‘A Mourner Is Forbidden To Wear Shoes…’
(Mo’ed Katan 20b)
The Gemara relates that when R. Chiya, who lived in Eretz Yisrael, was belatedly informed of the death of his brother and sister in Babylonia, he instructed a servant to remove his shoes as a sign of mourning and then to escort him to the bathhouse. The Gemara deduces three halachot from this incident:
a) The halacha follows Rabbi Akiva (20a), who asserts that upon hearing a shemua rechoka (belated report) of the death of one’s relative, one is obligated to observe only one day of mourning. (Belated in this context means more than 30 days after the death.)
b) An avel is forbidden to wear shoes.
c) We apply the concept of miktzas hayom ke’kulo – a small portion of the day is considered like an entire day – and the mourner is only obligated to observe the laws of mourning for a portion of the day, not the entire day. Therefore, it was sufficient for R. Chiya to remove his shoes for a few moments and bathe immediately afterwards.
Not In The Mishnah
The Keren Orah (Mo’ed Katan ad loc.) comments that the law requiring a mourner to remove his shoes was apparently not well known, for it is not mentioned in the Mishnah. Even though a baraita (on 21a) lists washing among the acts prohibited during shiva, the Gemara found it necessary to derive this prohibition from R. Chiya’s actions since some of the prohibitions listed in the baraita are subject to dispute.
A Different Chiddush
The Ramban (Tovas Ha’adam, Chavel ed. p. 237; see Y.D. 402:2) maintains that the din that an avel may not bathe is well known (see Mo’ed Katan 15b, stating that a mourner is prohibited to don leather shoes), and the chiddush derived from R. Chiya’s conduct pertains to the laws of shemua rechoka. The Gemara infers from R. Chiya’s conduct that the removal of one’s shoes for a few moments is a sufficient demonstration of mourning in cases of a belated report, and one need not observe the other mourning rites, such as atifas harosh (wrapping the head) and kefiyas hamitah (overturning the bed or sitting on the floor).
However, according to the Ramban, if at the time of notification a person is engaged in any activity normally forbidden to a mourner, he should immediately cease.
(The Keren Orah infers from the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Avel 7:2) that he is of the opinion that upon hearing a shemua rechoka one is obligated to observe all the rites of mourning, not just the removal of one’s shoes.)