Sunday, August 19, 2012

A wedding and my "job"

As a mourner, I'm not supposed to have much fun. In his book The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Maurice Lamm writes: "The observance that most affects the daily life of the mourner during the 12-month period is the complete abstention from parties and festivities, both public and private. Participation in these gatherings is simply not consonant with the depression and contrition that the mourner experiences. It borders on the absurd for the mourner to dance gleefully while his parent lies dead in a fresh grave" (p. 175).

Strong words, which I'm not sure I fully agree with. The observance that most affects my daily life is going to shul and saying kaddish. I'm not really a party-goer anyway and, as for celebrations, how many do I get invited to these days? Not many. And not every "gleeful dance" is disrespectful to the state of mourning. Perhaps dancing and having fun would be therapeutic and help to put mourning in a new and more meaningful perceptive.

What kind of fun am I supposed to avoid? My understanding is that there are two kinds: 1) going to hear live music and 2) attending festive occasions such as weddings. So far this kaddish year, I have done neither. Not that I've had many such occasions, though I did use my mourning as an excuse to get out of attending the synagogue's annual dinner, which I was ambivalent about attending in any event.

A few months ago, I was invited to the wedding of my cousin's son in Israel. As I was planning a trip to Israel this summer, it made sense to arrange my trip so I could attend. But how could I go to a wedding? Thankfully, the same rabbis who limited my joy created a loophole so I could attend this joyous occasion.  This loophole is called "the job", or, in Hebrew "hatafkid." As Lamm writes, a mourner can attend a wedding so long as he is performing "some useful function" (p. 182).

I've heard of cases where mourners attended many weddings or other joyous occasions under the guise of doing a "job." My niece, who was 12 when her mother tragically died, attended dozens of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations that year using the "job" rationale.

My cousin obliged me, assigning me some "useful functions." I helped set tables, took some pictures, brought out some props for a skit.

Perhaps because I am not a carefree person in general, the idea of reducing joy during this kaddish year makes sense to me. I'm not sure I'd be disrespecting my mother's memory by attending joyous occasions, but it feels right not to overdo it in the joy department. I thoroughly enjoyed the wedding, and my cousin mentioned that, through my own presence, she felt my mother's presence. I had a good time, not in the sense of reckless abandon, but mainly by being witness to the occasion of my cousin's joy. That, I think, was my true "job."

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