Q. I read that one should not greet a mourner with a “Shalom”. How about the English custom of shaking hands with mourners and wishing them long life?
A. “I wish you long life” is a typical Anglo-Jewish idiom. Others include “I wish you well over the fast” and “I wish you much joy”. In the case of “well over the fast” there are problems; to imply, “I hope Yom Kippur is easy for you physically”, stresses the wrong idea, since the physical deprivations of the day are meant to arouse us to spiritual and ethical awareness.
In relation to “I wish you long life”, Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank ruled that this does not contravene the prohibition of greeting mourners with “Shalom” (Har Zvi, Orach Chayyim 290).
Usually “Shalom” implies that life is normal and that people are glad to see each other, which is inappropriate in a house of mourning. God says to Ezekiel, “Sigh in silence” (Ezek. 24:17). Any form of lighthearted greeting is also to be avoided when visitors see each other in the house of mourning. A shivah visit is not a social call. But “I wish you long life” is a prayer, and prayers are certainly appropriate in a house of mourning.