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Moed Katan, 23

MOED KATAN 22 & 23 (19-20 Cheshvan) - dedicated in memory of Chaim Mordechai ben Harav Yisrael Azriel (Feldman) of Milwaukee by his family.


QUESTION: The Beraisa (22b) states that when a Nasi dies, all of the learning in all of the Batei Midrashos ceases in respect for the Nasi. The Beraisa continues (23a) and says that in the house of an Avel, we do not say over words of "Shemu'ah" and "Agadah" (Halachic teachings and Agadic teachings). The Beraisa says that Rebbi Chananyah ben Gamliel, though, holds that we may say over Shemu'ah and Agadah.

How can Rebbi Chananyah ben Gamliel permit saying Shemu'ah and Agadah in the house of an Avel? The Gemara (15a, 21a) states clearly that an Avel may not learn Torah during Aveilus!

Moreover, when the Beraisa says that we may not say over Shemu'ah and Agadah in the house of an Avel, why does it single out these two particular areas? The Beraisa earlier (21a) gives a long list of all of the areas of Torah learning which are prohibited for an Avel to learn. Why does the Beraisa here not mention all of them, like the Beraisa earlier does?


(a) The RAMBAN in Toras ha'Adam explains that this Beraisa is referring to learning Torah in the house of an Avel *on Shabbos*, when the Avel may not observe his Aveilus in public. The Beraisa is saying that even though an Avel does not observe his Aveilus in public, he may not learn these areas of Torah. Rebbi Chananyah permits it, because he maintains that this is considered to be practicing Aveilus in public. However, everyone agrees that if a practical Halachic question arises, the Avel is allowed to teach the Halachah.

(b) The RAMBAN gives a second answer. He says that th "Beis ha'Avel" mentioned in the Beraisa is referring to the Batei Midrashos mentioned earlier in the Beraisa, which ceased all learning activity due to the death of the Nasi. The Beraisa is now saying that not only is the regular Torah learning stopped as a sign of mourning for the Nasi, but the Talmidim may not even learn areas of Torah that do not require deep analysis and that are not usually learned in the Batei Midrashos. Rebbi Chananyah says that these areas of Torah may be learned in the Batei Midrashos that are in mourning for the loss of the Nasi.

(c) The SHULCHAN ARUCH (YD 378:7) cites this Gemara as the Halachah. From the context of his ruling, it seems that he understands the Gemara not to be referring to Shabbos, nor to the Batei Midrashos of the Nasi, but rather it is referring to the home of an individual Avel. The SHEVET YEHUDAH explains that according to the Shulchan Aruch, the Beraisa is not referring to what the Avel himself may or may not learn; the Avel himself is certainly prohibited from learning Torah. Rather, the Beraisa is referring to others who come to visit the Avel. When they talk amongst each other, they may not talk together in Torah, even in matters of Shemu'ah and Agadah.

HALACHAH: The common practice today is to learn Mishnayos in the home of the Avel, l'Iluy Nishmas the departed relative. The Poskim write that this is a positive practice. The NETZIV (Meshiv Davar 5:56) explains at length that since it is done for the benefit of the Mes, it is certainly permitted. The Avel himself, though, should not listen, since he is not permitted to learn. (If possible, the Avel should go into another room while the others who have come to comfort the mourner learn the Mishnayos together l'Iluy Nishmas the deceased.) In addition, the Talmidim of the Mes should not be the ones who learn Mishnayos, since the Gemara says that his Talmidim must refrain from learning.


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