Shabbat Parashat Yitro| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: What is the final halacha regarding whether an aveil (mourner) can/should change his seat in shul on Shabbat? According to the opinion that he does change, why doesn’t that violate the principle that one does not do aveilut b’farhesia (mourning in public) on Shabbat? Also, is the halacha the same for women?
Answer: The laws of aveilut are the classic example of an area where minhag overpowers classical sources, and we do not intend to change that tendency. If there is a clear minhag where one lives/davens, he should follow it. We will explain the validity of each side of the issue. We do not have access to a reliable survey of practices, but it seems that in America, most aveilim change their place in shul even on Shabbat, whereas in Israel not as many do so. This response focuses primarily on Ashkenazic communities, as your particulars seem to indicate that you belong to one.
The idea of changing places is based on the following gemara. “A mourner, the first week, he does not leave his house; the second, he leaves but does not sit in his place; the third, he sits in his place but does not talk; the fourth, he is like everyone else” (Moed Katan 23a). Thus, our halacha should not even extend for 30 days, yet the Rama (Yoreh Deah 393:2) says that there is a minhag,which is to be followed despite its lack of basis, that mourners change places for their entire period of aveilut. Although the classical sources do not write explicitly where one changes his place, the main place that it is done is in shul (not at home) at least regarding 12 months (P’nei Baruch 22:1; see Chuchmat Adam 167:2).
Indeed there is a rule that one does not display mourning publicly on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, YD 385:3). Yet there are classical references to mourning-related activities on Shabbat. The Nimukei Yosef (on Bava Batra 100b) learns from one such source that a mourner changes his place even on Shabbat. However, the Beit Yosef (YD 393) argues because of the issue of public mourning, and in the Shulchan Aruch (393:3), he speaks against the practice. However, the Rama upholds the minhag to change seats even on Shabbat. The Arizal did not change seats on Shabbat, but the Birkei Yosef (ad loc.) suggests that only one who is so respected that his divergence from the minhag would not be seen as haughty should follow the Ari. The standard minhag in America seems to be like the Rama, which is strengthened by Rav Moshe Feinstein’s support (Igrot Moshe, YD I, 257). Practice in Israel may be affected by the Gesher Hachayim’s (I, 22:3) ambivalence on the topic.
Investigating answers to the question of b’farhesia may provide room for distinctions. The Ramban (see Beit Yosef, ibid.) explains the practice in the Beit Hamikdash that mourners entered on Shabbat through a special gateway with their heads covered like mourners as follows. Since they wore shoes, unlike a mourner, it was not considered acting as a mourner. The Shach (393:7) has a thesis that only practices that are reserved for shiva create problems of public mourning on Shabbat, and changing places extends beyond shiva. Neither of these opinions is mainstream (see Pitchei Teshuva 395:7). A more likely possibility is that a person’s specific seat need not be a classic sign of aveilut, as different factors affect where one sits (Shut Radvaz II, 662; Shach, ibid.). If this is the logic, then one with a prominent, permanent place, especially the rav of a shul, would be more clearly demonstrating aveilut and has more reason to keep his seat on Shabbat (Pnei Baruch, 22:(12)). Along similar lines, others (Taz, OC 526; R. Akiva Eiger, YD 393) say that one sits in a different place on Shabbat only if he began sitting there before Shabbat. Thus, it is possible that a woman (or a man in that situation) who frequents a given shul onlyon Shabbat morning and did not established a new place before Shabbat should not change their seat on Shabbat (based on Panim Me’irot II, 124). Again, all should follow the local minhag if one exists.
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