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?
Answer: Rabbi Greenwald, author of Kol Bo Al Aveilut, relates that Rabbi Dovid HaKohen Weiss of Brooklyn (p. 377) asked him:
“How should we advise the hundreds of our brethren who seek our counsel? Over the past five years, multitudes of our brethren in Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary were slaughtered and died al Kiddush Hashem. Their sons here in America lacked any information about the disposition of their loved ones and now they have begun to receive the bitter and dreaded information of their deaths – deaths that occurred a few years back. In light of this new information, they wish to know if they are required to say Kaddish for their father and/or mother or possibly not due to the great length of time that has passed since their deaths.”
Rabbi Weiss adds, “I have searched throughout your Sefer Ach L’Tzara and have not found any discussion of this law. Now, since I know that the honorable rabbi is fluent in all the laws of mourning, I ask of him to share with me his knowledge regarding the final ruling in this matter.”
He notes, “When I was a rabbi in Poland I heard that the gaon Rabbi Yosef Shaul of Lvov instructed someone to recite Kaddish upon hearing a report [of the death of a relative] after many years. He explained in the name of his father Rabbi Leib Shoffer that it’s possible his father needed something for his benefit and with this Kaddish he would be elevated in Gan Eden.”
Rabbi Greenwald responded, “I have not found anything anywhere like this or even partially like this, and from the conclusions of the poskim it appears that no aspects of mourning are observed after 12 months have passed (see Taz [Yoreh De’ah 391] as well as Ba’er Heitev [ad loc.]). Taz (395) and Ba’er Heitev state that mourning never goes beyond 12 months even in a leap year when there are 13 months. See also Z’chor L’Avraham (Yoreh De’ah, Hilchot Avel 300).
“As for saying Kaddish: It’s possible that it has no connection to mourning. Even though a person no longer mourns after 12 months, perhaps he should say Kaddish because saying it is an obligation [like a debt] that the sages imposed upon sons, and it is incumbent upon the sons to repay this debt.
“It’s true that after 12 months, the departed no longer endures any punishment, but we do find that Kaddish is said after the completion of the 12th month – on the yahrzeit. And I have noted why according to gedolei Yisrael – to raise the departed soul higher and higher. So why should the son not say Kaddish if he has the ability to raise his parent’s soul to greater heights?
“Don’t we know that gedolei Yisrael have cited a Jewish custom that one traveling to Eretz Yisrael [should say Kaddish] from the time he leaves the city and departs from his parents – see Sefer Chayim B’yad (103) and Sdei Chemed (153)?”
The Sdei Chemed writes: “Even though they are alive, saying Kaddish is not problematic because we say Kaddish for numerous reasons according to Zera Emet (vol. 2, 148:1) – first because one is in mourning and second because one is obligated to honor one’s parents.”
“Thus, even if all aspects of mourning have ceased…he is still obligated to say Kaddish to honor them – especially here in America, where saying Kaddish brings a son closer to Klal Yisrael. It becomes his connection to Yiddishkeit and he acquires an understanding that leads him to recognize G-d and His Torah.
“A third reason is found in Chavot Ya’ir (222) – that saying Kaddish gives nachat ruach (satisfaction) to the departed soul. And therefore why not say it after 12 months?”
(To be continued)