Question: If someone passes away on one day but is buried the next day, when does the son stop saying Kaddish and when should he observe the yahrzeit – 11 and 12 months, respectively, after the day of death or 11 and 12 months, respectively, after the day of burial?
Answer: Rabbi Gedalya Schwartz, av bet din of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), rules that stopping to say Kaddish is determined by the day of burial, but the yahrzeit is determined by the day of death. If, however, the person is buried more than three days after he died, the first yahrzeit is determined by the day of burial.
Interestingly, Rav Henkin, zt”l, writes that a yahrzeit is determined by the day of death. He then writes that, “yesh omrim – some say,” that in the first year it is determined by the day of burial if the burial took place more than one day after the person died. In subsequent years, however, it is determined by the day of death (Edut Yisrael, p.147).
I suggest that the sevara of the “yesh omrim” is that since the conclusion of Kaddish depends on the day of burial, it makes sense to determine the first yahrzeit based on the day of burial as well. In subsequent years, though, the issue of when the 11 months of Kaddish conclude is no longer relevant. Therefore, the yahrzeit is based on the day of death.
If one reads Rav Henkin’s words carefully, it seems that the basic halacha is that yahrzeit is based on the day of death. Only a “yesh omrim – some say” opinion argues otherwise for the first yahrzeit. I suggest that this is the case because our sages did not want to confuse people by giving different dates for the yahrzeit in different years.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has published eight books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), has just been published.