Covering Mirrors in House of Mourning
I recently visited the shiva house (house of mourning) for a coworker. One of the more striking things I noticed was that all mirrors were covered. It felt a little spooky. What is the reason for this? Is it because we may see a reflection of the deceased in the mirror?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
You are right that covering the mirrors is one of the more unnerving customs we see in a house of mourning. Some also cover paintings and pictures of people.
There are several suggested reasons for this custom, most perfectly rational and practical, while some more Kabbalistic. Here are the answers I have seen:
(1) Mirrors can be a cause of joy – of admiring oneself or becoming preoccupied with his external appearance. It is inappropriate to focus on such when one is mourning or in the presence of mourners.
(2) Prayers are normally held in a house of mourning, and we may not pray in front of a mirror. This is both because of the distraction and because it looks like the person is praying to himself (Mishna Berurah 90:71).
(3) There was a custom in Talmudic times to overturn the beds in a house of mourning. One reason given for this was to avoid the temptation for marital relations during the week of shiva, which are forbidden. This is not in practice today, but possibly as an alternative, the mirrors are covered to lessen the desire for relations (based on Chatam Sofer).
(4) According to the Zohar, the images of people which appear in mirrors could have spirits emanate from them. At such an inauspicious time as when suffering the loss of a loved one, one may be especially vulnerable to the potential harm caused by such spirits. Thus, the mirrors are covered (Ya’arot D’vash).
(5) Evil spirits reside in a house of mourning: they fill the void left by the loss of a human life. Although we cannot see them, their reflection may appear in a mirror. Thus, the mirrors are covered (Ginzei Yosef p. 320).
(The first 3 reasons appear in Kol Bo Al Aveilus p. 262 and are cited in Mourning in Halacha by ArtScroll Publications (p. 179 footnote 8). The fourth appears in Ta’amei Minhagim, p. 435.)