When to Say Malei

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by R. Gil Student

I. Days Without Malei

The Mishnah (Mo’ed Katan 27a) discusses when we eulogize someone before burial and when refrain from doing so. On days of communal happiness, a sad eulogy evokes feelings contrary to spirit of the day. Among those days are Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim. Later customs developed regarding lesser practices, such as the mourner reciting the tziduk ha-din accepting the divine decree. It also highlights the sadness but not to the point of a eulogy. The Tur (Orach Chaim 420) quotes divergent customs regarding reciting tziduk ha-din in the above days. In Mainz, the Jews did not while in Worms, they did.

The Shulchan Arukh (ad loc., 2) follows the custom of Worms, permitting the recitation of tziduk ha-din on Rosh Chodesh. The Rema (ad loc.) says that the predominant Ashkenazic custom of his time was to refrain from saying tziduk ha-din, not only on Rosh Chodesh but on all days that we omit the pleading tachanun prayers. This continues to be standard in Ashkenazic communities. (See also Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 401:6 regarding Chol Ha-Mo’ed.)

Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 429:2) writes that throughout the month of Nissan, which is the month of redemption in which we celebrate Pesach, we do not recite tachanun nor do we eulogize the deceased. The Rema (ad loc.) adds that also do not recite tziduk ha-din. The Chok Ya’akov (ad loc., 7) says that we also do not mention the deceased (“ein mazkirin bo neshamos”). By this he means that we do not recite the prayer annually commemorating the deceased before the yahrtzeit anniversary that begins “Keil malei rachamim,” often simply called the Malei. Later authorities agree, such as Mishnah Berurah (429:8) and Arukh Ha-Shulchan (547:3). In other words, while the Malei (before the yahrtzeit) does not generate as much sadness as the tziduk ha-din and eulogy (at the graveside or funeral), it still is not said — according to Ashkenazic custom — on happy days in the calendar when we omit tachanun.

II. Shabbos and Holidays

But if we don’t say the Malei on days when we omit tachanun, why do we say it on Shabbos? In fact, we almost only say it on the Shabbos before a yahrtzeit, even though it can be said any time we read from the Torah. Rav Tuviah Goldstein (Responsa Emek Halakhah 1:31) quotes a responsum of the Ge’onim in which they were asked why we recite tziduk ha-din on Shabbos but not on Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim. They answered that there is a fundamental difference between Shabbos and the other holidays. On Shabbos, we are commanded to relax and delight (oneg). On the holidays, we are commanded to rejoice (simchah). The sadness of recalling a departed loved one detracts from the holiday joy but does not affect the Shabbos delight of eating food and dressing nicely.

However, this only raises another question. On Yom Tov, we recite Yizkor during the services. This prayer is a communal Malei for everyone’s deceased loved ones. How can we recite Yizkor on a holiday? The Levush (Orach Chaim 284:7) explains that when we recite the Malei on Shabbos, we pledge charity in the memory of the deceased. This serves as an atonement for their sins. Perhaps this atonement comforts us and even brings us some joy.

The Levush (133:21) adds that on holidays, the influence goes in the other direction. On the last days of holidays, when we recite Yizkor, we read from the Torah, “Every man shall give as he is able” (Deut. 16:17). In that spirit, people donate charity to the synagogue. When people give charity, they often do it in memory of their loved ones. Therefore, the custom developed to bless the deceased in whose memory people donate money to the synagogue.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student recently served on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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