Chavurah Masarti

Lynchburg, VA                  Founded on 2 Cheshvan, 5766 

Shiva On Yom Kippur

This Rabbinical opinion was developed by Michael Gillette and it represents a trans-denominational perspective.  Readers who identify with a particular Jewish movement or congregation should consider their local Rabbi as the appropriate authority.

Question:  How should a mourner observe shivah on Yom Kippur?

Opinion: The holidays of Sukkoth, Shavuoth, Pesach, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur cancel the remainder of shivah and can, if they separate shivah from sheloshim, cancel the remainder of sheloshim.  Therefore, if a person who has begun to sit shivah prior to a major holiday does not complete observance prior to the onset of the holiday, he/she should end shivah on the morning prior to the holiday.

  Jewish tradition contains many sensitive and wonderful practices, including the staged process of mourning.  According to halacha, a person is considered a mourner when he/she loses a parent, child, sibling or spouse.  The process of mourning is broken into several stages, and each of these stages helps the mourner to recognize, process and resolve the difficult emotional toll that is created by the loss of a loved one.  The first stage of mourning is known as "aninut" and encompasses the period of time from death until burial.  During this period, most positive commandments such as the duty to lay tefillin are cancelled.   The second stage of mourning encompasses the first three days after the funeral, during which time the mourner may begin to re-engage in positive mitzvoth, but leaving the home is discouraged as are home visits from friends.  The third stage of mourning commences at the time of the funeral and lasts for seven days.  This period, known as "shivah" (seven), overlaps with the second stage but extends to a time when friends and neighbors are encouraged to visit with the mourner and provide support.  There are many laws regarding shivah such as a prohibition against cutting one's hair, wearing newly laundered clothes and bathing for pleasure.  These mourning rituals help the mourner to process his/her anguish but are not meant to be taken to the extreme.  In fact, the Torah forbids us to grieve excessively1, and the period of shivah gives way to the fourth stage of mourning called "sheloshim" (thirty), during which time the mourner is encouraged to re-enter society and re-engage in normal daily pursuits, although certain prohibitions such as cutting one's hair remain in place.  Sheloshim lasts for thirty days commencing on the day of the funeral.2   Finally, the last stage of mourning concludes with the yahrzeit that takes place on the one-year anniversary of the loved one's death. If a mourner is observing the death of a parent, additional restrictions continue throughout the one year period.

  Although this staged process of mourning provides guidance and structure to what could otherwise be a seemingly hopeless and directionless process, there are exceptions to it.  In Devarim 16:16, the Torah describes the three festivals saying "Three times in a year shall all your males appear before the Lord your God in the place which he shall choose; in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and in the Feast of Weeks, and in the Feast of Booths; and they shall not appear before the Lord empty".  In Devarim 16:11 and 16:14 the Torah also commands us to rejoice in the festivals.  This command to rejoice is taken to mean that mourning should cease, as the duty to engage in the community mitzvah of rejoicing takes precedence over the private mitzvah of mourning.  In the Talmud, Tractate Mo'ed Katan Daf 19a introduces the discussion of mourning rituals and states clearly that the duty to rejoice in the festivals takes precedence saying "MISHNAH. IF ONE BURIES HIS DEAD THREE DAYS BEFORE A FESTIVAL, THE RESTRICTIONS APPERTAINING TO HIS SEVEN DAYS MOURNING FALL AWAY; [IF HE BURIES HIS DEAD] EIGHT DAYS BEFORE A FESTIVAL, THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE THIRTY [DAYS] FALL AWAY..."  This is only the beginning of the discussion and two things happen in the sections that follow.  First, the Talmud established that the festivals (sukkoth, pesach, shavuoth) cancel shivah even if only an hour of shivah had been observed.  Second, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are added to the list of holidays that cancel the remainder of shivah, since these holidays are also mentioned explicitly in the Torah.

  The best source for the final and complete ruling in this matter is the Shulchan Aruch.  Section Yoreh Deah 399 of the Shulchan Aruch contains the following passages:

Seif 1: One who buries one’s dead before a festival, such that he became subject to mourning and he started practicing [the customs of mourning] even for one hour [i.e. a short time] before the festival, the period of mourning stops and the laws of shiva are canceled and the days of the festival count for him towards the counting of sheloshim – that is, he has seven before the festival, the days of the festival and then he completes on top of those days the rest of sheloshim. And only if he observed the laws of mourning during that hour…

Seif 3: If one buries the deceased seven days prior to the festival, and observed the decree of shiva, the festival cancels the decree of sheloshim, even if the seventh day began on erev haregel, since part of the day is considered like a whole day and counts toward both.

Seif 6: Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are considered festivals with regard to the canceling of mourning.

Seif 10: One hour [observed] before Yom Kippur cancels for him the decree of Shiva because of Yom Kippur. And the decree of shloshim is canceled for him by Sukkot, and he may shave on the eve of Sukkot.

  This final paragraph speaks directly to the question posed.  According to the Shulchan Aruch, if mourning begins but is not completed prior to Yom Kippur, Kol Nidre cancels the remaining part of shivah and Sukkot cancels the remaining part of sheloshim.  This opinion is repeated in paragraph nine of chapter 220 of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which states:

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also considered festivals with regard to voiding the seven-day and the thirty-day periods.  Thus, if a mourner has observed the rites of mourning for one hour before Rosh Hashana, it voids the seven-day period and Yom Kippur voids the thirty day period.  If he has observed one hour of mourning before Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur voids the seven-day period, while Sukkot voids the thirty-day period.

  Based on this halacha, we can deal with the following hypothetical.  Suppose that a funeral is performed six days prior to Yom Kippur (five days prior to Erev Yom Kippur).  The funeral is permitted between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but Yom Kippur will cut shivah short by two days.  Erev Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre) ends the shivah period, but the day of Yom Kippur is counted toward sheloshim.  However, Erev Sukkoth follows four days after Yom Kippur, and that festival then cancels the remainder of sheloshim.  Therefore, in this case, shivah would last for five days, ending on the morning of Kol Nidre, and sheloshim would last for 10 days, ending on the morning of Erev Sukkoth.  The Yahrzeit, or one year anniversary, would still be calculated from the date of death.

  The interesting issue that these mourning practices create is that it is possible that a person could have as little as one hour of the shivah prior to Rosh Hashanah, and as little as one week of the sheloshim prior to Yom Kippur.  This compressed mourning process could have difficult emotional consequences, but I will not delve into that discussion here.

Additional Information:

 Some members have asked additional questions regarding yarzeits and unveilings.  A quick synopsis of those issues now follows.

 THE YEAR OF MOURNING AND YARZEITS:  While Shiva and Shloshim begin at burial rather than at the time of death, the year-long mourning period for parents actually begins at the time of death. However, we are only supposed to say kaddish on a daily basis for eleven months.  A Yarzeit candle should be lit on the evening before the one year anniversary of a loved one's death (parent, child, spouse, sibling), and every year on that date from then on.   If a Yarzeit falls on a holiday, the Yarzeit candle should be lit before lighting the holiday candles and, if possible, put it in a place where it can burn itself out.  It is also customary to light a Yarzeit candle on any holiday during which Yizkor is recited. That means that, traditionally, a Yarzeit candle is lit on Yom Kippur, the last day of Pesach, Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret. The tradition among reform Jews is to light a Yarzeit candle only on Yom Kippur. One candle is sufficient for all commemorations, so if you are mourning multiple people, one candle will do (although there is variation on this custom and it would not be incorrect to light multiple candles).

  THE UNVEILING:  It became customary in Jewish practice formally to mark a grave site with stones, and this has transformed into the current practice of explicitly placing or uncovering a headstone some time after the funeral.  An unveiling may take place any time after Shiva and up to one year from the burial. It is not true that the unveiling must be on the one year anniversary.  The rules regarding the timing of an unveiling are relatively open since, like lighting a yarzeit candle, this is a custom and is not required by halacha.  However, there are certain times when an unveiling would be inappropriate, such as when we are commanded to rejoice.  Therefore, unveilings are discouraged during chol ha-mo'ed, the intermediate days of the festivals of Passover and Sukkot.  An unveiling may take place during this time if there are no other options, but it should be avoided.  Since the Days of Awe are a contemplative period and not actually part of a festival, there would be no problem in doing and unveiling between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The unveiling service is quite simple, involving a series of personal prayers.  It is also customary to recite the El Malay Rachamim.  Under no circumstances should the mourners pray to the dead.  Jewish law has been very clear that ancestor worship is a form of idolatry that is intolerable.  Therefore, speaking to the dead should not be done to excess and petitionary prayers to the dead are unacceptable.


1 In some ancient cultures, mourners engaged in self-injurious behavior as part of the grieving process.  In response to this fact, the Torah specifically forbids such actions.  Devarim 14:1 states "You are the children of the Lord your God; you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead."  Vayikra 21:1-5 identifies who a mourner is and repeats the prohibition against self mutilation saying "1.And the Lord said to Moses, Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, There shall be none defiled for the dead among his people; 2. But for his kin, who is near to him, that is, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, 3. And for his sister a virgin, who is near to him, which has had no husband; for her may he be defiled. 4. But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to defile himself. 5. They shall not make bald any part of their head, nor shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any gashes in their flesh."  The Talmud replaces the act of cutting one's skin with the act of cutting one's clothing as a sign of distress.  This custom, called "k'riyah" is traditionally done to one's clothes, but in many places has been replaced with a symbolic ribbon that is pinned to one's shirt and cut.  For parents, the k'riyah should take place on the left side, over the heart, but for all others it is performed on the right side.

2 The division of mourning into the first three days, first seven days and first thirty days is mentioned in the Talmud.  Tractace Mo'ed Katan daf 29b reads "[Our Rabbis taught]: Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him [that is], Weep not for the dead [that is] in excess, neither bemoan him beyond measure. How is that [applied]? Three days for weeping and seven for lamenting and thirty [to refrain] from cutting the hair and [donning] pressed clothes; hereafter, the Holy One, blessed be He, says, Ye are not more compassionate towards him [the departed] than I."

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