May a non-mourner eat in a house of mourning?

#820: May a non-mourner eat in a house of mourning?

According to Halachah, there is no restriction on eating in a beis ha’avel (house of mourning) and many sources address the meals eaten there during shiv’ah (the seven [days of mourning]). Nonetheless, there is a custom in many communities that only mourners (and their families) should partake of food that is brought into a beis ha’avel.

The origin of this practice is an age-old minhag (custom) noted by many poskim that restricts a non-mourner from taking lo davar katan, v’lo davar gadol (no thing small or large) from a beis ha’avel, confining all articles—food and inedibles—to the house due to a ruach tum’ah (spirit of impurity [due to recent death]) present there for the duration of the shiv’ah. This would also apply to objects brought in by others; one of the earliest sources of this custom mentions the suit (or robe) that a person wears especially in order to come comfort the mourner, as an example of something that enters the beis ha’avel and should be left behind.

Some authorities link this minhag with the halachic requirement for the mourners to partake of a seudas havra’ah (a meal of condolence) that is brought to them by non-mourners upon return from the levayah (funeral)—so the first (and primary) day of mourning should not comprise of food that originated in the house of the deceased.

While several poskim mention in relation to this practice that we should not be m’fakpek (entertaining doubt) on a minhag yisrael, other poskim negate the authenticity of this minhag, and maintain that it is a minhag ta’us (unfounded custom); in their opinion, partaking of food and moving items is unrestricted.

Even among those who support this minhag, there are certain exclusions: The restriction does not apply to Shabbos, when mourning is suspended and non-mourners can participate and even take food from the beis ha’avel. Anything that was brought in by mistake may be taken out again, as well as those things that were brought with the intention of distributing them: mishnayos booklets (portions of Mishna [customarily circulated for learning in memory of the deceased]) as well as tzeddakah monies contributed by visitors for allocation. Concerning these articles, we may refer to the pasuk (verse) from Koheles, “Shomer mitzvah lo yaida davar ra” (one who observes a mitzvah will not know an evil thing).

Some poskim state clearly that this minhag applies only to the room in which the deceased was found and other rooms in the beis ha’avel are unrestricted. Visitors to a beis ha’avel in a different location than where the one mourned passed away may therefore be lenient, a fortiori.

In the absence of a clear established community minhag, there is no halachic obligation to strictly adhere to these restrictions. With regard to such minhagim, we may apply the principle “kol d’kapid kapdi bahadei udlo kapid lo kapdi bahadeih” (there is concern for those who are particular; those who are not particular, need not be concerned).

Practical Halacha: One minute a day. By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, shlita, Mara D'asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.