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Question: I’ve been invited to numerous simchas during Sefirah in the past few years that did not seem to conform to the halachic restrictions of this period. I’ve been told that you addressed this topic in the past. Can you address it again as I don’t want to offend anyone?

Name Withheld By Request

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Answer: Indeed, we discussed this matter many years ago. What follows is based on that reply.

The source for mourning during sefirah is the Gemara (Yevamot 62b), which states: “It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples, from Gibbethon until Antipatris, and they all died in one season because they did not treat each other with respect. Thus, the world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our sages in the south and taught them… All of them died between Pesach and Shavuot.”

We find a similar account in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 61:3) with the exception that there is no specific mention of the time period during which these deaths took place.

Based on the Gemara, the Tur (Orach Chayim 493) writes, “It is customary in all places not to get married between Pesach and Shavuot; we do not excessively celebrate at this time because Rabbi Akiva’s students died during this period. The Ri Gi’at states that this restriction applies only to marriage, which is the main simcha; engagements and betrothals, however, are proper. Even concerning marriage: If one went ahead and got married, [beit din does] not mete out any punishment. However, if a man approaches to ask if he may marry, we do not allow it. This is the edict of the Geonim.”

The Bach (ad loc.) adds that we do not differentiate between a nisuin shel mitzvah – i.e., a marriage through which one anticipates fulfilling the commandment of “peru u’revu” – and a non-mitzvah marriage (e.g., a second marriage after one already had children). Since we are dealing with aveilut yeshana – one that is based in antiquity – the Geonim did not differentiate between different types of marriages.

In a teshuvah, Rav Hai Gaon writes, “And that which you asked why we do not marry between Pesach and Shavuot: You should know that it is not because of a prohibition. It is rather because of a custom of mourning, as the Gemara states that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 disciples and they all died between Pesach and Shavuot for not acting properly toward one another, and we learned that they all died unusually horrible deaths through askara (diphtheria)” (Teshuvot HaGe’onim, Sha’arei Teshuva 278).

Rav Hai Gaon continues, “From that time on, the Rishonim established the custom not to marry on these days, but they permitted engagements and betrothals.”

Perhaps engagements and betrothals are allowed because another person might “anticipate him and marry her.” The Gemara (Mo’ed Katan 18b) notes that a person is not allowed to get married on festivals because “ein me’arvin be’simcha – we do not mix one joy [Yom Tov] with another joy [marriage].” Yet, betrothals are allowed because a rival suitor might “anticipate him and marry her.” The same logic might apply to Sefirah.

From all the above, it would seem that marriages are forbidden during all 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. That, however, is not the case.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com and Rabbi@igud.us.