Moed Katan 1:5

By :  Daniel Nevins Former Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and the Division of Religious Leadership Posted On Jan 1, 2008 | Mishnat Hashavua

רבי מאיר אומר: רואין את הנגעים בתחלה להקל, אבל לא להחמיר. וחכמים אומרים: לא להקל ולא להחמיר. ועוד אמר רבי מאיר: מלקט אדם עצמות אביו ואמו, מפני ששמחה היא לו. רבי יוסי אומר: אבל היא לו. לא יעורר אדם על מתו ולא יספידנו קדם לרגל שלשים יום.

Rabbi Meir says that [the priests] may diagnose skin ailments [during the festival] if their intention is to be lenient [i.e., to declare the patient to be healed and therefore pure]. The sages say [they may do so] neither to be lenient nor to be strict [i.e., by diagnosing a patient who may need to be declared afflicted, and therefore impure]. And Rabbi Meir further says, a man may gather his father’s or his mother’s bones [for second burial during the festival], since it is a joy for him [to see them permanently buried]. Rabbi Yossi says it is a sorrow for him. A man should not lament or eulogize his dead for thirty days before a festival.


The sages are all interested in maximizing the experience of joy during festivals. Rabbi Meir and the sages disagree about whether a priest may see patients during the festival. Rabbi Meir apparently feels that if the priest notices a skin affliction, he has the option of remaining silent. In this way, the patient would be allowed to continue to enjoy the company of his friends and family during the festival. The sages deny that the priest has this option and therefore rule that he should not see patients during the festival.

In talmudic times, the dead were initially placed in burial caves to decompose. After a year, their relatives would gather the bones for “second burial” in an ossuary. Could this be done during the festival? Rabbi Meir says that it is a relief and joy for the son, but Rabbi Yossi says that it is a sorrow. In both cases, the law does not follow Rabbi Meir.

The final clause of the mishnah reflects another talmudic funeral custom: hiring professional mourners to lament the dead. This was apparently a costly service. The mishnah forbids this practice thirty days prior to the festival, lest a poor family use up its funds on the lamenters and be unable to enjoy the festival. Shmuel says that this policy is because grief over a death is not “forgotten from the heart” for thirty days.


Should religious policy follow the subjective experience of an individual, or should it aim for a standardized prediction of emotions such as joy and sorrow?