QUESTION: I’ve been invited to engagement celebrations, weddings, and bar mitzvahs this year as well as over the past few years during the period of sefira that I observe. What is one to do in such a situation? I’ve been told that you have addressed this matter in the past.
Name Withheld By Request
ANSWER: We began our discussion with the clear answer that during sefirat ha’omer one may attend simcha events during the periods when one observes mourning, even in the event so doing is inconsistent with one’s personal minhag. We made note that generally many hosts are considerate and as far as bar mitzvahs and engagements, usually forego the music.
The source for observing mourning customs during the sefira period is the Gemara (Yevamot 62b), which explains that 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students died between Pesach and Shavuot. The geonim based their restrictions on showing excessive joy – such as getting married, cutting hair and listening to music – on that Gemara. These mourning customs do notpreclude engagements and betrothals, which are permitted during that time.
Last week we explained that the mourning customs are observed only during 33 of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot since the deaths occurred for 33 days, until Peros Ha’atzeret, calculated as 16 days before Shavuot (see Tashbatz Vol. 1, Responsum 178). Lag B’Omer, lit. the thirty-third day of the Omer, marks the end of the deaths and the mourning customs for many people. According to some, the 33 days of mourning customs are observed from rosh chodesh Iyar until Shavuot.
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This issue is addressed in the encyclopedic Bein Pesach LeShavuot by Rabbi Zvi Cohen (8:8). There we find a discussion based on Tur Bareket (siman 493) regarding the custom of forbidding the cutting of hair, which was instituted earlier than the custom of forbidding marriages (in this period of time), the latter coming “on the heels of” the former. The fact that we are accustomed not to marry betweenPesach and Shavuot until Lag B’Omer is a relatively new custom. It was instituted because there was no haircutting on those days. It was thought that the reason was the mourning for the deaths of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva. However, “according to those with understanding of kabbalah, whose every action depends on sound motives, the main reason is that we do not cut our hair on those days because of a specific hidden reason, not because of mourning.”
Rabbi Cohen notes that Tur Bareket is cited by Birkei Yosef (493:10) and points out that there are obviously others who dispute this view.
We find another view in Responsa Chatam Sofer (Orach Chayyim, Responsum 142). The Chatam Sofer cites the gaon Rav Meshulam, who states: “Here the custom has evolved to marry on rosh chodesh Iyar [obviously both days], on Lag B’Omer, and on the three days of hagbala [the three days preceding Shavuot]. And this should not be done because it appears as tartei de’satrei, two contradicting positions.Therefore, as a set rule we will prohibit weddings on the three days of hagbala.”
The Chatam Sofer notes that the only problem Rav Meshulam had was not to create tartei de’satrei, and that applies only to the mesadder kiddushin, the officiating rabbi who performs weddings on all these days. The individual is not wed on all these days – he gets married only once.
He also notes that the stringency of hair cutting seems to be more severe than that of marriages. Nevertheless, any difficulties in behaving one way or the other stem from the fact that in the same city we do not subscribe to customs that are diametrically opposed one to the other.
The gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Volume I, Orach Chayyim159) states clearly, as he does in other responsa, that here – in “New York” and in “Brooklyn” – where people have come from places with different customs, each may do according to his custom, as these places would be considered as one city with two batei din. In such a case there is no violation of “lo titgodedu.” (We can understand this to mean any city that does not have a single age old established bet din and the resulting enactment of minhagim.)
We find (Iggrot Moshe, Volume II, Orach Chayyim 94) that Rabbi Feinstein was asked the following question: “What should a person do whose custom is not to have his hair cut from rosh chodesh Iyar until the [three] days of hagbala and he has to go to a wedding on rosh chodesh Sivan?”
Rabbi Feinstein sets forth that if one knows of this situation at the onset of sefira, he could change his observance of the minhag, for whether he follows one minhagor the other, there would be 33 days on which he does not cut his hair. He notes as well that both minhagim are really one – the observance of 33 days of aveilut, there just being a difference in the time period that those days are being observed. From his words we must assume that there is no requirement of hatarat neder in this regard.
However, if one had no knowledge of the impending wedding, what should he do? From Rabbi Feinstein’s discussion we see that the main issue during sefira istisporet (haircuts), not weddings. He states that if one is able to attend a wedding without having his hair cut, he should refrain from cutting his hair. If refraining from cutting his hair will cause him embarrassment, he would be permitted to cut his hair even if he does not have a close relationship with the hosts, as there is a mitzvah ofsimchat chatan ve’kallah at every wedding.
This is unlike a circumcision, where we only allow the father of the child, themohel, and the sandak to have their hair cut. For a wedding, all are duty-bound to celebrate, which includes attending the wedding and personally making the new couple happy.
As for dancing and music, they too are not prohibited as they are part and parcel of the wedding celebration. If one makes the wedding on Lag B’Omer or erev rosh chodesh Iyar, dancing and musical instruments are also permitted, as it is during the seven days of sheva berachot that follow.
Rabbi Feinstein then concludes that everyone is permitted to be present and partake in the joy.
Thus, to answer your question, there would be no doubt that partaking in asimcha in the time period that others do not observe sefira is permitted. Whether you have your hair cut or not would depend on Rabbi Feinstein’s guidelines. However allowing for haircuts would probably only apply to a wedding and not any other type of celebration.
As relates to weddings it is important to understand that when the event is scheduled is dependent upon the bride securing a date compatible to her personal monthly cycle as well as hall availability, and that leaves a very narrow time period during any given month. Therefore, we must be very considerate of the couple’s needs.
In conclusion, we wish you well as you join in these many semachot, and perhaps we will all soon participate in an even greater joy – dancing in the streets of Jerusalem as we celebrate the arrival of melech haMashiach speedily in our days.
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Which Shoe First?
Dear Rabbi Klass: In you Q&A column of 5-6-11, “Which Shoe First?,” you cite the verse (II Chronicles 4:4), “It stood upon twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east [the sea was on top of them ],” and state that all turns one makes are to be to the right. It appears to me that this is valid if I begin with my back turned to the north. Would it be more likely to make turns with my front facing in each direction so that the turns would then be to the left, especially since the oxen were facing each direction?
Would you please clarify this?
Ernest G. Blum
Dear Friend: You are very keen. It was my error. In explaining Rashi, I should have clarified that should a person wish to go around the pool, and he is at the north, he would first go to the west, then to the south and then to the east (he could ostensibly continue back to the north and on infinitum) and then he has circled the pool. Therefore, from this verse, we see that all turns one makes are to be to the right.
I realize that the way I explained it left room for one to assume that the individual is standing in the center in the pool. Were that the case you would be right. Thank you for affording me the opportunity to clarify this matter for our readership.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass can be contacted at email@example.com.
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