Reconciling Conflicting Kaddish Considerations

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: Every year, I am the one who says Kaddish for my mother-in-law (=mil) on her yahrtzeit. This year it falls out during the twelfth month of aveilut for my father, when one should not say Kaddish. How should I reconcile the conflict? 

Answer: Before suggesting solutions, let us discuss the value of saying Kaddish on your mil’s yahrtzeit and refraining from Kaddish in the twelfth month of aveilut.

While the yahrtzeit is considered a potentially difficult day for the deceased and/or his children (Mahari Mintz 9), the focus in saying Kaddish is to improve the state of the deceased’s soul (Avodat Hagershuni 62). Causing others to sanctify Hashem’s Name is a powerful merit, which helps the deceased. When it is done by the deceased’s son, the idea is that the son’s continuing good deeds are a credit to those who brought him into the world (see story of R. Akiva, Kalla Rabbati 2:9; Binyamin Zev 201). For this reason, a son is singled out over other relatives (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 376:4). Because it is a once-a-year opportunity (Divrei Sofrim 376:67), a yahrtzeit commemorator has high Kaddish priority (similar to an avel in shloshim – see Rama ibid.).  

Missing reciting Kaddish on your mil’s yahrtzeit is not particularly damaging. First, a son-in-law cannot provide the greatest gain, as above. In fact, according to many (see Piskei Teshuvot 132:30), a grandson, who is a descendant, is a better option when feasible. This is not to belittle your yearly contribution. Anyone who says Kaddish with a deceased in mind (or even for all departed Jews – Rama ibid.) has a positive impact. You have the advantages of being obligated to show respect to a mil and that feeling close to the deceased enhances its impact (Divrei Sofrim 376:83,87). However, we see no reason your mil’s soul should suffer if you are replaced this year by another relative, a friend, or a recipient of her chesed. Add to this that other matters are largely presumed to help the departed soul more than saying Kaddish. These include being chazan, doing extra mitzvot, and learning l’iluy nishmat the deceased (see Divrei Sofrim 376:99).

How problematic is it to say Kaddish in the twelfth month? A mourner’s recitation of Kaddish for twelve months helps the deceased during his time in gehinom, which can be up to twelve months. Saying Kaddish for twelve months disgraces the parent, implying the expectation they need the maximum time (Rama ibid.). The Kaddish does not otherwise hurt their soul; the problem is the appearance. Therefore, if it does not look bad, e.g., both parents died within the year, so that the mourner needs to recite Kaddish for the second one during the first’s twelfth month, he can continue (Divrei Sofrim 376:108). On the other hand, we are quite particular about this, and it is not unlikely that the exception is only for a competing obligation to recite for the other parent, not a voluntary recitation for a mil

With the above in mind, we present, with short explanations, two good “compromises” to choose from. Both include getting someone else to do a full set of Kaddeishim, in addition to your wife/(others) doing the other elements properly. 

1. Say one Kaddish for your mil sometime during the yahrtzeit. When only one person used to say a given Kaddish, giving one Kaddish for the yahrtzeit was sufficient when he was “beaten out” by avel in shloshim (Rama ibid.).

2. Arrange to be chazan at all or some of the day’s tefillot and say only the non-mourners’ Kaddeishim. A mourner in the twelfth month may be an occasional chazan (Shevet Halevi III:165), and by not saying Kaddish Yatom you are showing it is not to “save your father.” We mentioned above, that this is “better” for the deceased than to say Kaddeishim without being chazan.

These are “win-win” compromises (which mechutanim hopefully got used to during their lifetimes), which all should be happy with. However, if special sensitivities cause your or your wife’s family to be upset by such arrangements, doing either a full Kaddish regimen or none at all is justifiable. 

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor 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, 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 has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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