ARR 390-392


American Reform Responsa

125. Memorializing Chrisitian Relatives


QUESTION: A Christian woman, converted to Judaism and married to a Jew, arranged for her parents and other (Gentile) relatives to be memorialized in the Kaddish list of the congregation which is read annually. She died, and her Jewish-born husband has since remarried. Now he wants the names of the Gentile relatives of his late wife removed from the Kaddish list. He and his late wife had had children, so these names are the names of the grandparents and other relatives of the man’s children. (Rabbi P. Irving Bloom, Mobile, Alabama)

ANSWER: There are a number of questions involved in this inquiry. First, is it proper to have the names of Christians on the regular memorial list for annual Kaddish? Second, has the husband–now that he has married again–any justification for wanting to remove these names? In other words, may his second wife have grounds for objecting that her husband is still memorializing the relations of his first wife? Third, since a contribution was made to the congregation for putting these names on the annual Kaddish list, is it now possible to rescind and cancel such a contribution and so remove the names?

First, as to saying Kaddish for Gentiles, and also as to the congregation keeping on the Kaddish list a Gentile relative of a convert, this question was discussed fully in the Conference Yearbook, vol. LXVII, 1957. One might imagine that there is no religious bond between a daughter and her Gentile father, since a convert is a “new-born child.” However, Maimonides in Hilchot Mamrim, V.ll, says (based upon theTalmud), that a convert should honor his Gentile father. Rabbi Aaron Walkin, in a responsum written in 1933, states that honoring his father involves saying Kaddish for him. Since a son may say Kaddish for his Jewish-born apostate father (who had wilfully deserted Judaism), then certainly a proselyte may say Kaddish for a Gentile father who is naturally following the religion in which he was brought up. So, too, Abraham Zvi Klein, a rabbi in Hungary (Be-erot Avraham II), speaks of receiving a gift from a Gentile woman who wants her name memorialized (i.e., not even a relative of a convert), and he concludes: “There is no prohibition against recording her name and her good deed in the Chevra Kadisha, and we should recite an “El male rachamim” for her on Yizkor days.”

As for the second question, there is some sort of justification for an objection on the part of the man, or of his second wife, to his first wife (and possibly also her relatives) being memorialized now the man is married to this second woman. This question has come up quite often in the literature and has been dealt with in Reform Responsa, p. 162. For example, Eleazar Deutsch (1850-1916) in his Duda-ei Hasadeh,14, was asked whether a remarried man may recite Yizkor for his first wife. He says no; but that if it was the custom of the synagogue–as it is in some communities–for the cantor to read a list of all the names memorialized, there was no objection to the remarried man being present. The general conclusion of all who discussed the question is that such memorial rites as might occur at home (the Yahrzeit light, etc.) should certainly not be observed any more. In the synagogue, however, if there is no one to say Kaddish for his first wife, the husband may do so. Of course, if there are children, it is better that they should say Kaddish. In the question asked, the names include not only the name of the first wife, but those of her relatives, so the second wife can have less objection to their names being read than if it were the first wife’s name alone. Furthermore, there are grandchildren who want to honor their grandparents, which certainly should be permitted.

Now there is the third question: Since a contribution was made to the congregation (a number of years ago) to put these names on the regular Kaddish list, and since the congregation had accepted this specific contribution, can it now undo this memorial and cancel it and remove the names? A related question was asked of me by Rabbi William Braude of Providence. It was with regard to a memorial window. Someone wanted to pay money to have its dedication changed. This could not be permitted. Once the gift has been accepted by the congregation, no donor has any authority over it. The conclusion to the question asked about the memorial window applies here: “Once the gift has been received by the congregation, the donor has no more rights over it.” Of course, the congregation has more rights in the matter than the original donor, but even if the congregation itself wanted to change the memorial donation from one purpose to another, the law is full of many restrictions as to just which changes they can make. There is no need to go into this complicated question.

From all the above, we come to the following conclusions: First, there is nothing wrong with a Gentile being permanently memorialized in the Kaddish list. Secondly, the husband–while justly sensitive to memorializing his first wife in the presence of his second wife–has no right to deprive his children of the privilege of memorializing their mother, grandparents, and other close relatives. Finally, once a gift has been received by the congregation, it is virtually impossible for an individual to have it changed, and there are considerable restrictions as to the right of the congregation itself.

Walter Jacob

See also:

S.B. Freehof, “Kaddish for Apostates and Gentiles,” Recent Reform Responsa, pp. 132ff.