Should one stay off Facebook, Instagram, et al. following the death of a parent?

Judaism requires that one refrain from attending social gatherings for a year following the death of a parent. From “Shiva and Other Mourning Observances” (Chabad):

Even as the mourner resumes his or her everyday routine after the Shivah, certain mourning practices, such as not purchasing or wearing new clothes, cutting one’s hair, enjoying music or other form of entertainment, and participating in joyous events (weddings, etc.), are continued for a period of thirty days (beginning from the day of the burial).

In the case of a person mourning the passing of a parent, these mourning practices extend for a full year.

Other sites clarify that “purely social gatherings”, “parties”, or any event in which music is played are off limits.

How do we translate this into our modern world that was increasingly anti-social even before coronapanic? What are the best examples of frivolous social activities that are incompatible with the status of mourning a relative (for a month) or parent (for a year)? My vote: Facebook and similar social networks.

Prior to my father’s precipitous decline (perhaps coincidence, but it was a week after receiving Pfizer Covid vaccine shot #2), my own Facebook presence was certainly frivolous. Some examples:

If Facebook had been around in 1599, surely Hamlet would have reproached Gertrude for posting on Facebook so soon after the death of his father:

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

might have been

Likes, Likes, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did go positively viral on Instagram.

Facebook makes people unhappy (New Yorker, 2013; and also a 2019 study), so we could perhaps argue that using it doesn’t violate the letter of the Jewish law against participating in joyous gatherings. I’m not an Orthodox Jew, but I think that the law makes sense and that social media is against the spirit of the law if not the letter.

Readers: What do you think? Should the mourner of a parent be on Facebook? If so, after how many months?


10 thoughts on “Should one stay off Facebook, Instagram, et al. following the death of a parent?

  1. I was saddened to hear about the passing of your father. I think it’s okay for you to be on facebook if you want to be!

  2. I’m not a rabbinical scholar, but I think you should get at least half credit for “time served” in 2020. (I also think that there wasn’t really much point to Lent in 2020 and 2021)

  3. I would do what makes you happy, but it might make you happy to stay off of Facebook for the month. Reading the obituary of your father, he did not seem like the kind of person who would have spent a lot of his time discussing his activities with random anonymous people and getting into disputes with them. So you might feel that abstaining from Facebook honors his memory. A lot of the ideas from the Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, as interpreted by the Rabbis are quite profound — they have been influential for a couple of thousand years. It might be interesting to research this prohibition because, and I am no expert, there is probably more to it than what you outline above.

  4. I’m certainly no expert on these matters historically or culturally – at least so far, thank goodness – but a few things strike me:

    1) How different Jewish custom and law can be from the practices of other faiths, in which you see even wakes and funerals turned into parties and celebrations, some of which go on for a long time.

    2) I think a year is excessive, especially when it comes to things like cutting one’s hair (what about shaving?) and even wearing new clothes but:

    3) The idea itself is sound. To my mind it requires the children of the decedent to engage in a period of deliberate reflection about the parent who died, which will hopefully inspire them to reflect on their memories of the person, the influence they had over their children’s being and character, and all of the other things they had done and accomplished during their lives.

    4) The concept of an honest period of mourning and reflection also gives the children some time to understand the true differences between themselves and their parent and attempt, as best they can, to reconcile those differences and recover from the *loss* – rather than attempting to short circuit it or “sweep it under the rug.” I think a lot of people go through life never having properly mourned their losses or dealt with the grief associated with them, which manifests itself in a lot of different and sometimes destructive ways.

    So I think the overall intention of the prohibitions are sound, psychologically and socially.

    Facebook is a good example of one of the many addictive things in our culture that people cannot seem to get away from – for any reason! And I do believe that it contributes to a lot of unhealthy thinking and practices as a result.

    Social networks as currently construed are a form of synthetic and artificial “social life” that are in fact very often antisocial and even brutal. They happened because of rapid technological advancement and the deliberate attempts by the people who designed them to make them as addictive and compelling as possible. We have not learned to moderate them well. And the problem is getting worse. (which is what I always say about everything, so take that maybe with a grain of salt.)

    But otherwise, yes, I think it’s important to take the time to properly mourn, for a lot of reasons.

    • Specifically, for Facebook, I’ve been “apart” from FB on several occasions in the recent past wherein I deactivated my account or just didn’t post for a week or two, sometimes more. It’s important to be able to maintain “control authority” over the compulsion to look and read about what is “going on” – most of which is frivolous. How you choose to implement that is up to you, but a month away from Facebook entirely doesn’t sound unreasonable at all to me. Life exists outside of the the Internet and I think it’s a good idea in general to get out there in the real world and live it, and use these sites in moderation much more than we do. They have too much power and control over our lives and our emotional well-being.

      I recently had to “snooze” a good FB friend. I really like her as a person and a woman, but she is just a firehose of posts, at least 30 a day. You just can’t handle it after a while, and she is clearly living most of her life through Mark Zuckerberg’s creation when she should be (in my estimation) applying her talent and passion out there in the real world. But she is addicted to the “likes”.

    • Partially related: I have a “gut feeling” that one of the reasons Puddles Pity Party has become more than a “cult” following is due to the fact that there are a lot of people out there in the world who have never mourned, cried or reflected for a good period of time about the losses they have experienced. He’s kind of an epiphenomenon of the underlying problem in my mind, with a lot of talent. I have a good friend from childhood on Facebook that you’d never expect to like him, but knew about him almost at the beginning. Filling a need out there.

  5. Philip, you can post your coronavirus and your other opinions on social issues to your Facebook page. In that case it would not be considered entertainment but educational work; the feedback would not be joyous. And your dilemma would go away as Facebook would like ban you.
    Just in case, ask a real orthodox Rabbi.

  6. Again. Deepest condolences on the transitiin of your Dad,
    In the Afr Amerucan community we believe the spirit lives and the person is still witb us in another dimension. You use facebook fir information like a job the law doesn’t say u don’t work, a 30 day mourning should be acceptable. Stay Blessed

  7. Ask a rabbi? I thought that is the whole point of having a priestly class, so you can get expert advice on religious matters. Unless a rabbi is commenting here our opinions are fundamentally inadequate.

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