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Question: The Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to almost all public gatherings; hence, much of Jewish congregational ritual has come to a halt. Is there a way to make up for everything we missed?

M. Goldman

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Answer: The laws of mourning – including the law that one should say Kaddish for 11 months – generally kick in at the moment of burial. There are exceptions to this rule, though. For example, if a child first learns of his parent’s death many months afterwards (shemuah rechokah), he doesn’t say Kaddish for 11 months. Indeed, if he hears of his parent’s passing after 12 months, he only mourns for one hour.

Rabbi Goldberg (Pnei Baruch 39:4-5) states as follows: “If a person first heard of his parent’s passing after a long lapse of time…he should only say Kaddish until the conclusion of 11 months from the day of burial.” This ruling is based upon that of Rabbi Tukachinsky (Gesher Hachayim 30:9:5) who extrapolates it from Nekudat Hakessef (402) by Rabbi Yechezkel Bing.

A person stops at the end of 11 months because he doesn’t wish to imply that his parent is wicked (which is what he would be doing if he said Kaddish in the twelfth month since only the wicked suffer in purgatory for 12 months).

Pnei Baruch (39:5) continues: “If he [first] heard in the twelfth month [of his parent’s death], there is a view that he should say Kaddish the entire month with the exception of the last day. If he first heard on the last day of the twelfth month, he should say Kaddish on that day [only].” Rabbi Goldberg attributes this ruling to Gesher Hachayim (30:6).

In a note, Rabbi Goldberg explains that it seemingly doesn’t make sense to say Kaddish after 12 months since even the wicked are no longer in purgatory past that point. He notes, however, that Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Greenwald, author of Kol Bo Al Aveilut, rules that one should say Kaddish even after 12 months.

In what was obviously a response to a number of questions that were asked of him, Rabbi Greenwald asks: “Should we say Kaddish for those who were murdered and died al Kiddush Hashem [at the hands of the brutal Nazis and their collaborators]? (Kol Bo Al Aveilut p. 377:25.)

He notes that a similar question was already asked of the Maharil (late 14th century, early 15th century – Responsa Maharil 96). It seems that some believed at the time that saying Kaddish for martyrs was either inappropriate or unnecessary. Not mincing words, the Maharil writes, “Whoever said that one shouldn’t say Kaddish for them is in need of atonement.

He continues, “And this is what I heard from my teachers, that this matter [was pondered] in the aftermath of a harsh decree against the Jews in the city of Prague that resulted in a massacre that left many kedoshim.” At the time, some argued that they shouldn’t be mourned for. In the end, the gedolim of that generation concluded that not only should these kedoshim be mourned for, but Kaddish should be recited for them.”

We also find in Sifrei Maharil u’Zmano (p. 68) the following: “Even though they are kedoshim – ones who died for the sanctification of Hashem – and it is not every person who can stand in their space…” The obvious implication is although they are so holy and don’t need Kaddish, nevertheless we should say Kaddish for them.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.