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May a Mourner Participate in the Hakafot on Simhat Torah?

Is it permissible for a mourner to take part in the Hakafot on Simhat Torah? If, Heaven forbid, a person is within twelve months of a parent’s passing, or within thirty days of another family member’s passing, such that he is observing Abelut (mourning), may he participate in the Hakafot, or must he abstain due to the festive nature of this celebration?

Rav Shemuel Pinhasi (contemporary Halachic scholar in Israel), in his work Haim Va’hesed (18:20; listen to audio recording for precise citation), rules that it is permissible for a mourner to fully participate in the Hakafot, including the singing and dancing in honor of the Torah. He adds that a mourner is also permitted to take part in the festive meals that were traditionally held in honor of the Hatan Torah and Hatan Bereshit, as these meals are considered even greater than a Siyum meal celebrating the completion of a Masechet. Rav Pinhasi cites this ruling from the Kaf Ha’haim Sofer (689:33) and from Rav Haim Palachi (Turkey, 1788-1869) in his work Mo’ed Le’chol Hai.

This applies also to one whose family member passes away, Heaven forbid, during Sukkot, and thus does not begin observing Abelut until after Simhat Torah. A person in this situation, too, is permitted to fully participate in the Hakafot. It goes without saying that if a person had begun observing Abelut before Sukkot and then the holiday ended his Abelut, he may certainly take part in the Hakafot as he is no longer considered a mourner.

Of course, although a mourner is allowed to participate in Hakafot, it would be inappropriate for him to play a leading role in the celebration. He is, as mentioned, permitted to take part as he normally would, but he should not be at the forefront of the festivities.

It is worth noting how this Halacha reflects the importance and significance of the Hakafot celebration. Due to its stature, even mourners are allowed to participate in the festive celebration in honor of the Torah, showing us how meaningful and valuable this special occasion is.

Summary: A mourner, Heaven forbid, is allowed to fully participate in the Hakafot on Simhat Torah despite his state of mourning.