Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yahrtzeit, Kaddish, and Aveilus.

The hook to hang this on the Parsha is the mention of Birkas Hamazon in Parshas Eikev. The last of the Brachos of Birkas Hamazon is called Birkas Hatov Ve'hameitiv, and it was instituted (Berachos 48) after the failed rebellion of Beitar, when, after several years, the government allowed us to bury the dead rebels, who had been left where they died. The ability to bury the dead is a great chesed, both for them and for us. In a sense, it is then that new life begins to spring forth from the bones of our ancestors. Along those lines, here is a discussion about certain halachos of Aveilus.

Particularly in a leap year, questions often arise about the duration of the aveilus, the date of the Yahrtzeit, and the calculation of the eleven months for Kaddish. Despite the numerous sefarim that discuss these matters, some halachos remain unclear, and even careful reading of these sources often results in errors. I was an aveil this year; (in my case, my father HK'M was niftar on the first day of Tishrei, the local funeral was on 4th, and the burial was in Israel on 6th day of Tishrei.) I researched the following questions carefully, and I am satisfied with my analysis. My Semicha documents allege that I am entitled to pasken questions of Jewish Law; if, however, you have an Orthodox Rabbi with whom you consult on Halach issues, do so. If no such Rabbi is available to you, then here are the relevant halachos.


May Mashiach come soon and render these issues irrelevant.

1. Kaddish is recited for eleven months. What comprises eleven months? Eleven months from when? In my case, I was saying kaddish for three days before the funeral, because my father, HK’M, was niftar on Rosh Hashanna morning, and Rosh Hashanna was followed by Shabbos. So I was not an onein for those three days, and I said kaddish.
Another complication: the funeral was local, but the burial was in Israel. I did not go to Israel, so my aveilus began when I saw the coffin off and returned home, before the actual burial.
So when does the eleven month period end?

The eleven months are counted NOT from the time of death, and NOT from the time of the local funeral, and not from the first time I said Kaddish. The eleven months begins at the time of the actual burial. In my case, this means that I said kaddish for eleven months and five days, since the first three days really don’t mean anything, and the two days between the local funeral and the burial in Israel don’t count either. (Igros Moshe YD III 160 and others.)

2. When does the aveilus end? At the Yahrtzeit, or after twelve months?

The aveilus lasts twelve months after the local funeral for people who didn't go on to the burial. Even though it is a leap year, and the Yahrtzeit is a month later, my aveilus ends a month before the Yahrtzeit.

3. When the funeral is three or more days after the death, people are told that the first Yahrtzeit is on the anniversary of the funeral, and the subsequent Yahrtzeits are on the anniversary of the death. Is this true on a leap year?

No. In a leap year, where the Aveilus period included two Adars, and so the Yahrtzeit is a month after the aveilus ends, the Yahrtzeit even the first year is the anniversary of the death, not the anniversary of the funeral. (Pischei Teshuva YD 520.)

For a discussion of the minhag of Tikkun on a Yahrtzeit, please see the comments.


  1. Somewhat off topic, but something I have been meaning to blog about - have you noticed a trend in all communities to mark yahrtzeits with a "tikun" of food and schnapps after davening? I am not talking about doing this in a chassidishe minyan or a shtiebel - I am talking about the likes of a local Young Israel (or its equivalent) and aveilim whose connection with chassidus seems no deeper than an affinity for schnapps? It seems like this idea of "tikun" has so saturated the mindset of American minhagei aveilus that if you show up to shul on a yahrzeit and are fasting, people will look at you strangely, but if you only had shulchan aruch at your disposal and then came to a shul on someone's yahrzeit and discovered a whole seudah set, out you would be equally confused by what people are doing.

  2. If you do blog about it, you have to say something my cousin from Bnei Brak said. When we made the Hakomas Matzeiva for my father HK'M, we were thinking about how to arrange the subsequent memorial gathering, and someone suggested that we have a big spread for the people attending. My cousin, a musmach from Ponovezh and one of the leading businessmen in Israel, said "Lamah? Bishvil mah? Attah osseh Zivchei Meisim?"

    And his remark shook sense back into me. You put out something to drink or a little fruit or cake for the kovod of the people who made the effor to come out on a hot day after work. But the whole yahrtzeit tikkun thing, the shnapps, the herring, the big party, the "make a bracha l'ilui nishmas so and so," is just completely off the tracks, and there is no reason for non-Hungarians to ape a completely foreign minhag and make fools of themselves.

  3. Hungarians and Sefardim. My favorite is Reb Yackov Explanation of how the Tikkun Minhag started. First people fasted then they where unable to do that so they made a Siyum now they can learn so all that is left is the "Lekach Un Schnaps"

  4. Reb Yakov's explanation sounds like Gresham's law which is stated as "Bad money drives out good." Bad minhagim drive out good minhagim as well.

  5. connection with chassidus seems no deeper than an affinity for schnapps
    That is a good one!

  6. A neighbor of mine recently ended his aveilus did the hakamas hamatzeivah on the day of the yahrzeit. The food fest started with the kiddush sponsored the Shabbos beforehand, it was followed by "tikun" (donuts and other goodies) brought to morning davening, and culminated in the whole family going out to a big dinner in a restaurant following the event. A whole celebration! I just find it hard to believe my eating a Dunkin Donut (in the 5 towns we have the real thing under hashgacha) somehow achieves a positive good for someone's neshoma hopefully engaged in lofty things in the hereafter, but what do I know.

  7. And what about the trays of cakes and meat and everything else that are sent to the beis ha'avel? My mother, upon seeing these gifts, bitterly remarked, "Farvos shikken zei shalach monos tzu a beis ho'ovel?"

    I was upset by the tone of the remark. These people had made a real effort and incurred significant expense for the purpose of being menacheim. They were sent with the best motives, and they show the care and love and sympathy of the community. So I was surprised to see that Reb Moshe basically says the same thing-- that while the basic needs of the aveilim must be taken care of, lechatchila by the aveilim themselves or their family, or if they can't handle it, then by others, gifts of food really are not in the spirit of the shiva. While Reb Moshe does say that one may gracefully accept them, he certainly does not encourage this minhag.

    And whether an aveil should say tiskabeil in kaddish during shiva; I can't tell you how many people said I shouldn't say it, just as Rav JB S. held, like the Gaon, that one shouldn't say it on Tisha Ba'av. Reb Moshe said he never heard of this minhag, and it never was raised for as long as he was in Europe, and you should just pay no attention.

    So I guess you could say that Americans mark aveilus with Chatzi Kaddish, Shalach Monos and Zivchei Meisim.

  8. 1)"connection with chassidus seems no deeper than an affinity for schnapps"

    2)'Farvos shikken zei shalach monos tzu a beis ho'ovel?'
    I have to say tough call!?

  9. Just to sum up what has been said here about the "tikkun" on a yahrtzeit:
    Obviously, this is a minhag that did not exist in the time of the Gemara. The Gemara in Nedarim implies, and the Rama mentions, that there was a minhag to fast on a yahrtzeit, either because it is a time of bad mazal, or a time of middas hadin, or because of teshuva. Why, then, do people do the tikun thing now?
    Two possiblities:
    1. The tikkun began as a seuda for a siyum, and the siyum was forgotten.
    2. The tikkun was intended to provide a meal for the poor. Giving tzedaka is a zechus for the niftar, and feeding the poor is a great merit.
    So: Either make a siyum, or feed the poor. In the former case, you can eat along with everyone else. If the latter, you fast, and let the poor eat.

    Just providing some schnapps or orange juice and cookies, based on the idea that people will make a bracha for the neshama's zechus, may be a very holy minhag among some branches of Judaism. It's not in mine, and it wasn't in Ravina's or Rav Ashi's. And if it's not in your family background, I advise you to not do it. Look around on my blog, and decide whether my advice is worth listening to.