov cancels the shiva, and Yom Kippur cancels the shloshim. Chanukah and Purim do not cancel either shiva or shloshim. What happens if a person is niftar on Chol Hamoed? The shiva begins after the entire Yom Tov ends, but since the last day of a Yom Tov in Chutz La’aretz is a derabbanan (sefeika deyoma) that day counts as a day of shiva. These are all complicated halachic questions, and a rav must always be consulted.
With aveilus come many halachic rules and even more minhagim (customs). Some rules are universally observed. For example, during shiva, bathing is prohibited. Men do not shave for the entire shloshim, and neither women nor men take haircuts. For a parent, this is often extended even past shloshim as some men wait as much as up to three months and others wait until they look unpresentable. Not buying new clothing during aveilus is customary as well. If one must buy clothing, some give the garment to someone else to wear, so when the aveil gets it, it is no longer considered new. On Tisha b’Av, an aveil during shiva may be permitted to daven in shul, because we are all aveilim on that day. Again, there are many different minhagim, and a rav must be consulted.
During aveilus, many questions arise. What happens if a man is required by his employer to shave during shloshim? What happens if a person has to engage in business affairs, even during shiva, to prevent losses? Can he do it at all? Can he do it privately?
A universal aveilus observance is to refrain from listening to music, especially in public. In addition, we do not attend a simcha during aveilus or even on a yahrzeit. If a simcha involves next of kin, like a son or daughter, a rav must be consulted. Particularly thorny is the question of whether a parent in aveilus can attend a chasana that occurs during the shiva? Can the mother wear makeup? Can she dance? What about the aufruf or the Shabbos kallah and the sheva brachot? All these are questions for the rav.
I once heard of a Baltimore woman many years ago who was in aveilus and was sitting outside the social hall where the wedding of her daughter was taking place. Rabbi Aron Kotler, zt”l, and Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, zt”l, two of the greatest Torah giants of our generation were at that wedding. A shaila was asked if the woman, mother of the bride, could come into the hall. The shaila was asked to Rav Forschlager, the great gaon of Baltimore, who said it was allowed.
Can one who frequents the cinema watch a Holocaust film? Can a musician practice a musical instrument? Can an individual who plays an instrument practice in private? I believe if the musician makes a parnassa from his or her music, it would probably be allowed to play in a band during aveilus to keep up the parnassa. Can one attend a sports event at Camden Yard where music will be played? On this it can perhaps be said that music is not the reason one is attending the game, so it may(!) be permissible. All these issues should be explored with one’s rav, and he will help decide what is proper.
My Aveilus Decisions
Here are some of the issues I have encountered and how I solved them. I stress once again that minhagim differ, and each aveil must consult with his or her rav.
During shloshim, there are different minhagim regarding how many people at a table you can have dinner with, even on Shabbos. Some people will not accept any invitation, even for Shabbos. After discussion with rabbanim, I decided that after shloshim we would attend meals with a maximum of two couples plus the hosts. When invited, I ask how many guests will attend. I try to keep this but there have been times when I made exceptions.
Can one attend a kiddush on Shabbos? I got this answer: In one’s own shul, where they daven regularly, it is okay to attend a kiddush. Not attending your in-shul kiddush might signal one’s aveilus which should not be done in public on Shabbos. However, going to another shul for a kiddush is probably not correct. I follow that practice.
As I am a musician, I have practiced once in a while after my shloshim so as not to forget my musical skills. But I do it in private and not for enjoyment.
Can one attend a siyum, seudas mitzvah, bris or other such function? At the end of shloshim, many people make a siyum. Does that mean a siyum is okay for one to attend? Once again one’s rav can work out possible solutions and recommendations for the aveil.
Davening at the Amud
It is customary for aveilim to daven at the amud on weekdays, but not on Rosh Chodesh, as a rule. Ashkenazi aveilim usually will not daven on Shabbos, Yom Tov, or Rosh Chodosh, but Sefardim do daven Shacharis but not Musaf on some of those days. Usually, the shul minhag dictates when aveilim can daven. If an aveil davens on Rosh Chodesh, as a particular shul may allow, they leave the amud for Hallel. People observing a yahrzeit may daven at the amud. If one has a need for parnassa and serves as a chazan for the Yamim Nora’im, it is likely he would be permitted to daven for the amud. A full-time chazan may have no davening restrictions during aveilus, as it is his sole parnassa. Most of these are questions not so much of halacha (law) but of minhag (custom), so consulting one’s da’as Torah is essential to knowing what one should do.
In davening for the amud, a yahrzeit usually takes precedence, followed by a person in shloshim. After shloshim, aveilim share the amud, and for Shacharis you can divide the tefila so that as many as three aveilim can daven for the amud by splitting up the davening. Every shul has its own minhagim, so the shul’s policy should dictate all davening procedures. Some people are overly aggressive when it comes to kibbudim (honors) like a Maftir or sharing the amud. What a terrible thing it is when machlokes (a quarrel) arises about these matters. What kavod would that be for the neshama of the departed? What is important is that Kaddish be recited and that there is always shalom (peace) in our shuls. To avoid such machlokes, one should speak with the gabbaim in advance to plan if a separate minyan can be arranged especially for yahrzeits. If Maftir is unavailable, maybe a bar mitzvah or other aliyah can be arranged. Remember the greatest aliyah for the neshama is shalom!
Finding a Minyan
Aveilus is a difficult period, with your day totally focused on the next minyan and davening betzibur. Here in Baltimore we are blessed with many minyanim, and one can check all shul minyanim by the hour at www.baltimorejewishlife.com. Traveling can be stressful, especially finding a minyan out of town. The websites www.godaven.com and www.minyanmaps.com allow you to find the closest available minyan. It’s a good idea to call ahead to confirm that there will indeed be a minyan.
Jewish bookstores have excellent sefarim in English on observing aveilus. Even with those sources, you will find many occasions when it is crucial to consult with your rav for individualized guidance and decisions.
For all those suffering a loss, may their aveilus lessen their grief, and may it be a kavod to the niftar and an aliyah for the neshama. And may we all live to see the geulah sheleima (complete redemption) and techias hameisim, bimeheira beyameinu (revival of the dead, quickly in our day)!
Eli Schlossberg is the author of an upcoming book, My Shtetl Baltimore, published by Targum Press