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: Normally, mourners stop saying Kaddish after 11 months since the wicked are judged in Gehinnom for 12 months and we don’t wish to imply that our parents were wicked (Gesher Hachayim 30:09:5 citing Nekudat Hakessef, 402).
We assume that after 12 months the soul has reached its proper destination in Heaven. We did note in a previous column, though, that a mourner is supposed to say Kaddish past 11 months if his father asked him to (Pnei Boruch 34:2).
The Sdei Chemed (153) cites Zera Emet (vol. 2, 148:1) gives several reasons to recite Kaddish for one’s parents: 1) It’s part of the mourning process; 2) It’s a way of honoring them; and 3) According to Chavot Yair (222), every Kaddish causes a pleasantness of spirit (a nachat ruach) to the departed soul.
According to the second and third reasons, perhaps a person whose parents passed away, say, 14 months ago, should begin saying Kaddish again now (with shuls reopened) since he missed saying Kaddish for several months when he was supposed to be saying Kaddish. Perhaps he should calculate the exact number of days he missed and make up for them now (probably saying just one Kaddish per day). It’s possible he should even say Kaddish for a total of 12 months since no one will realize that he is saying it more than 11 months and thus there is no problem of implying that his parent was wicked.
The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 376:4) writes that a mourner should try to lead the services. If a person who missed saying Kaddish when the shuls were closed serves as chazzan, he doesn’t need to say Mourner’s Kaddish anymore since he will be saying all the Kaddeshim of the tefillah. In Shachris, for example, he will say Kaddish D’Rabbanan after Korbanot, half-Kaddish after Yishtabach, and the Kaddish Titkabel after the Amidah.
The problem is that there may be someone else in shul who Halachically has the right to serve as chazzan more than a mourner past the 11th month. If so, the only recourse for someone who missed months of shul because of the pandemic would seem to say Mourner’s Kaddish now to make up for the days missed.
But what if the individual doesn’t wish to call attention to himself? The answer lies in the Mishnah we cited in a previous column (Sukkah 38a). The Mishnah rules that a man can (although ideally shouldn’t) discharge his obligation to recite Hallel by listening to a woman, a Canaanite slave, or a minor saying it. How so? Because of the rule of “shome’a k’oneh” – listening is like saying.
So if a person is uncomfortable, he can ask a regular mourner if he would be so kind as to have him in mind when saying Kaddish – that his saying of Kaddish should discharge his Kaddish obligation too. Every G-d-fearing person would presumably gladly comply with such a request.
Unfortunately, it is through the loss of loved ones and the recital of Kaddish on their behalf that we are given the unique opportunity to accept Hashem’s judgment while sanctifying his Name. May all who have suffered the death of a loved one in this very difficult time be comforted. It is our fervent prayer that Heaven protect and deliver us all from the ravages of this pandemic as we approach a fresh new year.
A ketiva v’chatima tova to all.