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Shabbat Parashat Shelach 5775

Ask the Rabbi: Conflict Between Salvation Day and Yahrtzeit

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: For many years, I have been celebrating a day on which I had a significant salvation. It now turns out it that it is my father’s yahrtzeit. Can the two commemorations go hand-in-hand? If not, which has precedence?

Follow-up Question: What have you been doing until now, and what has changed?

Clarification: Since my father died seven years ago, I have been lighting a candle, learning mishnayot, and saying Kaddish, along with thinking about him a lot, on the yahrtzeit. Recently I realized that I miscalculated the Jewish date of the salvation; the true date falls on the yahrtzeit.

Answer: On the yahrtzeit that completes the twelve months of aveilut for a parent, the full laws of the year’s aveilut apply (Rama, Yoreh Deah 395:3). In subsequent years, the laws of aveilut do not apply.

There is an old, recommended but not binding, minhag to fast on the day portion of a parent’s yahrtzeit (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 568:7, Rama, YD 376:4). The Rama (YD 391:3) says that that one should not take part in festive meals from the night that begins the Jewish day. The Levush (YD 402:12) argues based on how he views the fast’s logic. The yahrtzeit is a day of bad omens for the offspring, and the teshuva that accompanies the fast helps protect him. The Levush says that since it has nothing to do with aveilut, there are no restrictions on attending festivities the night before. The Shach (391:8) and others say that the minhag is like the Rama. These days, it is very common to not fast on a yahrtzeit. However, there is a stronger minhag to avoid or at least lessen one’s participation in weddings. The Taz (YD 395:3) posits that aveilut- type behavior is indeed part of the yahrtzeit experience. 

There are several grounds for leniency, besides the aforementioned Levush. Many (including Chochmat Adam 171:11) quote the Magen Avraham as saying that the aforementioned restrictions apply only on a yahrtzeit that ends the twelve months of aveilut. Additionally, the Pitchei Teshuva (YD 391:8) says that participation is forbidden only in a wedding, where the intensity of simcha activity exceeds that at other celebrations. Several poskim say that an avel is permitted to take part in a seudat mitzva such as a siyum (see Shach, YD 246:27). While the Shach (ibid.) cites the Maharil as not allowing a person to eat at a siyum on the yartzeit, that is when his minhag is to fast, and even then, the Maharam Shick (YD 369) rules that one who accepted the practice to fast can still eat at his own siyum.

What is the status of your self-created salvation holiday? The Chayei Adam (125:41) , who instituted one when his family survived a fire, says that it is a mitzva to keep such a day. While the Pri Chadash (496:14) says that the ability to institute semi-holidays ended with the retraction of megillat ta’anit, a clear majority of poskim disagree (see presentation in Yabia Omer X, OC 53). Therefore, all of the aforementioned reasons for leniency exist in your case, and it is fully reasonable to celebrate your salvation on the yahrtzeit.

However, it is apparent from your question [only partially presented here], that you are uncomfortable with the combination, as is very understandable. Therefore, we do not recommend that you move your celebratory day to the yahrtzeit. While the meal you have on this day is likely a seudat mitzva, one is not obligated to institute it. Admittedly, once instituted, it is not a simple matter to undo it (beyond our present scope), but this is not a problem for you. Perhaps min hashamayim, the day you have been celebrating does not cause you a conflict. There are no set rules as to when and how to do such a celebration. Even Purim, after which the concept is modeled, is not held on the day of salvation. Some known “family Purims” consisted of a fast day on the day of salvation and a feast on a different day. Thus, you can continue on the day you instituted it (or a different one), so that the celebration and the yahrtzeit do not cast a shadow on each other.
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